8 Secrets to Successfully Styling Bookcases and Built-ins

· Simple steps for the perfect Shelfie ·

Apr, 04, 2021

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Styling Bookcases

Is there a secret to styling the perfect bookcase? Not really. It doesn’t take talent or a whole lot of money to make your bookcases look picture perfect, just a few simple rules and a few hours. I’m here to share 8 simple steps for styling the perfect shelfie.

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Bookcase Styling SOS

This past week a client called me for a bookcase styling SOS. She loved her bookcases but thought they needed a pop of color and some finishing touches. It doesn’t hurt to start with a beautiful stacked stone fireplace wall with natural wood stained bookcases flanking a gas fireplace!   But don’t worry. You don’t have to have a mac daddy shelving unit to get beautiful styled shelves. These tips can be used on everything from kitchen shelving, formal living room and family room to free standing and built-ins. stacked stone fireplace, decorating with books, wood shelves< wood mantel, styling bookcases, narrow shelves, shopping at HomeGoods, HomeGoods decor

1. Mix Old and New

Your home should be a refection of you and your interest. Bookcases and shelves are the perfect spot to highlight your collections or favorite things.  It’s no fun seeing 100% store bought decor.  I am a bibliophile and never can get enough books. Books are an affordable decor staple that adds, interest, height and color.  On install day, in came a big bag of blue books to bring in the colors of the lake just outside the room. I also shopped at HomeGoods and filled my carts with accent pillows, faux greenery, art and white and driftwood decor pieces. It was a two cart day!

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2. Start with a Blank Slate

Sometimes it is difficult to see beyond what was there so I recommend taking down all the decor and beginning with empty shelves. This is the perfect time to give your bookcase(s) a cleaning.  I unpack and lay out all my decor so that I have a clear picture of what I have.  It is always better to have more and not use it all rather than not having enough. styling bookcases, ideas for shelves, mantel decorating ideas

3. Art and Picture Frames

These bookcases had a streamline mini puck light built in.  Before (on the left) there was a family photo.  I replaced it with a piece of original art. Can you name the artist? This natural stained wood was too nice to drive any nails into so I leaned all my art.  But if a bookcase is painted, I often hang art up on the back to add visual balance.  Since it was a medium wood tone, I shopped for frames with white borders and large white mattes that contrasted.  Make sure to stagger art and photos for visual interest.

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Design Tip

Before you head out shopping measure the depth of each shelf and height between shelves if they are not adjustable. It is no fun bringing home the perfect decor piece and not having it fit!
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4. Decorating with Books

A bookcase with out books is boring! More often than not homeowners have more than enough books stashed away in the bottom cabinets. That is a hidden treasure for a stylist.  I prefer the look of the canvas spines over paper dust jackets. Off come all the dust jackets and they get saved. If I don’t care for the spine font color or subject, I turn the book around and the pages become a resting spot for the eye. When styling bookcases arrange groupings both horizontal and vertical.

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5. Layer Color and Texture

When styling bookcases, I strive for a balance between colors and textures on each shelf.  Blue glassware, books, photo albums, and pottery compliment greenery and frames.  Smaller decor pieces like the driftwood candle holder fits perfectly in front of the girls portrait. The pointy features of the white ceramic orb on the top shelf echos the leaning ceramic starfish.

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6. Styling Coffee Table Trays

Left over decor from the bookcases? No problem. Artfully display coasters, candles, greenery, boxes and books along side and in a tray.  Decor can be beautiful arranged on the table until it comes to a time when you need to move it for more space. A tray can easily be moved so that the family can set up games, snacks and projects.

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Design tip

Boxes are the perfect spot to hide remotes, games and cards, hand held devices and all sorts of treasures. trays for coffee tables, coffee table styling, decorating a coffee table

7. Creating a Cozy Corner

Don’t be afraid to place furniture in front of your shelves. We gave the slipcovered sofa and chair a fresh Spring vibe with down filled accent pillows and a fringed navy and cream throw blanket. This is the best spot in the house in my opinion. It has the a great view of the fireplace AND Lake Ontario. A trio of wood framed woven graphic navy and cream art are hung around the room.

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Here is the finished look. Stylish and still family friendly! styling bookcases, stacked stone fireplace wall with wood shelves and built-in, and mantel

8. Move Decor from Room to Room

I always say “use what you have.” Sometimes all you need is to change your decor’s location. The formal living rooms tall white shelves also got a mini Spring refresh. We rearranged what was already there and added the darker wood frames from the family room. The dark wood pops against the bright white painted carpentry.  A fun splash of yellow keeps things fresh and playful.lake house two story living room, tow story stacked stone fireplace

styling bookcases and shelves in a two story living room

Design Tip

Take pictures of your finished and favorite styling. And do not forget to swap out seasonal decor and family pictures for a updated look when styling bookcases.

Styling shelves is one of my all time favorite thing to do. I hope you found these tips helpful and feel free to drop me a note in the comments about your favorite shelf decor! Until then I will see you at the next garage, tag or library sale. You’ll find me hidden in the art book section.


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Photography by Debbie Ramsager

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