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  • Writer's pictureShannon McKinney

Bookcase Styling Tips


I absolutely love styling bookcases! We have built-in bookcases in our master bedroom and my former home office and when they are kept neat and tidy, they make my heart sing. I would like to add that we use our bookcases for function, not solely for decorating purposes. It’s very popular right now to style books by ROYGBIV (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet) but I would never be able to quickly find what I was looking for, nor would my family. I prefer to organize books into categories: classics, inspirational, etc. I further sub-categorize if needed, such as non-fiction into science, history, business, etc. My daughter’s books are in a bookcase in her room but her classic and sentimental books are in our former office. The tips below are what work for me, I hope that there is something you can find helpful!


  • Take all books and items off of the shelves, sorting in categories as you go. Determine which categories make the most sense to you and will be easily accessed by your family. During this time, it’s helpful to have a donate pile and a maybe pile. If you’re sentimental, I definitely recommend a maybe pile.

  • Assemble an assortment of meaningful objects, framed photos, and artwork to incorporate into your bookcase styling. These items break up the space and incorporate visual interest. Not only does it look great to have a piece of artwork in the mix, I’m a big fan of adding a painting centered on the exterior of a shelf.

  • Start placing larger objects onto your shelves, such as a large vessel or a basket. Adding baskets towards the bottom of your shelves can provide extra storage. In my bedroom, our bookcases stop at slightly above hip level with cabinets below. I have two baskets that contain all of my sunglasses in one and extra chargers and remotes in the other. If you have built-in bookcases in your den or living room, a large basket could house extra throw blankets or family games. The options are limitless.

  • When placing your books back onto your shelves, stand back and think about balance. I like to break things up by stacking some books horizontally, using larger coffee table sized books, keeping the stack low. If possible, you could add a decorative object on top of the stack, keeping proportion in mind. If you don’t have a large collection of books, leave room for negative space. This gives the eye a place to rest, it also gives you room if you add to your collection.

  • “The Rule of Three”: In terms of interior design and aesthetics, it’s been shown that odd numbers are more pleasing to the eye. This could be a grouping of three objects that are similar but perhaps different in size, such as vases. If you’re flanking a set of books, you would obviously use two items if they’re identical or related. I have antique clay sculptures that belonged to my mother. I use them as bookends on a somewhat smaller set of vertical books with negative space on either side so they’re highlighted.

  • EDIT! It takes time to get things exactly the way you’ve envisioned, be patient. It takes time, try to live with your first iteration for a day or so and then tweak and rearrange as needed. Styling a bookcase can cost you nothing but time and sweat equity but when it all comes together, it can be heavenly. One parting word - align all of your book spines, please! That's my former library volunteer speaking, ha!


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