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How to Style Your Bookcase If You’re a Book Hoarder


From what many of you have told me styling your bookshelves is as hard for you as filing for taxes is for me – daunting and stressful, where you aren’t sure where to start, and you’re sure it will never end. But, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and maximizing your shelving for whatever purpose bests suits your home, whether that be storage, housing your collections, or a place to actually hold all your books, is something that everyone can achieve in a few easy steps. I promise. This month in Redbook, we are breaking down the process for three different ways to get your bookcases into tip top shape.

Maximum Storage: For those of you that need to use your bookcase for actual storage purposes there are some very pretty solutions out there. These not only maximize your storage, but allow you to still display some of your pretty objects. You may be thinking, wait is that the same shot as the first one? It is, but Redbook popped the colors (as you can see below).


Step 1: If you truly don’t know where to begin then start by clearing out everything. I know this sounds like an awful task, but clearing out everything is the only way to truly begin the process. As you clear everything out you will quickly find that A LOT of the stuff that you have thrown in there is no longer needed or useful, so, in the spirit of spring cleaning (is it that time of year already?!) separate everything out into keep, toss, or donate piles.

Step 2: Pick a color palette. You will want to begin by picking a color palette for your storage items and sticking with it. Nothing will make your bookcase feel more cluttered and unorganized than a bunch of mismatched boxes and bins. We kept all of ours very neutral so that we could bring some life and color into the bookcase with art, accessories, and a few personal items.

Step 3: Start from the bottom and work your way up. To ground your bookcase you will want to place your largest storage boxes and bins at the bottom, so that it doesn’t feel too top heavy, and you can keep the top half filled with smaller and lighter accessories and storage needs (like these magazine files).

Step 4: Leave space for some personal items. To make your bookcase feel less like a storage unit, and more like a bookcase, be sure to dedicate some shelf space to art, a few accessories, a bud vase with some fresh flowers, or a small momento. Adding these little touches will help personalize the shelf.

And of course, we couldn’t let a post go by without including a GIF to show you the before image vs. the image that was published in print.


Book Heavy: For those of you that want to actually use your bookshelf for books, this one is for you.


Step 1: Biggest books first. You will want to start by adding your biggest books in first, as these visually carry the most weight. We reserved the bottom two shelves of this bookcase for the larger books, and then accented a few of the other shelves with a stack or two of them. You can break them up visually by adding a large vase in between them or stacking them horizontally in a few stacks, as we did on the second shelf. A helpful tip that will help things not only look but feel clean is to pull all the spines of the books to the front edge of the shelves lining each of them up (just as they do in a library).

Step 2: Create vignettes. To keep your bookshelf from feeling too stark you will want to create a few vignettes within the stacks of books. Let the books be the focus, but adding a small lamp, a little accessory in front of books, or even some flowers can help break up all of the vertical and horizontal lines that the books create.

Step 3: Leave some breathing room. To prevent your bookcase from getting too packed and visually chaotic make sure to leave some empty areas in your shelves. This allows your eye to have a moment of rest when looking at the shelf.

Once again . . . the beautiful before and after GIF. It’s pure eye candy, and although we aren’t quite sure about all the changes, we do think it is very fun to see what they did to the image.


Showcasing Your Collections: It is no secret that we love “stuff” over here at Emily Henderson Design (the good stuff). But, there are a few rules to keep in mind when displaying said “stuff” to prevent it from looking like you have a thrift store in your living room.


Step 1: Larger items on bottom. Just as we discussed in the previous two examples, the same principle applies here. Your largest items or collectibles, which visually carry the most weight, should live near the bottom of the shelf. This is not a steadfast rule, as a larger item could look great on a higher shelf, but generally a huge box of blankets or a large decorative box is not going to look best on the top shelf.

Step 2: Curate vignettes. Similar to step 2 in the previous bookshelf, you will want to create small vignettes or collections based on what you have to display. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by thinking about the entire bookcase at one time, take it piece by piece and slowly fill it out. A good collection/vignette typically has 3-5 items in it, all varying in height, but having similar context. You won’t get it right on the first try, even we move things around over and over until we find just the right place for everything. But, keep going until you find the perfect combo for your space. And then do it all over again the following week if you are like me.

