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My House

Bookcase update


Remember that time I spent a lot of money and time designing and building the built-in bookcase? (See this post for that whole process.) Well, we’ve shot it now what feels like 19 times, although I think it’s just been four – Domino, the book, my living room tour, for the holidays, and again last week (for this post). I was never totally happy with it. Why? Because styling a huge open bookcase in the middle of your house is hard. You want it to be full of fun stuff, but not so busy that it just looks messy (because it makes the whole house feel messy if its messy).

But first, enter memory lane … Here is the wall where we decided to put the bookcase:

And here is a little video of the building of it:


I wish it were only that simple. So many wonky angles in the house that made their EXTREMELY precise measurements kinda a disaster.  So there was a lot of troubleshooting, but Gabriel, our dude is seriously meticulous and did an amazing job. Click through to see how its styled now.

white bookshelf emily

When we shot it for Domino, it was styled like this:

Emily Henderson Bookshelf Accessories

Which I really liked, for sure. And yes, we removed the white iron gate thing so we could get a clean shot. They also put my hallway runner up there instead of the colorful vintage one that I have. I like both options, actually, but we put the vintage one back because this one is actually WAY too long to be here.

Then for the holidays it looked like this:


Super fun, but you can’t keep up the holiday decor all year round unless you are those people. And we aren’t ready to be those people … YET.

It still kept bugging me – it was never quite right. So we finally shot it last week all styled how I really really want it to be:

Emily Henderson Bookcase midcentury modern clean white accessories

At least for now …

Quiet and clean (ish) with lots of teals/blues. I tried to keep it pretty calm without a ton of crazy colors because lately (right now) I just can’t with the colors. I love color, obviously, but my life and brain feel too chaotic for more than 3-4 colors. So we are doing blues, grays, whites, and hits of others … but we even removed the really dark blue/navy pieces because they were just reading too dark. Now that I’m looking at this I’m of course wondering if I should get rid of that black book – but I also don’t want my insane need for a consistent color palette to effect what books I buy (even though we all know it does). And now its all I see (cut to me asking Brady to photoshop it to be teal or gray … don’t put it past me, I literally just emailed him and will update it asap).



Thoughts? As a photo I probably like it more, but it does somehow just feel rude. Poor book. And now, of course my eye is obsessing on the the other dark books … Just stop, brain. Just stop.

Emily Henderson Bookcase midcentury modern clean white accessories 1

Emily Henderson Bookcase midcentury modern clean white accessories

Here’s the gif of me styling it, wearing what appears to be a nightgown …


Of course yesterday we had to remove 1/2 the props to take to the studio to shoot a lot of new content for the blog, but I’m referencing this photo and we are putting it all back exactly where it is here because I finally love how it’s styled.

Now, because you know how much I love a good poll, let me know which you like best of the two styled out bookcases, and vote below.


Happy Friday, folks.

*The latest photos by the VERY lovely and talented Tessa Neustadt. Domino shot by Brittany Ambridge, holiday shot by Jayme Burrows. 

Almost everything is vintage except for the handles from Schoolhouse Electric and that piece of art up at the top that is also from Schoolhouse Electric, although it seems to be no longer available.

Fin Mark
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It is ridiculously beautiful, yet still calm. Love it!

Styling bookcases are really tough, but despite your complaints, you seem to do it effortlessly! I love all the styling you did on this one!

I love the design of the shelf structures, really unique. We’ve got a built-in bookcase that came with our house (click on my name for link to the post), but we renovated it, opened up the center, painted and styled it for our particular needs. Seems like there’s 1,001 ways to style a bookcase, and that’s actually a good thing! Evolving the contents over time makes a lot of sense.

love! chic design, styled perfectly and what a great use of space!


Some designer said every room needs one black thing. Somehow the black books makes the other items on that shelf stand out more to me. I think if you photoshopped out all the black it would be too blindingly white for me. The white objects are already a little lost.
That rug is gorgeous.


My mom taught me the same rule growing up! I wonder where that came from. But yes, I agree, every room needs a bit of black to ‘ground’ it, so I think the black book should stay.


