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Design

Make Your Shelves Look Better With These 4 Easy Bookshelf Styling Formulas

Bookshelves can be one of the most daunting things to style. I always say my dream would be to have a grand room with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves but the truth is, staring at those shelves would be like staring up at a huge mountain I have to climb. Thankfully, four years at EHD has taught me that there is a styling formula for almost anything. Lo and behold, we have discovered some no-fail shelf styling formulas that EHD has been using for years and years. If you feel lost, stuck, or just plain exhausted with making decisions, the following four formulas are foolproof and will make your shelves look like they were styled by an actual pro (that’s you!).

First, to help guide your quest, a couple of ground rules we swear by:
1. Maintain a consistent color palette.
2. Mix up the shapes, sizes, and scales.
3. Include a little greenery.

Now that you know the basic rules, let’s dig into the formulas.

FORMULA #1: 2-3 Books Stacked Horizontally + Object On Top

design by corbett tuck | styled by velinda hellenerik kenneth staalbergemily edith bowser, and julie rose | photo by sara ligorria-tramp

Our first tip for styling bookshelves is to start by stacking books horizontally. This will immediately add visual interest and will inform how much more space you have to style with objects other than books. When you stack books horizontally, there is often space above so our favorite trick to take up that unused space is to add an object on top. This could be a lidded bowl, a precious family heirloom, a vintage vessel from your travels, or truly anything you love and want to look at every day. Above, a stack of three books (in ascending size) is coupled with an aged sculptural vessel which adds shape and color to their shelves.

photo by zeke ruelas | from: moody midcentury home office

In the above home office, Ginny peppered in books and objects to create an open yet collected look. The horizontal books are topped with round, sculptural objects which adds movement and texture to the shelves. How cool is that wood-lidded bowl??

FORMULA #2: Art leaning + Multi-Sized Objects Layered in Front

design by dee murphy | styling by velinda hellen | photo by sara ligorria-tramp

Adding art to your shelves is one of our favorite styling tips that can add color, shape, height, and personality. We love the relaxed look of leaning art (as shown above) which also draws your eye to the back of the shelves, making them seem deeper and more open. Now the trick to styling around leaning art is to layer layer layer. Depending on the scale of the art, you can layer 1-3 pieces in front which will create a collected look and will impress all your friends. Just make sure your objects are varying in height, shape, and scale so it is easier for your eye to understand.

design by velinda hellen | photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: velinda renovated & furnished her “fixer upper” for under $55k…here’s how

If you have several art pieces you want to display, you can absolutely layer art in front of art. Just make sure the frames are different sizes and layer the smaller one is in front. We love how Velinda executed this on her custom shelves in her living room.

FORMULA #3: Display A Collection Of Objects Of Varying Shapes And Heights

I am someone who loves my things. I know I am not alone and it’s something we design enthusiasts have to come terms with. I love my vintage coupe glasses, my collection of antique candle sticks, and what would I do without my many lidded bowls and vessels?? Luckily for us, shelves are the perfect display case for objects if done right. Remember the second rule from the beginning? It will come very handy here. Basically, you can absolutely group together several objects as long as they vary in height, size, and shape. If you have a collection of similar objects you want to showcase just make sure they are not identical to avoid your shelves looking too uniform.

For example, in Emily’s Glendale home, she styled her built-ins with many of her favorite objects and some collections, too. The three teal vessels on the right are similar but not identical so they add personality without being too matchy-matchy.

FORMULA #4: 3-5 Books Vertically Flanked By Bookend Or Object

design by rosa beltran | styled by velinda hellen | photo by sara ligorria-tramp

As much as I love my things, I might love my books even more. If you saw my living room reveal you know I have a bookshelf entirely dedicated to books. This reminds me, you can always style your bookshelves with just your books, full stop. However, if you have a lot of books AND want to sprinkle in objects and found things that is of course an option too. To accomplish this look, again start by stacking your books both horizontally and vertically. Once you have done that you can see where your objects make the most sense. With the grouping of vertical books, we suggest flanking them with objects or bookends to create space between the individual vignettes within the shelves. The more sculptural the object the better to add intrigue and movement to your shelves.