Step 3: Add something personal. There is nothing worse than a bookcase filled with stuff that you just went and bought from the store. Make your bookcase personal by including items that you love, and that have meaning to you. You can house some of these items in glass display boxes like we did, or place a collection of them on a stack of books, which will help ground them and help them from looking too bitsy or cluttered.


What are your other bookcase blunders that you can’t seem to conquer? Be sure to let us know, and we can try and solve them in an upcoming post. Want more DIYs? Check out our other recent Redbook projects: 1 Lamp 3 WaysDIY Upholstered HeadboardDIY Wooden Dowel Coat Rack | DIY Mod Podge Chair | DIY Side Table Ikea Hack | 1 Curtain 3 Ways | Ladder Wardrobe

***photography by: David Tsay, styled by: Scott Horne and Brady Tolbert, Art Directed by Me


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94 thoughts on “How to Style Your Bookcase If You’re a Book Hoarder

  1. So, I really needed this post! I have a ton of books which I can never part with, yet I just stack them on my bookshelf in a normal/vertical fashion. I about melted when I saw how much character the bookshelf had once you mixed up the layout of the books and added little accents of decor between them. I now have a new weekend project for myself!


  2. Do you have a source for the glass display case in the third bookcase photo? Hoping it’s not vintage. Looking for a way to display my grandmother’s penny dolls and never thought of doing it that way. thx

    1. They have been popping up a lot lately at TJ Maxx and Homegoods around me (south florida). I found one without any compartments but with a beautiful tropical print as a liner on the bottom and it was $14!! I hope you find one!

    1. No! Don’t KonMari the bookcase- You will completely regret it.

      I love her ideas, but when she said get rid of books you haven’t read yet, my heart almost stopped.

    2. YES! I read that and was like, “But how am I supposed to read new books if I don’t have them!” I don’t think she was speaking to English teachers/professional writers. I love the library, but I also love having the option to start a new book any time I want!

      Also, I totally bought more bookshelves than I absolutely NEED so I could give my books a little breathing room with accessories. That helped immensely!

    3. I did “KonMari” my books a while ago, and I continue to purge. The reason ? I had a lot of classics I’ve read once or twice, and remember. We are talking about 150 books, none of which I’ve read for years. Are they classics ? Yes. Do I care about the actual books ? Nope. I know I can download them in a matter of seconds, and since the original books weren’t worth anything, I’m ok with that.

      I’ve kept my favorites, as long as they have beautiful covers. I’ve kept the ones I read and reread and read again (Jane Austen and Terry Pratchett, basically). I’ve kept the books I need for my writing and studies, because no one has downloadable French/ancient Greek versions of Plato (and I love the old-fashion binders).

      It’s been four months and I’ve never regretted donating a single book. I still have around 250 of them, and I LOVE them.

  3. What if you have kids who can reach the first couple shelves? Large kid friendly storage bins and books on those shelves?

    1. When my daughter was little, we had floor to ceiling open shelves, similar to these ones. The 2 bottom shelves were for her books and toys, so that she could reach them. I don’t think it looked as styled as on the pictures here but was very practical.

  4. I’ve always found bookcases so hard to style for me. I think because mine (like most people I’d assume) are filled with books of totally different sizes, including some very well loved but also very beat up paperbacks, which always made it look so junky. I read in “Styled” (I think? or possibly the blog) to line up all the spines of the books so that way even books of different depths still look nice and neat next to each other. Basically exactly how you always show them in pictures, but apparently I needed it spelled out to really grasp the concept. THIS WAS A GAME CHANGER. Did everyone else already know this simple tip?! It was literally like a light bulb went off for me.

    1. Bethany, I clicked to the comment section to leave this exact tip, because it was also a game-changer for me. Not only does it look better, it virtually eliminates dusting. Win win!

      Funny story: when I first started using this method, I was showing it off to my mother-in-law, who was a school librarian for years. I was just gushing and gushing about pulling the spines to the edge of the shelf, and she looked at me strangely and said, “You mean like they do in all the libraries?” Head-smack moment.

      1. Hahaha, I didn’t even realize that libraries did that too! I’m glad I’m not the only one who wasn’t born with this knowledge. It is so smart and so obvious and I definitely would never have figured it out on my own.

      2. I always “just naturally” arranged my books that way, but now I bet it’s actually a habit I developed as a library helper way back in fifth grade.