I was going to mention the same thing – some designer said you need something black in every room to ground it. I’m pretty bad at decorating, so I took that advice to heart for the future (to help give me direction). I’m not saying that designer is better than Emily Henderson, though! 🙂

Both look great, but I voted for #1 because I am drawn to the additional color – the funky lady in the pink and the gold-tipped vases.


It looks amazing!!! The earlier versions were beautiful too but this is definitely my favorite! Still super interesting and fun, but very cohesive and calm. I think I actually prefer the black book. And that runner! Gorgeous!


I like the book black and a bit of random color elsewhere. It keeps it real and from looking too matchy and staged.


oh my goodness. When you started saying it was hard to style and you had shot it “like 19 times” my heart was filled with dread that you had taken it out!!

Thankfully, you just restyled. ok…whew


I still love the Domino version but this one is pretty too. I should talk though, my own shelves are very monochromatic, ha!


I’m a fan of books on bookshelves. I’d personally double the books and halve the other items. I’m also a bona fide nerd. That said, the top left shelf in the last picture is so lovely.


id agree with Lynn…I’d remove half the “things” and add more books.


The black book doesn’t bother me at all. I think this looks lovely and I always love to see your styling work, (I am a huge fan!) but this brings up that age-old question for me of form vs function….We are all readers in my family and the books that we own and are displayed on our shelves tell their own, noble story about who we are. We also LUV great design, as that, too, tells our story in its own language. I don’t know, I think books add alot of information/dimension to the story of the folks who live there. Just my two-cents worth, but I think you should display all your books, the ones that mean something to you regardless of color, proudly! 🙂


I agree 🙂


Please bring back the wire lady … or some such thing to shake up the symmetry a touch 🙂


OOh maybe I will …

Susie Q.

I like the wire lady too. Is that BLACK wire? Heaven forfend!


I almost voted for the Domino version because of the wire lady. She’s so beautiful.


I love you for obsessing, because it makes my OCness seem more normal 🙂


Where are the knobs on the bottom cabinets from? love how simple yet pretty/glam they are


Schoolhouse Electric!


I voted for two – which I love! I do have to tell you that I kind of miss that wire-y (it’s a word, trust me) bust though. That thing is amazing.


thats two votes for wire lady. Ok, i’ll think about it 🙂

emily jane

make it three!!! (it’s been awhile since I commented but for some reason the wire lady always makes me think of dancing with wild abandon..? she brings a smile to my lips and soulful movement to whatever vignette she belongs to…)
Thank you for continuing to share your process behind all the lovely images Emily -I have learned so darn much from you over the years! I feel like I might qualify for a certificate of knowledge from the “Emily Henderson Guide-to-Styling” course -if such a thing existed! I truly enjoy feeling like a member of your supportive & appreciative online community (sounding crazier than I am ; ).
All the best to you & yours in the new year! most sincerely, emily jane


I love the design of these shelves/unit. My first thought when you talked about photo shopping the black book was what about the other black books or dark colors and then I read on. I think the gray looks washed out, the larger spot of black doesn’t bother me but I’m not a stylist. I just think these shelves look wonderful. I do like your current vintage rug more than the natural color rug which looks like it would be rough on the feet.


i’ll echo the comment of others and say I love the design of the shelves as well, and everything you do looks great to me. That being said, I had a hard time deciding between the two photos. I think I like the first one just a tad better because it had some live plants in it. It also looks a little less perfect.
Thanks for this blog. I look forward to it every day.


You are right. Its hard in the whole context of the house. I need to take a big pulled back version of the house so you all can see how chaotic it can feel if its not a little more monochromatic.


Good point.


I had to really look at the photos to even figure out what black book you were talking about. I like that black book! It’s funny what one person sees, and another doesn’t! I think it all looks wonderful.


I like it, too. I just thought it was super fun to see without it, but it looks weird 🙂


I had to really look too! And I didn’t mind it at all, once I found it. However… once I had looked so intently at it, I discovered that my eye was unpleasantly drawn to the several red/orange books on the right side of the shelves. This was an especially funny realization, because I prefer the #2 bookshelf, because other colors are mixed in. The quirks of individual aesthetics are fascinating….

