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How to Style a Bookshelf

Despite what the name might suggest, bookshelves are for much more than just storing your collection of books. If you've ever looked at an interior design magazine and wondered how everything can look so effortlessly put together, it all comes down to styling. You can live in the most perfectly built home, but the part that pulls it all together is choosing the right pieces and displaying them in a way that enhances your space.

You might have heard that some people just have an eye for design. While it is true that some people have a knack for putting together all the details into a perfectly curated space, we are happy to report that this is absolutely something that can be taught!

If you want to be able to style a bookshelf like an interior designer, here are some of our tips for you.

Start With a Blank Slate

What better place to start than at the beginning? Whether you are trying to style a new bookshelf or change up an existing one, make sure to remove everything that is currently there so you can start afresh. You may find it helpful to sort the items you want to put on the shelf into categories, for example books, decorations, and frames. Within each category you can also separate your items by size, which will be helpful later when you decide what items to pair together on the shelf.

One of the reasons people find it daunting to style their shelves is thinking you need to go out and buy a bunch of new things to fill them up with. This doesn't have to be the case! Start with the things you already have at home (maybe even tucked away in a box somewhere), and if you think there's something missing you can add in a couple of extra pieces. Either way, it's best to start by removing everything so you can begin with a blank canvas.

Variety is key

We've already touched on the fact that bookshelves are for more than just books, but let's stay here just a little while longer. Depending on how large your collection of books is, you may have a lot of space for filling out your shelves with decor, or you may not even have enough space for your books!

If what you are looking for is an aesthetically appealing bookshelf that looks like it could belong in an interior design magazine, you need to make sure to have a good mix of books as well as decorative pieces. Consider displaying your travel memorabilia, some art, or framed family photos.

You should also aim to vary the texture, height and size of the items you are displaying near each other on your shelves, for added visual interest. Although remember to keep it balanced! If you put all your heavier or larger objects on one side of your shelf it can come out looking off. While complete symmetry isn't necessary, or even possible, a balanced display is much more appealing to the eye.

Books Can Be Decoration Too

We are talking about adding pieces of home decor to your shelves, but don't forget that your books can also be decorative! If you have any favourites that you want to be front and centre, consider displaying these at eye level. For your hardcover books try removing the jacket and seeing if you prefer the look, sometimes the dustjacket hides a beautiful design you haven't even seen yet.

Remember to also vary the orientation of the books on your shelf - they don't all have to be stacked vertically in the traditional way. Place some books in small horizontal piles. This adds visual interst, and can even be used as a pedestal to display another piece of decor!

Design by Styled Spaces, Victoria, BC. Photo by Melanie Orr Photography.

The Magic of Odd Numbers

Our favourite rule is the rule of three. When styling a shelf as an interior designer, we tend to group items together when displaying them in order to add visual interest and depth to the display.

Items grouped in odd numbers tend to be the most visually appealing. Three seems to be the magic number, but it also works with five or seven. Just be careful to avoid clutter!

Finding items that work together in a group can take time and practice, but remember to choose items that have a similar style and feel but with varying height, texture, and size. You can add height to a piece by placing it on top of something else, such as a stack of books. This creates dimension to your display, and it still is seen as one item since the eye processes it as a single unit.

Design by Styled Spaces, Victoria, BC. Photo by Melanie Orr Photography.

Don't forget to layer

You follow all the steps - you sort through your items, you group them into odd numbers, you place them on the shelf. And somehow it still falls flat.

This is something we hear so often, and there are a few different reasons why your shelves still aren't quite giving you the look from the interior design magazines. One important reason, is layering. It may seem like a small thing, but you'd be surprised at the effect it can have. We've already talked about layering objects on top of each other, but you should also layer objects along the depth of the shelf. Consider leaning a larger piece of art against the back of the shelf and placing a plant or a smaller frame partially covering it. It adds interest and depth, and pulls your pieces together into a more cohesive group.

Remember Your Colour Scheme

To make sure your shelf looks cohesive and fits in with the design of the rest of your home, try to keep your colour scheme in mind when putting it together. This can be more difficult when you already have a bunch of items you are trying to fit together, but it is a key part of creating a cohesive space which looks intentional. If you have a painted piece on your shelf, try repeating the colour in one or two more places on your shelf in order to blend the colour scheme seamlessly together. And as hard as it may be, if you are having to try too hard at making a certain piece fit, it can save you a lot of time and headache to just remove it altogether.

Don't Forget To Self Edit

Sometimes no matter how much you rearrange items on your shelf, it still doesn't quite come together. One of the most important aspects of interior design is self editing. It's important to look at your work with a critical eye, and admit to yourself when something just isn't working. No matter how much you love a piece that you want to incorporate into your shelf, if it is putting off the aesthetic you might need to get brutal and cut it. Unless you're prepared to plan and structure your entire bookshelf around this item in order to make it fit in, which can be an option depending on how important it is to you. More often than not though, it's far less hassle to just find another place for it.

The best way of self editing your work is to step back and look at the whole picture. This is something you have to do at the end of the project, but we also recommend that you do it from time to time during the process as well. Stepping back gives you a better view of the things you have already placed and if they work together, and it's far easier (and less frustrating) if you edit as you go. No one wants to get to the end only to have to start all over again!

Design by Styled Spaces, Victoria, BC. Photo by Melanie Orr Photography.

Styling a bookshelf is an artform, but once you learn and get comfortable with a few basic principles, you'll realise it's not nearly as hard as it might seem. We have plenty more tips to share, but we'll save those for another day. We hope that some of these have been helpful to you!


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