  5. Yes! Pls help me style my 4 yr old son’s new “big boy” bookcase. I want it to look pretty (handsome?) but he needs to be able to easily get the books in/out by himself.

  6. I like it! I will say I have a pet peeve re: bookshelves for book lovers: no one I know who is a big reader would ever stack their books horizontally. What happens when you pull out anything but the top book? Libraries use vertical stacking for a reason, and so do genuine readers. To me, seeing horizontally stacked books is always off putting, because the books seem to be more for decoration than for actually reading.

    1. That’s how I feel about books categorized by color, or turne around so all the pages are facing out… but books stacked horizontally is just what happens when I read a lot and am too lazy to put the books back the way they should go…..

      1. I’m super visual, so my books that are color coordinated are still really easy for me to find. I just think “Pride and Prejudice” Hmmm “green spine” and there it is. Although, only some of my books are organized by color, the rest are alphabetical.

    2. And also, I think heavy coffee table books get a “pass” here as well – often they just don’t fit vertically in the shelves. Libraries do this, too. Oh but you know what is absolutely the WORST (from a reader’s perspective; obviously from a visual/design perspective it’s fine, I guess)? A lamp on top of a stack of books. Ugh.

    3. I don’t mind books stacked horizontally, and I’d like to think I’m a pretty big reader. I’ve never found it hard to just lift up a couple books to pick up the bottom one in a stack. I obviously wouldn’t put a book I read all the time on the very bottom of a pile and then stack other decor on top of it as well though. That is just making your life harder for no reason! Haha

    4. I’ve got some horizontally stacked books. I put them that way for 2 reasons: 1. They’re too tall to fit on the top shelf, and 2. My bookcases are so cheap and crappy I figure by stacking books this way I can support the shelf above and keep it from sagging. Sad, but true (and effective)!

    5. I am a professor and author and have hundreds of books. In my office, I have long shelves. I stack my books horizontally because it is so much easier to pull them out from under a few other books than to have a stack of dozens fall sideways into the space left when I pull a book out. Also, when my books are small, e.g. some paperbacks, I can fit more on the shelves if I stack them.

  7. This was such a fun and helpful post. I am a book hoarder (although I did KonMari my book collection earlier this year). My problem seems to be that my books don’t look good together. Some are leather and look like they belong in an English manor library, some are bright and colorful, and some have just really boring spines (aka all my husband’s books about motorcycles and bikes). Any ideas?

    1. I have one shelf where I put all my bright and beautiful books and the rest I covered in craft paper and wrote the titles on with white ink. It took forever and made me feel crazy, but I love how it looks.

  8. I have triangular built in shelving in my dining room (in two corners) with the top half open and the bottom enclosed with doors, and I’m having such a hard time styling with the awkward shape – it makes it difficult to lean art, and a lot of my cook books are too tall to stand up right. How would you go about styling corner built in shelving? Help! (Please). Also the styling of these shelves is AMAZING! So beautiful.

    1. Emily has some triangular shaped shelves at the top of her hallway built-ins… I think she just puts up a pretty piece of pottery or even leaves them empty. You might be able to find some reference photos on the blog.

    2. I too have a corner free standing black cabinet In my dining room. I have tried at least 25 times maybe more to decorate it. I am working on it again today before I saw this post! Besides being a triangle like Megan’s mine has a wood post up and down in the middle of all three shelves. That is making it even harder to decorate. The bottom has two doors which are always closed. I have looked on Pinterest and there are not any good ideas there. I would love pictures and tips—Please Help!!!!!

  9. Great post today! The hardest thing for me with bookshelves is having enough pretty bigger pieces to sprinkle in with books and bowls, plants, etc. You gave me some great ideas though with layering things on top of each other like the double decker hat boxes… And the glass display jar. Thank you!

  10. I got to admit – I like the “white” / original versions so much better. I do appreciate how they make the photo pop by adding contrast/depth to the shelves, but for my taste – they could have left the pastel colors out – especially in the image with the books.

  11. I love the large glass jar with cork lid holding matchbooks. My grandfather collected matchbooks, and while I’ve framed some, I love this idea for the others. Anyone know where to find a jar like that? All the ones with cork lids I can find are small 🙁

  12. I don’t mind that fluorescent red coral, but I did have to ponder it. It isn’t very E.H.! Now I see that it was actually white–aha.

