11 Tips for Book Shelf Styling Like a Pro

Book shelf styling 101.

Styled book shelf in organic modern loft space.

Three words. Book shelf styling.

Whether they’re built-in shelves you’re looking to fill, or the extra shelving you need for book storage, there are plenty of ways to go about filling and styling your book shelves.

I’ve been there before. It can feel a bit overwhelming staring at 6 rows of empty shelves just begging for books, plants, and pretty accessories, but I’ve put together a list of 11 helpful tips / ideas for styling shelving that fit the categories of form AND function.

Book Shelf Styling 101

book shelves styled with books on the bottom shelves and decorative items on top shelves

1. Sort books by color.

If you have a large collection, one of the best ways to bring harmony to your shelves is by sorting your books by the color of their spine. This won’t work for everyone, BUT if you’re an especially visually person, like I am, it’s easy to associate the color spine with the book you’re looking for, so you can find it quickly.

Here are some color categories to get started:

  • whites/creams/taupes
  • blacks/charcoals
  • reds/pinks
  • oranges/yellows
  • greens/teal/mint
  • dark blues/purples

Once the spine colors are separated, you can style each individual shelf with a different color.

What you highlight on the top shelves really depends on the colors in your space. 

If your space is more neutral, start with the whites and blacks on the top and leave the color for the bottom shelves.

As other option, if you have a lot of red in your rug, try doing warm to cool incorporating your whites up top with the warm tones and blacks on the bottom with the cool.

2. Flip (some of or all) the books around.

Maybe you like things a bit more neutral. If so, flip the book spines around and show off all the pretty tones of paper and keep the neutral books facing out. It has an old library feel to it that feels really cozy.

Like the first tip, this book shelf styling idea is not for everyone. And that’s okay! Do what feels right for you!

Personally, I love it and pretty much always style my book shelves in this way now, with the spines facing in. Tip: If I’m reading a particular book or want to come back to something again soon, I keep that spine out, so I can find it quickly.

3. Accessorize.

Your book shelves don’t have to be JUST books. In fact, it definitely should NOT be only books.

Find cool vases, bowls, art, and small accessories to fill in the empty spaces. I generally like sticking to a neutral color palette when it comes to accessorizing bookshelves. But it’s a personal preference, so go with whatever makes you happiest when you look at it.

If you have a lot of colorful spines that you want to show off, pairing the books with colorful accessories could look great too. OR try using mostly black and/or white accessories to give the eye a place to rest.

4. Distribute the visual weight.

What’s visual weight? Pay attention to how your eye travels from one space to the next. An easy way of doing this it to distribute stacks of books in opposing spaces.

For instance, instead of stacking books underneath each other down all the shelves, move them to opposite nooks and fill the holes with accessories.

Another way to distribute visual weight is varying the way books are stacked. You might have a horizontal stack next to a row of upright vertical books to create some visual interest.

5. Bring some life in.

Plants are the perfect accessory for your selves. They take up a lot of space, and long vine plants like pathos or ivy look great winding down the side of your shelf.

6. Make it functional.

If you need some storage, but don’t want things to feel cluttered, fill the bottom shelves with baskets to store blankets, board games, toys, or photo albums.

You can also store smaller / shorter baskets underneath some book shelves if the legs are tall enough. This is a great place to store things that you want to hide or keep as out of the way as possible.

7. No books? No problem!

Maybe you’re more of a digital reader and don’t have books to fill your shelves. No worries! Thrift stores are an amazing source for really cool looking hardcover books that you can use for decoration.

Here’s an extra tip: Go for the thicker meatier books that can take up a lot of space for a fuller looking bookshelf. They typically cost the same and will save you from having to buy a few extra books.

8. If you could, wood you?

I love how wood logs instantly make a space feel warm and cozy. If you have a fireplace, try stacking wood logs on the bottom shelves. Even if it’s just decorative, it adds so much warmth to your space and makes your faux fireplace seem more legit.

It’s a great addition seasonal too, if having looks on a bookshelf  doesn’t work year round. Perfect around the holidays,  if you celebrate Christmas, or just want your space to feel like a cozy winter cabin, even if you live in California.

9. Take a shelf out.

Don’t feel like just because you have X number of shelves means you have to use all of them. If your shelves are held up by pegs, just remove one.

Use the larger space to display art or a tall vase with pampas grass. This will help add visual interest and create a focal point on your shelf.

10. Book shelf doesn’t mean just books.

What if you’re more of a mixologist than a book worm? Or maybe you have a larger record collection than novels? That’s cool too!

Similar to what I’ve touched in some of the previous tips, you can use your shelves however you want. Line your records up next to a cluster of vases or play with the heights of your decanters and old liquor bottles for a bar shelf.

11. Display the best of the best.

If the goal of your bookshelf is not just as storage, but also as pretty decor, you may only want to display the best of the best.

If your books aren’t in the best shape, or none of the spines really do anything for you visually, you can keep some books in closed storage. No need to keep all of your books together. Only pull out the best looking books – books with beautiful spines or antique books with a lot of character.*  It keeps things from feeling too cluttered and looks stunning.

