We all want a perfectly elegant, visually catchy and beautifully styled bookshelf, but achieving it can be a daunting task. How do you know what is too much and what is too less? Have you tried it and found maybe it’s too sparse or have you gone overboard and it feels more cluttered than cohesive? 

Your worries and the quest for the perfect “Shelfie” ends here. I’ve been thinking about how I’ve styled bookshelves and what tips & insights I can share with you to make it a little less daunting. So I’m going to walk you through step by step on how to put together and style the perfect bookshelf. My hope is these easy and fun steps will give you inspiration for creating beautifully styled shelving in your home that showcases your unique personality and style while taking the guesswork and stress out of shelf styling. Let’s get started!

All Great Art Starts With a Blank Canvas:

Getting that perfectly styled shelf is, believe it or not, an art. And just like all great artists, we start with a blank slate. 

Gather up your collections you want displayed — books, art, plants, sculptures, collectible pieces that you picked up from your travels & others. Now group similar items together to get an idea of what and how many items you have. If you feel the need, add some extra pieces in the mix. With everything in front of you, take a hard look, evaluate and think about how you will style them on the shelves. 

A clean slate also helps you get a new perspective and is a great way to start building up the look you want.

Large Items Are First in Line:

Large and visually heavy items should be the first ones to go on the shelf. Think about large vases, baskets among others and place them on various shelves keeping a bit of distance between them. 

Larger items provide definition and personality to your shelf. They’ll also help you get an idea of how much breathable space is available and more importantly how you can match the rest of your objects alongside the larger ones while considering color and texture. 

Bigger pieces also bring focus onto your shelf as well as create their own mini-statement look within each shelf. 

Hit the Books:

Books are an excellent addition for styling and you don’t really need to fill up the entire shelf with books. Instead a more meaningful and catchy way would be to create groupings of a few books by laying them horizontally and some vertically in different shelves to add character. After all, a bookshelf obviously needs books!

Keep a selection of books that you are currently reading as well as interesting books that visiting guests can read up and rotate them frequently. This adds to the visual interest on your shelves and rotation will get you a mini-refresh of the look from time to time. 

Don’t hesitate if you need to skip a shelf when dressing up with books if you start getting a cluttered feel. We want a cohesive, not cluttered look. And lastly, complete the “book-look” by adding interesting bookends to keep the intrigue going. 

Layering through Art + Pictures:

An often overlooked accessory, artwork and pictures works wonders on a shelf. A perfect place to showcase your family pictures or your favorite artwork, they inherently give your shelf a personalized look. 

Balance out a horizontal stack of books by placing a vertical picture frame or artwork. 

Artwork/Picture frames will also draw your eye to the back of the shelf and allow for a more visually layered look and adds depth.

Texture is Terrific:

To take the interest up a notch, think about incorporating texture through small sculptures/figurines, decor objects, small plants and bowls. This is a perfect opportunity to display collectibles from your travels — decor objects, art pieces, travel memories that will instantly add interest to your shelf. 

They help to add a lot of character and personality to your shelf. One way to have them stand out is to place smaller decor or figurines on top of books or in front of your artwork/picture frames. 

Adding small plants, real or faux, in a ceramic or earthen vase will not only add a bit of life & freshness but also work to add texture and patina to your shelf. 

If you are thinking about uniformity in color, bring in decor items of similar color to create a look around a specific color scheme.

Perfect the Balancing Act:

Since you are working with a large space, balance and visual weight play a big part in getting it right. Avoid the extremes of too crowded and too sparse else you risk getting lost on both ends.

Create groupings of 2-3 objects of similar height and place them together on the shelf to create areas of focus that lead your eyes around the shelf. 

To avoid risking a cluttered look, leave some white space on the shelves to keep some breathing room. This will also help draw the eye from one spot to another and keep you engaged and your interest piqued. The thing to keep in mind is to have the right number of items displayed, not too many and not too less.

Now take a step back and soak it all in. The last step is to blend together all of these tips effortlessly for a fresh and cohesive look. Make adjustments until you have balance of color, texture and material across the entire shelving unit and do not be afraid to move pieces around or add/remove items until you’re happy with the results.