10 Steps to Easy (and Fun!) Bookcase Styling

Bookcases are so intimidating!  They are time consuming and their "possibilities are endless", which usually leads to me standing in front of them, frozen.  But after a month of my decluttering, I've become so motivated to attack these things.  I'd been wanting to update my stagnate bookshelves for a while, they'd been the same for almost 6 years!  Most of all, it was about time to take down the Christmas stocking hangers:

If an interior designer looks at bookcases in fear, how do people who don't enjoy design look at them?  Not good!  Setting up a home should be fun!  So I set forth on my bookcases determined to have fun, taking notes of the things that helped me so I could share them with you.  Here are my Ten Steps for Styling Bookshelves:

1.  Motivate yourself.  Turn off the voices in your head.  This is not your Mom's, Mother-in-law's, sister's or friend's bookcase, it's only yours.  We are all different and we all have our own style (thank goodness!), so even if you tried, it would be impossible to please everyone.  The only person who needs to like the result is you.  YOU can do it!

"It's much more fun to be you!" - Iris Apfel (image via Advanced Style)
2.  Quick inspiration search.  On Pinterest or Google images, search "Bookcases" or "Bookshelves" or check out my Pin Board dedicated to them.  Scroll through and jot down ideas you like, big and small.  For example, I like mostly books in bookcases, I saw a rainbow arrangement of books I thought was inspiring and fun, I like 3-D, I like layering and hanging or leaning objects in the back of the bookcase.  I saw someone use their silhouettes on the shelves:

3.  Start with a clean slate.  Clear out your shelves and start fresh.  Remove everything and wipe it all down, maybe even get out the Magic Eraser.  Remove book covers, not all of them, just take a look at what's under the cover and if you like it better, show it!  If a cover is torn, faded or yellow, remove it!  This is the kind of tip that makes you feel great:

4.  Categorize your books.  This is a cathartic process, it helps you get to know your books and an idea might strike while you do this.  Organize however you want, maybe by subject, size, author,  type or Dewey Decimal, ha!  Have fun with this, maybe you can come up with something witty.  Then set aside some of your favorite books that you'd like to highlight or that have a funny story.  I like keeping a collection together, but that's not a rule!  I wanted to do the rainbow thing so I started with the R in ROYGBIV:

5.  Say goodbye.  I had a huge stack of Architectural Digest because I thought designers were "supposed" to keep them, but I realized I'm not an AD girl.  I'm a Domino girl!  Goodbye AD, even if you were a good filler!  I also had a few books I didn't agree with or gave me icky feelings, goodbye!

6.  Shop your house.  Bookcases are usually centrally located, a focal point, so if you have any objects of great sentiment, this is the spot for them.  These are objects that make you smile when you see them.  I have a clock I gave my Mom when I was in college, I don't know if she liked it, but I had my eye on it for a semester and worked hard to save up for it, good memories.  I paired it with all my books that have a metallic golden sheen:

7.  Rows vs. Stacks, fill er up.  I've seen bookshelves with only rows of books and I've seen bookshelves with mostly stacks of books, both are great.  I couldn't decide so I did both.  If this step stresses you out, fall back on symmetry, it always looks good and with the guidelines of matching across the center, there are less subjective decisions to be made.  Also, pretend like you're a kid and play with pattern here.  Do you have a lot of white books and black books?  How about a few stacks of alternating B&W or a whole row of black and a whole row of white?  Maybe a row of black and yellow, striped like a honey bee, my point is, have fun!  I had so many white books, I had to break it up by placing them at the ends of rows:

8.  Elevate.  Place your special objects on top of a book or a stack of books.  This adds height and says, "I'm special, look over here!"  For example, I put a small framed pic of my babies on top of a few conversation starting books.  First, my original Domino mags, then two of the same Jr. High School Yearbooks (my husband and I went to the same Jr. High at the same time and we didn't know each other, he was in 6th grade and I was in 8th, ha!) and my current favorite book, Where'd You Go, Bernadette! by Maria Semple.  If that doesn't break the ice, my table topics used as a book end could do the trick:

9.  Layer.  From the back of the bookcase to out in front, layer and overlap to make it different and brave.  I found a Frank Lloyd Wright Art glass panel my Dad gave me and leaned it against the back of the bookcase behind a stack of books, this could also be done with a pretty book.  I also taped a plate and a page of photo booth pics to the back of the bookcase.  To hang my Mom's art on the front of the shelves, I used Command Picture Hanging Strips:

Don't be afraid to completely cover up some of your books like I did with this globe:

10.  Update your photos.  Take this chance update some of your photo frames with pictures from this year.  If the job is too big to even think about getting started, then put a few frames away in the cabinet.  I like for every photo to be visible and not so overlapped that you can't see it.  But if you think the more photos the merrier, then go for it if it makes you happy!  It made me happy to put out the picture of me and my friends at the Rodeo with Enrique Iglesias:

I hope you're motivated, realize that this can be fun and feel armed with tools!  If you want the project to move quickly, turn off the TV and turn on the music!  Unless you're like me and just need peace and quiet to finish, then wait till the world is asleep.  It took me about a day and a half to do the whole job.

Before you go, if this is you're first time to style a bookcase, here are 3 more quick tips:

1.  If you have a counter top in your built-in, place a big bowl there, like the one I have in the above pic.  Your guests will automatically feel like they have a spot to place their belongings.  Trust me, they won't even ask and they'll set their bag there!

2.  Align the spine of your books with the front of the shelf instead of pushing the books to the back.   This just looks clean:

3.  If you're in need of books, stop by Half Price Books and stock up or gift yourself an awesome Juniper Collection.  They're on sale at One Kings Lane for 4 days!  Here are a few of my favorites, plus a couple accessories to add to the shelves:

Good luck, go for it, you can do it!


  1. Love your style and artist's eye!
    -Linda, ny

  2. Just getting ready to organize my bookshelves by color - are you still liking it a year later?