How To: Styling A Bookcase

How To: Style Bookcases

There are two repeating design offenses we notice while touring client’s homes. We’re going to talk about one of them today: Bookcases.

We get it, styling a bookcase is tricky! It’s all about the details. If you struggle with this decorating dilemma, take comfort in knowing that when we stage a home the bookcases are always time consuming and tedious for us too. But the end result is always worth the effort.

BONUS: once you learn how to style a bookcase well, you can use your newfound skills on styling floating shelves, console tables, countertops and any other horizontal surface!

Let’s get to it. The most important thing all bookcases need is BOOKS! If you’re like my dear friend Laurie, you have so many books that you don’t need to worry about adding anything else. But for many people with large bookcases, they just don’t own enough books -or at least display worthy books- to get by without added décor. What do I mean by ‘display worthy books’? I’m referring to

1. hardcover books with

2. dust jackets removed, and

3. preferably no overly distracting text on the spine.

If you don’t own any books that fit this criterion, don’t sweat it. You can solve that problem by investing in a classic book series (they usually are designed for display as well as being intellectually enriching). Or if you’re on a budget, hit your local thrift store to find nice looking books for as little as $2.00! Try to find books with neutral colored spines and minimal text. How many books should you have? Enough to fill at least 1/3rd of your total shelf space.

Now that you have books, display them in groups on various shelves instead of all together on one shelf. Books look good stacked horizontally or the traditional vertical lineup. Or to add some variety, try both!

Now you can begin filling in the empty spaces with the rest of your goodies. You need a VARIETY of accessories to adorn your shelves (See my go-to list of accessories at the bottom of this post). We like to give ourselves more materials to work with than we will actually use, so we have plenty of options. We put all of the pieces on the floor and ‘shop’ from the pile as we go. But don’t get ahead of yourself, there’s a science to this process.

First place your largest objects. Depending on the length of a shelf, a single statement object may be all you need.

Which brings up this important tip: don’t over accessorize! A beautifully styled shelf should feel curated, not jam packed with odds and ends.

Second, fill in the largest remaining gaps with medium sized accessories. As you slowly style each shelf, make sure the objects that are placed next to each other are varied but coordinate. We aim for a variety of shapes, colors, textures, and purposes for a layered look with plenty of visual interest and depth.

Finally, add small details to the areas that need a little something extra. Remember that the term ‘small’ is relative. Displaying a marble sized figurine is not going to work. You’ll want to step back and view the overall design from a distance to get a good feel for how small your ‘small’ objects can be. For most large bookcases, anything smaller than 4” x 4” will get lost, causing the shelves to feel cluttered instead of curated.

At this point, you have one final step before you’re done. Step back and study the overall design. Chances are there are two or three items that need to be shuffled around, replaced, or removed all together. It’s like a puzzle, and when all the pieces fit together, you’ll know it.

Happy styling!


  • Books (a variety of sizes preferably with neutral colored spines)
  • Plants (2-3 varieties and sizes)
  • Figurines (1-2 varieties of sculptural type objects)
  • A Clock
  • Picture frames either with art or personal photographs (3-5 varieties)
  • A Votive and an Oversized candle
  • A decorative box (used alone or to stack with other objects)
  • A Tray (used to anchor/unify a group of objects)
  • Meaningful or sentimental objects

*Note: although this is a topic that warrants it’s own post, let me briefly but firmly quote William Morris’ adage “HAVE NOTHING in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” That goes for sentimental ‘gifts’ too. If you have an heirloom displayed in your home strictly out of familial obligation, but it brings no joy to your soul or value to your design, pack it up and store it. Or if it just happens to be a gifted decoration that has no familial significance, donate it.