And there you have it! These four formulas have never failed us and make styling shelves so easy and fun.

Do you have any other styling questions for us? Be sure to drop them down below. xx

Opener Image Credit: Design by Velinda Hellen | Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: How To Make Your Smallest Room, The Coziest Room In Your Home + Sara’s TV Room Reveal

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Emma
11 months ago

I “style” mine by subject matter. While I understand that organization for aesthetics obviously matters for many people, I find that the most beautiful bookcase of all is the one that is overflowing with books, creased and well-loved books, because it says something about the curious reader who owns the house.

Karen
11 months ago
Reply to  Emma

Yes! We have a massive bookshelf just overflowing with books and it’s the greatest conversation starter ever 🙃

kiki
11 months ago
Reply to  Emma

Yes! I think there’s bookshelves that are functional? and others that are just decorative. Tips like these I apply to the “decorative” bookshelves. But there’s a whole other category that needs to function? And not every house has room or the need for both versions 🙂

Izabella
11 months ago

I have been reading this blog for ten+ years, and I really would love to see a post finally about how to style bookshelves when one actually books – and not just a few to linger there between knicknacks and greenery – e.g. I struggle to style my 1,500 volumes in my living room. Help me, please 🙂

Juanita
11 months ago
Reply to  Izabella

If it’s not too maddening to be able to find what you’re looking for later, try organizing by height of spine first, then by color of spine, with tallest books on the lower shelves. Then, arrange them so that their spines all line up in a neat row a few inches from the edge of the shelf (i.e. don’t push each book all the way to the back of the shelf so that the spines are all at different depths). This can calm the eye / make it feel less cluttered. I do this by category – so for example will group all my nonfiction books in one section of the bookshelf, then arrange by height, then color, then align. (I actually find it easier to find books this way because I can associate a book in my memory with its size and color of its jacket, but it takes some getting used to.)

Juanita
11 months ago
Reply to  Juanita

(A quick follow-up note on my comment above that I live in a small space, about 700 square feet total, so a messy bookcase makes the whole space feel cluttered! This method helps a bit, but might be overkill for others. To each their own…)

Alice
11 months ago
Reply to  Juanita

I think your suggestions are excellent Juanita. I’m not sure there’s any other way to style massive amounts of books. I solved the problem by getting rid of 99% of my massive collection of books and getting rid of the bookshelves but I know that’s a solution that would horrify most bibliophiles.

Angela
11 months ago
Reply to  Alice

Haha, I co-sign this solution! I love books, but I only hang onto very pretty ones or ones I’m sure I’ll read again. To me, if you love a book, set it free! Let it move onto the next reader! Are people actually re-reading the 100s of books they own?

l.a.
11 months ago
Reply to  Angela

yes, i re-read them 🙂

Stacia
11 months ago
Reply to  Alice

😱

Lisa
11 months ago
Reply to  Izabella

Me three! While I appreciate the subject of this post and I am sure I’ll steal some ideas from this for my own conundrum 🙂 I wouldn’t neccessarily call these bookshelves, rather “stylish shelves with decor objects some of whom are books” which is valid! sometimes you need a shelf just like this on an empty wall and it can look gorgeous! (And I admit mine is a perhaps slightly less jazzy title XD) but I would also love an additional post on how to style a shelf which manily houses books! I know it says it right in the post (and was very appreciated!) that you can just let it be only books – and I think Ryann’s version of this looks beautiful! But for me I love to order my books by thematic sections (and then within these sections by colour and hight, which reduces the visual clutter somewhat) but then you always end up with gaps betweens these sections. Which I like! It gives you some negative space and I would like to ALSO present some of my pretty things within my shelf, but it does look cluttered so fast… I’d love to see more well executed… Read more »