  13. Thank you! I’ve been eager to see you style a bookshelf with books for a long time. So appreciate this.

    – Bookworm and Styled by EH Fan

    1. I’m a big EH design fan and avid reader of this blog…am I the only one who saw these bookshelves and thought they looked WAAAAY too full? There’s too much going on here for me. So. much. stuff.

  14. wait. I can’t handle the ‘before’ and ‘after’ color pop images! Those are crazy! Man if I had those photoshop skills my home would look amazing 😉 No really though, so interesting to see how the slight pops of color and shading in the bookcases makes things jump more. It’s a great way to advocate for darker paint colors in the back of bookshelves!


  15. I liked this one a lot. I’ve read your other bookshelf styling tips before (and Orlando’s too), but this reality of “stuff heavy” or “book heavy” or “storage needed” is so much truer to my IRL needs. Super helpful, and I also find these GIFs cooler than most because the magazine tweaks are fascinating. 🙂 A+++!

  16. Great tips, Emily! I think too that the original photos are prettier than the photoshopped ones. That pink coral is crazy!

  17. Emily, I love your blog (and book). I learn something every time I come on here. What I love about this blog is that it’s not just pretty pictures; you teach HOW to do different styling/decorating things.

  18. I have yet to meet a bookworm with as little as 150 books, but I’ll take it.
    One day I would love to see an actual bookshelf with at least 500 or so which seems more realistic to me as a bookworm 🙂

    1. I thought the same! We have 500+ books! But what we’ve done is put a massive bookcase in our – what do you call it in the states? basement room I guess – we call it the rumpus room. And yes it has a few horizontal stacks, just to break up the rows and also because you can fit more small books in that way. And then we’ve pulled out about 20 of our nice design books to put in the living room with candlestick, vase, terrarium etc. And these display books can change – at the moment they’re all the black, gold and green ones, but sometimes I change it up and have bright colours.
      I found it weird in Redbook that Emily talks about the green file folders – even though to her they’re actually cream. Did they change the quote as well as the colours?

    2. yes!! even though there are actually (thank you baby jesus!) real live books, I would need like 12 bookcases to be able to hold all my books if they only had the amount of even the “bookworm” pic.

    3. I love to read, but I don’t own that many books (About 40 or so). I would love to, but it is so easy and FREE to borrow books from library 🙂

    4. Yes! Also, matching leather bound books look so fake, like props not real books. I read fiction and I love the cover designs, they make my shelves look beautiful. The ornaments and gaps look fussier to me than a shelf filled up properly with books. I have a lovely bookcase with some shelves devoted to books, some with pictures or ornaments, but only because I built the shelves big enough for growth. When I get more books, the ornaments get shifted and it looks better that way! Also I have one giant and three medium bookcases and one set of crates holding books dotted through my flat. Vary your book holding receptacles.

  19. No such thing as too many books, just not enough bookcases 🙂 And yes, I’ve got a dedicated library as well as bookcases in most rooms.

    ALL my bookcases are full of books (generally organised by subject and author), BUT I push the books back and have small collections at the front. Stone and bone artefacts, perfume bottles, vases, small sculptures, china, framed pictures.

    I find it really hard to winnow out my collection (other than getting rid of ones I don’t like). Seriously thinking about putting up a shelf above the picture rail of the hallway, that should get me a few more years 🙂

  20. Would you follow the same “start from the bottom” rule for a bookshelf that is part of a built in desk that starts at desk level and goes up to the ceiling? I’m wondering if I should still use large storage pieces at the bottom (which is really more eye level) or if that would be too visually heavy in this case.

  21. Hi Emily, Love your blog, love your style, but I have to say, I do not love your collaborations with Redbook. Their editorial/Photoshop team manages to cheapen/ruin everything you create for them. It seems like maybe you recognize this? Anyway, hope that contract is over soon and that you realize there are other collaboration opportunities and companies who will appreciate and respect what you bring to the table.

  22. “Leave some breathing room. To prevent your bookcase from getting too packed and visually chaotic make sure to leave some empty areas in your shelves.” There is no such thing as empty space on a bookworm’s bookshelf – just a space that’s going to be occupied by the book you buy tomorrow. 😉

  23. Great post! I love all three iterations. What are your thoughts on displaying/styling family photos? Is it better to relegate them to albums and save shelf space for other items, or is there a good way to showcase them?

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