How to Style a Gorgeous Bookcase

Did you ever wish you could make your messy bookcases look like they do in a magazine?  Let me show you how bookcase styling can make yours look fabulous, too!  You’ll have to empty out the contents first, then:

meg braff design

Design by Meg Braff via Pinterest

1.  Start with hardback BOOKS.  It is a bookcase, afterall.  Your bookcases will always look cluttered and messy if it’s filled with trinkets and photos.  I think bookcase styling should require more books than anything else.     

styling bookcases

Velvet & Linen 

2.  Remove dust jackets and group books by COLOR.  You really don’t need those dustjackets unless you are taking the book to the pool or something.  Your husband may think it’s crazy, but grouping your books by color makes a really beautiful effect in your bookcases.

books grouped by color

via Pinterest

3.  Arrange the books in your bookcase in a zig-zag pattern.  Start with a half row of books from the left of the shelf to the middle, in order of descending height.  On the shelf below, start from the opposite side.


Zigzag Pattern in Bookcases via Pinterest

4.  Place a short stack of books or an object that acts as a bookend at the end of each book grouping.  Good objects to use in bookcase styling include vases, pottery, collections, and small boxes.

5.  Intersperse a large stack of horizontal books in the center of a shelf here and there, rather than arranging them vertically.  Pop an interesting object or framed photo on top.

bookcase styling

via Pinterest

6.  Add in objects that have some connection in groups of three, like three varying sizes of pottery/vases in the same color family.

7.  Place wicker or rattan baskets in the bottom shelves of your styled bookcase to house paperback books, paperwork, dvds, and children’s toys.


BHG via Pinterest

8.  Hang a couple of small pieces of art in the back of the bookcase, or you can even hang one on the frame of the bookcase if you’re feeling feisty.

art hung on bookcase

9.  Remember to step back and look at the bookcase as you are working.  Think about visual balancing things across the bookcase.  If you step back and look at the entire thing every few minutes, you’ll see where you need to add and subtract.

10.  Having trouble finding objects to use in styling the bookcase?  Dishes from your kitchen cabinet, travel memorabilia, or objects from nature make interesting and inexpensive art for your bookcases.

bookcase styling

 via Pinterest

I hope that helps!  Check out my Furniture Arranging Workshop to learn how to utilize my method for arranging furniture, artwork, and accessories.

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36 thoughts on “How to Style a Gorgeous Bookcase

  1. Kelly says:

    I love styled bookshelves! Great instructions Kristie. Bookshelves are a great way to show some personality in a room. Beautiful examples photos. Wish I lived closer- I would love to come to your class!

  2. TKraft Art & Interiors says:

    Another great post – thanks. Books are my shoes! I love walking into to someones home and seeing bookcases filled with books and collections of their life and travels. And when I walk into a interior design job and find or rather don’t find bookcase they are there when I leave the site.

  3. Kari says:

    Thanks for these great tips! I’m definitely going to bookmark this post. My bookcases always look messy and blah to me – never like the pretty ones on Pinterest or in decorating magazines. You telling us to get rid of the book jackets is a biggie for me – the OCD in me can’t hardly remove the book jackets, LOL! But, I know that would make a huge difference so I’m going to do it.

  4. Angel says:

    Krista, this is incredibly helpful to me! My living room bookcase is now on my “to do” list. Can’t wait to see how it turns out. 🙂

  5. Kari says:

    I have built-ins flanking a fireplace in my kitchen and I am having the worst time styling them! I have great bookcase built-ins in my living room, and I love the way they look, but the kitchen is throwing me off. Any advice for this room?

    • Kristie Barnett says:

      What do you think might be the difference between the living room and the kitchen bookcases (why you like one and the other throws you off)? I’d use lots of vases and pottery in the kitchen bookcases, along with some water or tea pitchers and stacked sets of plates and pretty glasses. They should be functional storage, as well as pretty.

      • Kari says:

        I do have lots of blue and white porcelain pieces, but they seem too small or not a big enough statement or too cluttered or something! Ha! I think what is missing is the stacking/layering effect that is present with the books in the living room. I think your tip of stacked sets of plates and pretty glasses might be what is missing! Thank you for replying!

  6. Annie Vincent says:

    Great tips!! I am hoping to be installing a bookcase soon and I will be referencing this for tips!

    Wish I was local I would be asking hubby for a ticket to your workshop for sure!!

  7. Elayne says:

    How do you find anything that way? How do you find your Heinlein books, or your books on knitting? They don’t get published by color and size.

    • Kristie Barnett says:

      Honestly, when I love a book – I know what it looks like. The color of the cover, the print on the spine. It’d be one thing if we were talking about a huge library of books, but in a pair or two of bookcases it never takes me more than a couple of minutes to find the book I’m looking for.

  8. Lee says:

    I’m going to have to voice dissent here. There is a big difference between decorating with books and actually using them. If I grouped our books by color I’d never find them. They are organized according to the Dewey Decimal System categories and in alphabetical order by author. We have hundreds of books and yet I can find just the one I need at a moment’s notice! Unless of course it is already in someone’s room being read and reread. Books should be used for their content not their color.

    • Kristie Barnett says:

      Obviously, it wouldn’t be wise to do this in a library of hundreds of books or in schoolbooks. This is more about decorative bookcase styling in a living room or other more public room. Frankly, I’m more likely to be clued in by the color of the book that I’m looking for than I am the Dewey Decimal number! To each her own, I suppose 🙂

  9. Francie says:

    Thank you so much for this fabulous post, Kristie! It is full of great advice and photos, and I will definitely be using it as a reference for my sunroom bookshelves which are in serious need of styling. In fact, I am having to resist the urge to take everything off of them right now because I have way too much work to do today. But sometime soon this is happening. I know your event will be fabulous and wish I could attend but have to give a presentation that night.

  10. Bonnie Marie Z says:

    I absolutely love this post! Finally, a post about styling bookcases that focuses on books! I hope to be able to use your great tips in our living room and share the results on my own blog!

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  13. Livia says:

    Very useful post. Like a Perfect and easy to follow procedure. I am styling my office bookcase now, and I am having trouble with the fact that I have to combine my design with my spiritual books to keep them in the proper place for colour and size. My husband laughs…

  14. Jeanne Kramer says:

    Just when I thought I was done redecorating my office, you reminded me that I should go back and look at my bookshelves again. Just took all covers off of the hardbacks and regrouped them by color. WOW- what a difference! Thank you!!

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  17. Kathy says:

    You are about the first stylist I have heard who thinks that bookcases should be full of books! And you don’t say cover them in paper or turn them around so only the pages show. Do you have any advice to make a very large collection of books more attractive?

    I really must to have the books grouped by subject, with history, art and biographies further organized roughly by time period, not by size or color, but I can subdivide somewhat within categories or on a single shelf or block of shelves. I do somewhat shelf by size within each category.

    I have removed the rattiest dust jackets, but the others provide color cues and more contrasty titles so I can find what I want. My eyes don’t focus that well at middle distances, so that is a problem for me unfortunately.

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