Thanks for sharing all these lovely photos! That bookshelf really did turn out so well, especially considering the wonky angles.

Looks beautiful and calm and clean. The black book doesn’t bother me at all and doesn’t stand out or feel out of place. You’re going to be the most critical because it’s your design. Which I totally understand. My husband and I are both artists/designers. I know how the little things can feel like the biggest things. But in this case the styling looks beautiful and cohesive. Nicely done as always.


I prefer style #2…it’s more cohesive and it doesn’t compete with your vintage runner. It blends beautifully!

long time since I’ve commented, but I feel like participating today and explaining my vote 🙂 I think both are great for totally different reasons. My person tastes tend to lean toward #1 though. For some reason, my tastes have always driven me to enjoy designed spaces that appear very non-uniform in color while simultaneously feeling very compete and well put-together (not sure if that even makes sense). versus rooms or vignettes with more specific color palettes. I still enjoy both as evidenced by liking both of your stylings here, I just think there is something special in pulling off a more eclectic mix like #1.


I agree. I think right now I’m going through a more monochromatic phase because my life feels chaotic, but typically i’d be more down with the ‘as long a its awesome it looks good’ thing.



They are both so beautiful but I do think I like #2 more. Sometimes I feel like I need more bold colors in my house which is why I like #1 as well. I seriously need you to come style my bookcase! 😉


I understand about the black book. I’m always removing or putting on book jackets when arranging shelves, depending on visual clutter. But the reality is we read. We like books. The black book keeps it real. Photoshop doesn’t. I can aspire and be inspired by real. I’m sunk if I have to look like a photoshopped house. I voted for two. I think because Christmas all packed away and my head needs to see less clutter. By mid-summer, when I have again thrifted more teasures, my shelves start looking more like 1. Well not really because my shelves are styled by me and, well, yours are by you!

To be fair I like bits of both. I like the stronger colours in one,the plant, the carpet in the other, the dog painting, the blue bottle…
I think the photo of Number 2 lets it down a little because the colours seem a bit washed out.
Your attention to detail over the styling of shelves makes me see how sloppy I am at paying attention to detail in my home (hiding face in shame)….

I’m so obsessed with these shelves! I need to figure out a way to hack something similar for my rental apartment.


Your comment about the book colors cracked me up — I kind of do the same thing. We have those shelves where the books LOOK like a tall stack that’s sitting on the floor, although they’re supported. So all the spines are horizontal. I am OCD about having the right balance of color, and having a purple spine not next to a red one for example. There are some books that I would probably donate to a thrift shop but I can’t, because they have a great-colored spine!

Spring B.

I like the second version better, especially when I go through section by section and evaluate it. I like the yellow pompom plant doodads from the second shot better than the live green, and I like all the cool blues of the pottery in the second one better. The purist in me also appreciates that the second styling shot has books on every shelf because I have serious English major book love. I think mainly I just miss that bright pink lady staring at me from the first one, right next to that little white lamp that I want very badly to be in my own house. Beautiful, immediately-pinned post, as usual.


I miss her too. I didn’t realize it until I compared the two, but I think i’ll bring her back. Not sure why she left anyway! We’ve taken so many things down for different shoots elsewhere so i’ve forgotten what looked good from the first round.


Oh gosh. The thing I love the best-est is . . . . the painting of the Irish Setter. But if you smacked me around I’d vote for 1.


Me, too. THat might be my favorite thing in the house. $20 for the flea market. Can’t beat that.


The bookcase is beautiful and you’re awesome at what you do – you just can’t go wrong no matter how you decide to style it. Don’t stress 🙂


I chose #1because I cannot say no to a pop of fuschia. Can. Not.


Your comments on the book made me realize what is wrong with the styling in MY bookcases… colors are totally random and inconsistent! Now, if only I had the time to hit the flea markets for black and white items… Wait, does anyone have black books to give away?




