Do you find book shelves hard to style? We’re sharing 8 tips to help you style your book shelves so they look polished and pulled together!
The main thing that I’ve focused on over this last year is really nailing down my neutral palette, and changing the things that don’t fit within it. And one of the things on my very long to-do list was to style the book shelves in my family room. These shelves are large and dominate the whole room, so their effect on the room is significant.
My home and aesthetic has been evolving, and the bookshelves have not. I wanted them to look pulled together and beautiful, but instead they were busy and definitely not cohesive.
So, I thought it would be fun to show you the before and after, and also share my process with you. There are lots of ways to go about styling shelves, but this is what worked for me.
How to Style Book Shelves
Eight Tips for Styling Shelves
- Edit, edit, edit! Get rid of anything that is not useful, sentimental, or you don’t absolutely love. For me, that was quite a lot of what was there, haha! Some shelves can even just have one or two large items all by themselves. Reminder: every inch does not need to be covered.
- Think about scale. Make sure you have things of different sizes, and that they are evenly distributed throughout the shelves. You don’t want all large or all small items clumped together.
- Play with height. Stack things on top of books to add height in some areas, while leaving shorter items in others. Variety is key.
- Add texture. This is one of the most important things to remember, I think. Whether it’s baskets, wood items, or something else, make sure that everything is not smooth and shiny. Without texture, the whole thing can fall a little flat.
- Decide on a palette. For me, this was a chance to really lighten up my shelves. The green, red and blue books were clashing with the color scheme of the room and driving me crazy! I focused on a neutral palette, though not everything is white. White is the overriding theme, but I’ve got cream, iron, and metallics in there, too. And of course, the aforementioned textured items add some “neutral color” as well.
- Add artwork. I love artwork in a bookshelf! Whether it’s leaning among the shelves, or actually hanging on the outside molding, artwork adds personality and creativity in a way that nothing else will. And it doesn’t need to be a painting – it could even be a framed drawing that your children made. The personal touch is what matters.
- Make sure you have books! I know it’s a thing these days to put only decor on book shelves, and maybe it’s because I’m a reader, but I like there to be at least some books on the bookshelves. I like to pull the jackets off as they are typically pretty busy and can be garish. And don’t forget to stack them both vertically and horizontally!
- Add something natural. A plant, flowers, shells… organic materials (like texture) add interest that nothing else can.
So I implemented the basic rules above, and spent a day re-styling the built-ins. First, I removed every single thing from the shelves and went through and donated all the books and decor I wasn’t going to be using. And now, I have shelves that are pared down and much more cohesive. They look more pulled-together, and to my eye, calmer too.
I hope this gave you some ideas of how easy it is to style your book shelves. With the exception of going to the library and getting some second hand books in white, cream, and grey, I didn’t purchase a single thing for this project!
It really was all about editing, paring down, and simply re-thinking and re-arranging what I already had. The difference is pretty dramatic, and I actually love looking at them now!
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If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out more decorating tips and ideas below:
5 Essential Textures that Every Room Needs
How to Decorate Using the Rule of 3
5 tips for Decorating with Art
20 Essential Decorating Measurements Everyone Needs to Know
Wonderful job on your shelf decor. You have lovely and interesting items. I am a decorator and it is clear you know the elements and principles of design.
Aww that is so kind! Thanks so much Nancy – and thanks for stopping by!
Beautiful!! Could you tell me how wide each section is? So how wide a shelf above 2 cabinet doors is? I’m having shelves built and yours are a perfect example of the look/scale I’m looking for. I understand you have 14” of height for each space breeze the shelves but I was wondering what the width.
Thanks so much Dee, and of course, I’m happy to help!
Mine are WIDE!! Each shelf is 32” wide – and there are two of those on each side of the Tv/middle section.
Hope that helps!
Andrea Dean says
Love your style! I’m about to paint my dark cherry bookcases around my red brick fireplace! Do you know the color of your paint on your bookcase? love it! Not too white or too creamy. thanks andrea .
Hi Andrea and thank you! My bookcases – along with all the trim and ceilings in my whole house are Cloud White from Benjamin Moore. And yes! It’s the perfect white! Good luck!
Pat Finan says
Hi…..Would you be so kind as to tell me what neutral colors you have used in your house..My style is similar to yours and all rooms need a new paint job.My living room,however,is BM CONCORD IVORY (sort of a golden yellow)which I like but maybe could use slightly lighter color.I have wall of built in bookcases(painted white) like yours on either side of fireplace which is white.
Thank you so much!
My neutral paint colors can all be found in the post below:
I share the ones I’ve used and loved as well as some that didn’t work out! Hope that helps!
Patrice Gottfried says
So gorgeous!! Love your styling!
Tina Campbell says
I love the look of your book shelves. They definitely give the room a more elegant and soft feel. Great job!
Thanks so much Tina! And thank you for stopping by!
Thank you Sheila! You have a beautiful home….I love your decor! I have built in shelves and cabinets like yours that I painted white and I have been trying to simplify the decor on them….I will follow your Style tips and have them looking great by the end of the day! If not sooner. Haha
Oh I love hearing that so much! Thank you Wendi, and I’m so glad you found it helpful! Good luck!
Ruth Anne Flear says
How would you deal with a dark brown black bookcase? How to lighten it up?
Hi there! I would paint it! You could either go for white, off-white or a pretty greige.
Sherry Mitchell says
How far apart do you have your shelves? That’s one thing that always gets me. Thanks!
My shelves are 14″ apart (top to bottom) but they are also adjustable (they have the little holes and pins so can be moved up or down). 12″ is fairly standard but because my wall is very wide and they are wide shelves, it looked a little too squatty so we did 14″. Hope that helps!
Holy smokes Sheila, what a transformation. You did an amazing job and it looks perfect! Every piece you have displayed is so pretty. WOW….I love your home..thank you for sharing. Just taking all the Christmas decor down and going to find your living room again for ideas also.
Have a wonderful weekend.
Aww such a lovely comment – thank you SO much Rose! That really warms my heart.
Happy New Year~
When redoing my shelves, we used scrapbook paper in soft colors to soften the covers of some books. They are easily changed for a different look.
Oh that’s such a wonderful idea! Thanks for sharing!
Sheila, bookshelves are so hard for me to change up and get right. Yours look great!
Aww thank you Kim! I have found that before too, but I think I’m getting better at it:)
Wow, what a transformation. Not bad went to decorator chic. Thanks for the tips. There were a few there I didn’t know and think will make a big difference in my bookshelves. Good job!
Oh I’m so glad to hear that Maggie – thank you so much! Good luck with yours:)
Shelley @ Calypso in the Country says
Beautiful transformation, Sheila. They are definitely your style – so classic! Enjoy your weekend!
Aww thanks so much Shelley – that means a lot!
Happy weekend to you too:)
Where can I find those gorgeous throw pillows you have pictured? They are just what I’m looking for!
Hi and thanks for stopping by! Those were custom made a few years ago – the fabric is Bennison but I’m not sure of the name. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help!