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3 Steps to Styling Out Your Shelves

Maybe you’re someone blessed/cursed with built-in shelves in your home. Or maybe you’re someone that can’t throw a book away. Or worse yet, an object hoarder in need of shelving to house your collection of vintage baby doll heads. Either way, making the shelving in your house look pulled together, interesting and stylish is challenging and poorly styled shelves are a problem riddling America. In the book, STYLED, the secret to styling the shelves (as well as every single surface or piece of furniture in your house) is outlined and the daunting tasks of making your home look pulled together and beautiful is broken down in very manageable ways. 

Here are three steps to styling shelves so they look as interesting and pulled together as you are. Before you begin there are some universal rules to styling any surface or room in your house that I need to go over: 1.) Have a clear consistent color palette and 2.) Edit out what you don’t need or like. That sounds obvious but it’s not. If your pieces aren’t a.) Functional, b.) Sentimental or c.) Beautiful then please hand those suckers down or donate them. That’s just a universal rule for the styling of any surface (and one that I expound on in the book). 

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1. Start with your books – maybe it’s only a few books (like this) or a library full of dusty old novels. Stack them both vertically and horizontally and pepper the colors around evenly for a more collected, yet pulled together look. In other words don’t throw all your darker books in one corner and your lighter books in another UNLESS you are doing that color coding thing which is more for a proper bookshelf, less for a collection of pieces and objects like this. 

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2. Add art – Not all shelving can house art but if it can, DO IT. Incorporating art into your shelves does some really good things: 1.) It adds personality, obviously, as art is one of those purchases that we make based on what we like, not based on function. 2.) It draws your eye to the back of the shelf, thus making it look deeper and bigger and creating a sense of layering. 3.) It takes up a lot of visual real estate that is otherwise hard to fill with smaller objects. 

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3. Mix it up – This is where you add all your pretty things – your objects, sculptures, vessels, collections and even lighting. Mix up the textures, sizes, styles and tones but stay within that color palette so it doesn’t look like a thrift store. 

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Top Shelf: Cat College | Geo-Faceted Vase | Basket ||| 2nd Shelf: White and Wood Vase ||| 3rd Shelf: All Vintage ||| 4th Shelf: Round Wood Lamp | Abstract Watercolor Art | Bone Frame | Pyramid Candle | Black Striped Vase ||| Bottom Shelf: Ceramic Bell | Marble Canister ||| Rug | Brass Handles 

A lot of people don’t know where to start when decorating their own home, so in the book, STYLED, I break down the smaller concepts, each vignette, each art wall and if you read the book and implement the ideas you will, someday soon, look around and magically (it will seem) your home will have come together to look like the best version of your personality possible.

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You didn’t think we could go a whole post without a GIF did you. For your viewing pleasure:


Now get out there and get to work. In just a few tips you will have a whole new bookshelf – dusting not included. If you need more convincing on why you should buy the book: Watch this quick video:

***All photos by Tessa Neustadt for EHD, check the design/build of my bookshelf, and how to style 1 bookcase four different ways for more shelf styling fun.  Video by Scrunch Media. 

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8 years ago

Hilarious — I came onto your blog as I was looking at my mishmash of a bookshelf to search for something on here to help me and, wa la! A post telling me everything I need to know. 🙂

CONGRATS on your baby girl, Emily!


8 years ago

Nerdiest comment ever: I was listening to Backstory’s episode on the history of advertising of advertising in America. Apparently the increased presence of built-in bookshelves in American homes can be attributed to Edward Bernays (nephew of Sigmund Freud). Bernays’ was tasked with advertising books, so he met with leading architects and convicted them to include bookshelves in their designs, which would inspire Americans to fill their selves by buying more books.
I thought this was really cool and kinda meta when you consider (1) this is a blog, which sometimes advertises things (2) the blog is about design, and (3) the post is designed to promote a book (that I’m sure is awesome).

8 years ago
Reply to  Clare

Not nerdy – awesome.