I would be happy with either of them if they wanted to come live at my house…but I’m kind of digging the bolder colors in #1.


While I love both and we do either in my home, I had to vote for #1. I love me some good strong pops of pink and some good greenery. If #2 maybe had some ivy or other cool looking plant I may have been swayed.

They both look amazing! I voted for #1 because the plants in it are greener and seemed to pop. I don’t think you can go wrong though!


I LOVED the plants. As you’ll see in the ‘holiday’ styling that the plant up top was still there, only in a “different color palette” (aka, DeAD). its so high that i can’t even reach with a step stool so it just sat up there til it died. So while I love a plant up there it would have to be silk and thats just terrifying (albeit totally SMART!!! AND SOMETIMES THEY LOOK REALLY GOOD!!!???!!!???)

Susie Q.

Maybe cacti or air plants?

i like 1 best but i like 2’s rug, so 2 it is.


I need a custom bookcase built in my living room desperately! I’m wondering if you have any custom carpentry contacts in Utah?? I had no idea I could get it built for under $10,000, and to have such a beautiful, professional job. I would LOVE a recommendation if you have one!

I thought I would like 2 more, I really did – I loved how calm and quiet it was. But looking at them side by side, I much prefer the more relaxed, lived in vibe of 1. Both beauts though!

I really love style #2, you make it look so beautiful and effortless.

They are not conceptually that much different but I like #2 better, including the runner. The reason I like #2 better is that you stuck with primitive vessels in shades of turquoise — so it feels cohesive. Lovely.





I love your styling so much I think of it as art. I’m serious. If you wanted to, I think you could exhibit as a diarama or assemblage artist in galleries.

Of the two bookcases, I like the first one best, but some of my preference may have to do with the distance from which they’re photographed. The white objects in the second photo, while beautiful up close, fade into the background at that distance. I also think the first bookcase has more pronounced focal points and a more complex use of texture and contrast. They are both lovely. #nitpicking


Before you wrote “vote” I was drawn to #1 so that’s how I voted. I like live greenery on shelves, I like more colors and we are bibliophiles so I don’t care if there are black bindings. It bothers me a lot more when I see houses with no books or worse..fake books!

Don’t make me choose, I like them both! It’s definitely cleaner without the railing, but as far as the styling goes, I’m completely torn!

Susie Q.

I prefer the first one mainly because I like the green plants and pieces of wood. There it is.


I like look #1 but with the rug from #2. The books in look 2 just look like props. Look 1 makes you come off as a reader.


Any of the above versions of the bookcase is beautiful, of course. But I just can’t come around to the idea that styling a bookcase is unnecessary. As a book lover married to a book hoarder, shelf space is at a premium in our home and making it look pretty is secondary to it being functional. I suppose this could be said about any and every part of our house (style vs. substance) and aesthetics is important (otherwise, I wouldn’t be here on your blog). However, I just don’t like the feeling that in the design/decor world, books are used as props and not as something that brings true meaning and value to a person’s life and home. Please feel free to disagree…


#1 is my favorite, but I think that’s just because of all the green plants. There aren’t any in #2 that I can see, and that makes it seem a bit emptier.


I feel like it should be a pretty subtle difference, but I actually strongly prefer #1. Keeping everything in the more narrow color palette of #2 actually makes my eye overanalyze it more because it’s more contrived. Like in #1, I just think “oh a pretty bookshelf” and it’s restful on the eyes, wheras #2 is more obviously curated so it makes my eye stop and overanalyze and I think things like “those books are just prop books – weird” and the few things that don’t fit the palette seem more glaring and odd.


I agree…#2 looks decorated-y….#1 looks accidentally perfect, my favorite!



I would hate to dust that every week and even if you have someone else doing it, they smash things, no matter how much they try to be careful.
I’ve gotten away from displaying too much – it’s either behind glass or minimal.
I do love version #2 though, much calmer than #1.


I thought the first one was great, but the second one…WOW! I love how it looks so clean, crisp and calming. It’s beautiful 🙂


I agree with Lynn above…more books, less tchotchkes. I also liked the green plants. Very pretty either way.

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