Lisa
11 months ago

Aaaw thank you for remindimg me of this housetour, Ryann! I had nearly forgotten how gorgeous the rest of the house was, though I always remembered the bookshelves (backlit, what a dream!!). I especially love the stlying of the slim build-in bookcase which is still 98% books standing upright, but then there is one pile with a cute little vessel/candleholder on top and a gorgeous bust in the upper right. I’m not sure if I have that much restraint myself but it certainly makes it look very effortless and yet stylish (“Like oh yes that is where I forgot my gorgeous pottery bust….”) The big shelf really is just mostly books apart from that gorgeous mask hung infront of it from what I can tell, but beautiful nontheless!

Izabella
11 months ago

OOOOOH, swoon 🙂 So many great ideas, thank you, Ryann, thank you Juanita, thank you everyone.

kat randall
11 months ago
Reply to  Izabella

a few things i’ve tried:
-Ditching Book Jackets,
-(I’ve also seen some people make thier own book jackets in their own color schemes)
-put paperback series’ in a basket or two-deep (since they are so much thinner, to take up less space)

Cait
11 months ago

I enjoy looking at these styled shelves, but it’s hard to think of them as a bookcase- my limited bookcases and shelving are full of books! I’ve tried a few of these but it honestly makes the bookcase seem more crowded to shoehorn in a few decorative elements than to just have books with some breathing space.

🥰 Rusty
11 months ago

I’m sensing deja vu.
Again.

Sheila
11 months ago

Me, too! 400 hundred cookbooks alone live just off the kitchen (I’m an avid cook an use them every day); cocktail books in the dining room; gardening, wine and travel in the family room; fiction in the living room; reference and religion in the den, art, design and miscellaneous in the guest room

Alice
11 months ago

I am increasingly finding heavily styled shelves to be too chaotic…too much visual clutter. I can understand the appeal of having a strong object game along with everything else on the shelves but it’s not restful (I understand that “restful” is not a universal goal.)

Marisa
11 months ago

At this stage of my life, my shelves are packed tightly with hundreds of kids’ books, and that’s as styled as we’re going to get for a while 😂

Heather
11 months ago

My favorite way to style bookshelves is to fill them with books, organized by category and then color.

Aquagirl809
11 months ago

”…you can always style your bookshelves with just your books, full stop.” Yes!

Janice
11 months ago

I have two small vertical glass fronted book cases. They are stuffed with books. I bought them so I wouldn’t have more books than space. If I bring in a new book, one has to go.

Donna
11 months ago

I knew my favorite turquoise-backgrounded dog painting would be among the shelf groupings! My heart skips a beat every time I see it.

Paula
11 months ago
Reply to  Donna

Me, too! I love that picture. I have a few, but only of dachshunds. And I love love LOVE them, too.

Michelle Strasser
11 months ago

Just want to say thanks and that I never tire of these styling posts! Great inspo photos and fun ideas to try!

11 months ago

Thanks for this! I see people style their bookshelves and it looks effortless for them – while I’m like confused with what to do with mine. When I attempt to do so – it doesn’t look cohesive. Ugh, the struggle so thanks for this again!

Tracy
11 months ago

Thank you for the design tips! This really made sense more than anything else I’ve read regarding bookshelf styling. Thanks.

Jen
11 months ago

“I have a bookshelf entirely dedicated to books.” Lol—that’s the point of BOOKshelves, isn’t it? How about some ideas for working in accents and knickknacks around full shelves of books (not just 3 in a stack or a few random ones here & there)

Linda R
11 months ago

I like to showcase a few of my favorite books by displaying them ‘facing out’ on an easel or propped up. I am surprised more stylists and ‘real people’ don’t do this. That’s what bookstores do to feature theirs! 😉

Book covers often have brilliant designs that are works of art – which is also a free way to decorate your bookshelves. Seeing the covers reminds me how much I adore those special books.

P.S. – Donate your extra, unused books to your local library to help them raise money during book sales.