8 years ago
Reply to  Clare

best comment ever.

8 years ago
Reply to  Clare

Such a great comment 🙂

8 years ago

I would kill for built in bookshelves, especially ones as architecturally unique like yours. The possibilities become limitless! *Sigh* someday

8 years ago

I would love a post about how to add accessories to a bookshelf that is loaded with books! Thanks! And maybe some tips on how to make the books look their best.

8 years ago
Reply to  Stacy

Me too! I have miles of books – I’m an avid reader and have collected some wonderful books. However, I’ve been told I need to add some ‘objects’ to my shelves. Please advise!

Thank you!

8 years ago
Reply to  Stacy

The same issue here. What to do when there are hundreds book in the bookshelf?

8 years ago

I was just dusting my bookshelves and thinking about rearranging, ie., styling them when I came upon your timely blog. Thx for yet more inspiration, Emily! And I’m thrilled to hear about Elliot’s arrival; you all must be sooo happy she’s here!!! Congrats to the entire Henderson family!

8 years ago

These shelves look incredible! You did an awesome job styling them!


8 years ago

I just read your book and I loved it. The pictures were so gorgeous, and the writing was fun and informative. Way to go Emily!

8 years ago
Reply to  Lana

We loved this post! A great looking bookshelf makes the whole room look more thoughtful, unique and cozy… keep these great posts coming!

8 years ago

This is so helpful! I’m struggling with styling a floor length ladder shelf with a very curious baby in mind… Any tips of great styled objects for shelves that are baby proof?

8 years ago

I received your book as a birthday present from my husband and proceeded to read it cover to cover in one sitting.
I loved every quirky joke, beautiful picture and helpful styling trick.
Thank you for writing it! And thank you for helping to make households across the US more beautified one vignette at a time. 😉

8 years ago
Reply to  Meg

This is going to be me after Christmas when I will carve out time and luxuriate. So excited to hear how content-rich it is!

8 years ago

Ooooh I love! This post is perfect timing. Thanks for sharing, Emily!

Arthella Starke
8 years ago

I bought your book and love it. I also bought it as Christmas presents gor all my friends.

8 years ago

Congrats to your baby girl!! 😀

This is a FANTASTIC tutorial! We have built-in bookshelves in our study and I’ve been wondering what to do with them! Thank you!!

8 years ago

Off topic but I wonder if you could show an up close photo of that string art piece on the top shelf? I know it is a vintage piece and I have searched for instructions on making one but no dice. If I could see it up really close in a future post somehow I would really appreciate it! 🙂

8 years ago

We love this post! Bookshelf styling is so hard but it can make a room really look so much better. Thank you for sharing all your awesome ideas and keeping us inspired. Congrats on your baby girl too!

8 years ago

I love your blog and read it regularly. I’m also a buyer of books — especially style/decorating/coffee table books. I want to say this as kindly as possible, but I’m probably not going to buy your book just because of all of the promotion of it on your blog. A few references to it would have been so appropriate, but it’s gone way over the top and seems so self serving. Less is better and much more tasteful.

8 years ago

Totally love this post! Empty shelving certainly can be daunting, but you broke this down in a way that is much less intimidating!

Caylie |

8 years ago

Perfect timing! I just acquired a piece of furniture that is not really a shelf, but has shelves…and I’m a bit lost as to what to put on it. I’m going to try this idea tonight!

What can I say more than…brilliant? :) I think you have a magic stick in your hand to know all these things ….and the final result is amazing. The way you thought at step two: “It draws your eye to the back of the shelf, thus making it look deeper and bigger and creating a sense of layering” … you’re definitely right. Thanks for the post and for sharing with us these tricks and tips, they are so helpful.
I see that you are interested in interior design, that’s why I would like to invite you to explore our rug world here: . You’ll quickly find that a Sukhi carpet is quite unlike anything else. What do you think about them? 🙂

8 years ago

Awesome tips 🙂