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Design Inspo

How To Style Bookshelves: Top 9 Ways To Decorate Shelves

Looking for a refresh? We have the top nine tips to make your bookshelves the stunning focal point you always knew they could be.

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Most of us feel immediate curiosity upon seeing a bookshelf overflowing with a stack of books — what jewels does it hold, and what do they say about the owner? Whether you have a lot of books piled on floating shelves, a custom built-in bookcase, or anything in between, you can create art of order. The following decorating ideas will take it from a mild curiosity to a stunning interior design focal point.

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1. Mix How You Stack Them

The easiest way to arrange your books without disturbing your filing system is to simply vary the directions in which you stack them. Balance out all those vertical spines with coffee table books lying flat and within easy reach for an interesting grid-like design. Leave room for negative space by refraining from cramming books into every space. Instead, let some lean temptingly against a stack.

2. Anchor Your Bookshelves

Shelving your books according to weight will help ground your bookshelf display. Start with the heavier ones, like that beautiful collection of interior design books you own on the lower shelves.

Let larger gallery-style books occupy these bottom shelves along with the coffee table variety to be easily seen and enjoyed by guests. Gradually make your way up to your paperbacks on the top shelves to create a logical balance in the display.

3. Display Treasures With Your Books

If you want to style shelves to create a little more mystique, add other decorative items with sentimental meaning.

  • Consider adding picture frames with images connected to certain volumes or series on your shelves. For example, an image of your children’s first day of school next to a nostalgic collection of the Junie B. Jones series.
  • Even your bookends can be a favorite sculpture or family memento. For instance, place a pair of red wooden clogs from your trip to the Netherlands next to a copy of The Wizard of Oz. (See where we’re going here?)

This can get as minimalist or as maximalist as your personal design style dictates. Whenever possible, keep groupings of knick-knacks in odd numbers to create more visual interest and guide the eye over your display.

4. Create Niches In Your Bookshelves

Up this technique of display to a very intentional gallery-style niche. Niches carved into the walls of homes in Ancient Rome created a dramatic space for lighting the room or a spot to house statuary and cherished familial tokens. Creating this kind of negative space for mementos has an equally powerful impact on your home bookshelf. This is especially effective with bookshelves with individual cubbies.

Less Is More

Unlike your display of decorative pieces in tip number three, these decorative objects aren’t worked into a busy collection, occupying the nooks and crannies of your shelves. You’re treating your niche like the curated display space that it is.

Your first step in carving out space for a special display in your bookshelf is to edit like crazy, particularly if your bookshelf is already double-stacked and overflowing. Remember the maxim “Less is More” as you decide which of your familial tokens should be displayed. Include souvenirs from trips or pieces of art that best embody your aesthetic. Just remember, negative space around an object allows it to have a greater visual impact on the beholder.

If you’re stuck, you can always source some beautiful decorative objects in Spoak’s product discovery feed.

5. Light Up Your Bookshelves

Take a cue from those Ancient Romans and include some lighting with your bookcase. Maybe an LED strip hidden behind the trim or a puck light placed so that it’s invisible. A favorite lighting method is hanging picture lights, the kind of sconce you might place on the wall over a portrait, above the built-in bookcase to highlight your collections in a gallery-worthy way.

6. Organize Books by Spine Color

A controversial yet intriguing trend for arranging bookshelves is to organize your collections by color. Follow the color scheme of your home. See the bookshelves as one whole, a canvas on which you apply the colors through the book spines.

Paint a Rainbow

Eschew alphabetization or genre and instead arrange your books by spine color, slowly moving from one color of the rainbow to the next. With book sizes and weight mixed throughout, a color theme is the one thing that unifies the shelves.

Arrange Spines Artistically

Certain book spines are highly collectible for the artistic quality of color combination and design work, not to mention the front of the dust jacket covers. Let these prized volumes decide your bookshelf color scheme.

When color is your main priority for arranging your books, you are left with the dilemma of choosing colors that don’t match your living room color palette. Should you include them because you love them or stash them away somewhere in favor of a design look? Compromise by removing the jacket and seeing if the hardback is a more subdued hue. (You can slip the jacket in beside it or behind it.)

Flip Books Backward

The creased and distorted spines of beloved paperbacks can be turned backward to create an off-white space that works as a neutral in any color scheme (another hotly contested design choice.) However, if you plan to reread a favorite or pull out a book to lend to a neighbor, this setup might prove more trouble than it’s worth.

7. Use the Back of Shelves for Contrasting Colors

Make use of a painted bookshelf or the wall color behind open shelving as you arrange books. The contrast between the books themselves and the wall behind them adds depth and texture to your space.

You may even want to apply a peel-and-stick wallpaper to the back of your shelves to further enhance this contrast and unify your home’s color scheme. A carefully-chosen wallpaper can have a profound effect on your niche styling.

8. Bring In Life

A fool-proof way to decorate any space to please the eye is to bring in greenery.

Potted plants like pothos can trail down over the shelf’s side, increasing the sense of depth. Let the way the leaves and vines curve offset the straight lines of those lovely books for the perfect mix of shapes.

You may want to keep your pot types similar to keep things minimal and let your plants and books do the talking for your arrangement. (Hot tip: Even potted plants with dishes underneath can cause mildew on your bookshelves. Put a circular cork trivet beneath your terra cotta to absorb excess moisture.)

9. Create Your Own Staff Recommendations

Ever notice how your favorite local bookstore reserves end shelves for staff recommendations? Sometimes the staff member gets to decorate their little section to make it a personal weekly delight for regular customers.

Why not do a little version of this on your family’s bookshelf, where each family member, or friend, gets a section inspired by them? Let them choose their favorites or create sections on your shelves inspired by loved ones just for the fun of it.

Photo Credit: (Left) Organised Pretty Home; (Top Right) Maelissa Lim


The Classic Roman House: Form and Function | University of Arizona

A Guide to Getting Rid of Almost Everything | The New Yorker

Beautiful midcentury book covers in 'The Illustrated Dust Jacket' | Los Angeles Times

Should You Organize Your Books by Color? Experts Weigh In | The Spruce

Use Spoak’s design suite to envision your shelfie makeover.

Date Posted
April 28, 2023



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