Helping you plan your home improvement project, from start to finish

By on Oct 28, 2015
How To Style A Bookshelf

Bookshelves often become dumping grounds for the college textbooks we never returned, the trinkets or souvenirs we can’t throw away and every art and design book we HAD to have while browsing at second-hand bookshops. But, before you pull everything off the shelves in despair and build a partition wall or mini-fort from the rubble, here are some tips from Lofty to bring some style and order to your bookshelves with the help from our friends at ImproveNet.

Imagine A Bookcase As An Art Installation

1. Imagine A Bookcase as an Art Installation

The best way to begin any home project is to start with an overall vision of what you want to achieve. For bookshelves, this means giving yourself a good model of organization to follow, so that you have an outline (even if it's flexible) to keep in mind as you add and remove contents. Creative minds may enjoy approaching a bookcase as the shell for an art installation – every object has its place and meaning. The overall look is a conglomeration of color, shape and style that reflects your interior. The living room and the office are most often the best places for bookcases, and ImproveNet has a couple of great articles that show noteworthy examples (living room or office area).

Bookcase contents are conversation starters; they are reference points for your stories on travel, study and taste. Depending on your style, consider the vast options of shelving. If you want to install built-in shelves or design your own model, check out the DIY Guide to Building Storage Shelves. ImproveNet’s helpful and friendly staff can link you with industry pros and help you with the design and cost estimate of your project.

Establish Order

2. Establish Order

Once you’ve decided on your shelving, it’s time to establish some order to your current chaos. Find a clean space in your home and start laying out your books, noteworthy tchotchkes, artwork… essentially, everything you would like to use to style your bookcase. Be picky about your objects. Try to choose pieces that tell a story, evoke a strong memory or make great solo statements through color or shape. This will help reduce clutter and add more meaning to your overall design.

Books are the easiest things to organize first. Are you a lover of reference? Organize your books by subject or area of interest – fiction, nonfiction, design, art movements, etc. Are you an aesthetic enthusiast? Organize your books by color.

Re-stack your books on the shelves, largest to smallest book. We like to alternate the look by going right to left on one shelf, then left to right on the next shelf. Some shelves could be completely full, but be sure to leave ¼ to ½ of the shelf space clear for adding in objects. Also, occasionally place a stack of three or four books horizontally at the end of the row. These types of stacks can serve as mini platforms for placing objects.

Objects are next. Choose sculptural items with enough weight to remain stable on a shelf even as books are being used and replaced. These can be bowls, vases, decorative boxes, clocks - really anything you treasure and find worthy of displaying.

For a contemporary look, add key decorative objects in unexpected materials, such as pottery and textured glass. This vase has an eye-catching, graphic pattern reinforced by its vibrant, green color. Or, for a bit of a splurge, this teapot by Richard Marquis is an excellent conversation piece in any library or office.

If you prefer a more eclectic vibe, snap up accessories that embrace your inner kitsch. These porcelain ornithological figures will add a touch of quirkiness to a baroque or rustic shelf. If your bookcase feels a bit cluttered, add unique storage options, like these antique apothecary jars to hide the mess.

Bring Back the Bookend

3. Bring Back the Bookend

Bookends are a great way to stabilize your books and add personality to your shelves, especially if you’re low on sculptural objects. Flea markets and home décor sites are all excellent sources to find every kind of bookend. If you’re feeling extra crafty, BuzzFeed even put together an amazing list of DIY bookends. Just remember that whatever you use, make sure it has a substantial weight to it.

4. Add Pin-Up Boards

If you have a nice collection of sketches, postcards, photographs and other notable scribbles, think about displaying them on the back of the shelves by creating pin-up boards with self-adhesive corkboard. This really only works if your bookcase has closed shelves and is not jam-packed with books. You can either leave the corkboard exposed, paint it - neon colors add a punch - cover it with wallpaper or even carefully glued newspaper for a unique black and white style.

Final Tips


A well-styled bookcase is a great way to display vignettes of your life and interests. If you establish a sense of order early on, it will be easier to maintain as you choose to add or subtract items. Make sure the shelves are functional as well as decorative. Curate your objects and books to make sure you’re keeping the most meaningful pieces. For your objects, items with a bit of weight will be sturdier in the long run. Give everything enough breathing room and avoid the risk of getting too cluttered by editing the shelves from time to time.

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