*If you flip the majority of your books to show the pages, instead of the spine though, uglier looking books really don’t matter as much.

book shelf with modern plant and planter on one shelf and books styled with a candle on the other

mid-century book shelf with books and decorative objects in a neutral living room

mid-century wood bookshelf in modern living room with text overlay

white, modern living room with mid century bookcase styled

How to Style a Book Shelf

Whether they’re built-in shelves you’re looking to fill, or the extra shelving you need for book storage, there are plenty of ways to go about filling and styling your book shelves.
I’ve been there before. It can feel a bit overwhelming staring at 6 rows of empty shelves just begging for books, plants, and pretty accessories, but I’ve put together a list of 11 helpful tips / ideas for styling shelving that fit the categories of form AND function.
Total Time20 mins
Keyword: books, bookshelf, decorating, home decor, interiors, styling
Author: Brittni
Cost: $0

Instructions

Sort books by color.

  • If you have a large collection, one of the best ways to bring harmony to your shelves is by sorting your books by the color of their spine. This won't work for everyone, BUT if you're an especially visually person, like I am, it's easy to associate the color spine with the book you're looking for, so you can find it quickly.
  • Once the spine colors are separated, you can style each individual shelf with a different color.
  • What you highlight on the top shelves really depends on the colors in your space. 

If your space is more neutral, start with the whites and blacks on the top and leave the color for the bottom shelves.
  • As other option, if you have a lot of red in your rug, try doing warm to cool incorporating your whites up top with the warm tones and blacks on the bottom with the cool.

Flip (some of or all) the books around.

  • Maybe you like things a bit more neutral. If so, flip the book spines around and show off all the pretty tones of paper and keep the neutral books facing out. It has an old library feel to it that feels really cozy.
  • Like the first tip, this book shelf styling idea is not for everyone. And that's okay! Do what feels right for you!
  • Personally, I love it and pretty much always style my book shelves in this way now, with the spines facing in. Tip: If I'm reading a particular book or want to come back to something again soon, I keep that spine out, so I can find it quickly.

Accessorize.

  • Your book shelves don’t have to be JUST books. In fact, it definitely should NOT be only books.
  • Find cool vases, bowls, art, and small accessories to fill in the empty spaces. I generally like sticking to a neutral color palette when it comes to accessorizing bookshelves. But it's a personal preference, so go with whatever makes you happiest when you look at it.
  • If you have a lot of colorful spines that you want to show off, pairing the books with colorful accessories could look great too. OR try using mostly black and/or white accessories to give the eye a place to rest.

Distribute the visual weight.

  • What's visual weight? Pay attention to how your eye travels from one space to the next. An easy way of doing this it to distribute stacks of books in opposing spaces.
  • For instance, instead of stacking books underneath each other down all the shelves, move them to opposite nooks and fill the holes with accessories.
  • Another way to distribute visual weight is varying the way books are stacked. You might have a horizontal stack next to a row of upright vertical books to create some visual interest.

Bring some life in.

  • Plants are the perfect accessory for your selves. They take up a lot of space, and long vine plants like pathos or ivy look great winding down the side of your shelf.

Make it functional.

  • If you need some storage, but don’t want things to feel cluttered, fill the bottom shelves with baskets to store blankets, board games, toys, or photo albums.
  • You can also store smaller / shorter baskets underneath some book shelves if the legs are tall enough. This is a great place to store things that you want to hide or keep as out of the way as possible.
  • No books? No problem!
  • Maybe you’re more of a digital reader and don’t have books to fill your shelves. No worries! Thrift stores are an amazing source for really cool looking hardcover books that you can use for decoration.
  • Here’s an extra tip: Go for the thicker meatier books that can take up a lot of space for a fuller looking bookshelf. They typically cost the same and will save you from having to buy a few extra books.

If you could, wood you?

  • I love how wood logs instantly make a space feel warm and cozy. If you have a fireplace, try stacking wood logs on the bottom shelves. Even if it’s just decorative, it adds so much warmth to your space and makes your faux fireplace seem more legit.
  • It's a great addition seasonal too, if having looks on a bookshelf  doesn't work year round. Perfect around the holidays,  if you celebrate Christmas, or just want your space to feel like a cozy winter cabin, even if you live in California.

Take a shelf out.

  • Don’t feel like just because you have X number of shelves means you have to use all of them. If your shelves are held up by pegs, just remove one.
  • Use the larger space to display art or a tall vase with pampas grass. This will help add visual interest and create a focal point on your shelf.

Book shelf doesn’t mean just books and standard decor.

  • What if you’re more of a mixologist than a book worm? Or maybe you have a larger record collection than novels? That’s cool too!
  • Similar to what I've touched in some of the previous tips, you can use your shelves however you want. Line your records up next to a cluster of vases or play with the heights of your decanters and old liquor bottles for a bar shelf.

Display the best of the best.

  • If the goal of your bookshelf is not just as storage, but also as pretty decor, you may only want to display the best of the best.
  • If your books aren’t in the best shape, or none of the spines really do anything for you visually, you can keep some books in closed storage. No need to keep all of your books together. Only pull out the best looking books - books with beautiful spines or antique books with a lot of character.*  It keeps things from feeling too cluttered and looks stunning.
  • *If you flip the majority of your books to show the pages, instead of the spine though, uglier looking books really don't matter as much.
Tried this recipe?Mention @paperandstitch or tag #paperandstitch!

How do you style your book shelves? Does the thought of flipping your books around make you cringe? I’m curious to hear from you about these shelving tips in the comments!

2 comments | Click here to reply

Thanks Sara. I don’t actually cleaning it with anything special. If we have a spill, I’ll use a rag and water right away, but that’s it. It has a lot of marks and color variation since we’ve had it so long (ever ten years). But I actually love that – tells a story. 🙂
-Brittni

Brittni

Love the leather couch!! How do you do furniture cleaning for it?

Sara Anderson
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