BHG Style Spotters

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5 Tips for Styling a Basic Bookshelf



So nice to meet you! I’m Darlene Weir, the principal interior designer for Fieldstone Hill Design, an eDesign and interiors firm. I am also an interiors and style blogger, and I am delighted to be sharing design tips again here at the BHG Style Spotters Blog. Some of my top tips for styling bookcases are being featured in the November 2013 Better Homes and Gardens issue, and I am thrilled to share some additional thoughts with you on how to create a stunning bookcase display, starting with the basics.





1.  It’s About the Books

I truly believe that bookshelves should be filled with books. Other items do help to make for a beautiful bookshelf, but they should be the ‘icing on the Book Cake.’ So, start with your books!

{design by Fieldstone Hill Design}


Books can be organized and displayed in a variety of beautiful ways. Try grouping your books by color, depth and/or height. Play with symmetrical displays or graduating heights. Or try an ombre color display. Either way, pack in the books!


Don’t have a lot of books? Another idea is to use your magazine collection. Or, scour for books via flea markets, yard sales, library sales, or help clear out your friends’ basements! I think it is worth the effort to have book-filled shelves… and a book-filled life for that matter.


2. Think Horizontally and Vertically

Once you have your books in, and looking pretty, allow for some breathing room, or gaps, between your books.  Fill in the minor/smaller gaps by using horizontal, stacked books topped with beautiful décor items. Then, fill in any major gaps with larger, vertical décor items. I recommend selecting several large items that all have a common color scheme, since the books themselves will offer a lot of visual busyness.

{design by Fieldstone Hill Design}

3. Add Lovely Fillers

Bookshelves provide the perfect backdrop for displaying favorite décor items among your book collection. Large and small vases, trays, platters, framed family photos, and framed art all make beautiful additions as you “fill in the gaps” between your books. Also, décor items that are simply there for beauty’s sake, are perfect additions as well.

This is an opportunity to display some of the lovelier things in your home, as well as display beautiful pictures of your family. So dig through your cabinets! Hunt around the house for items that have been buried behind closed doors, but are worthy of display, and add them to your bookshelf display.


4. Add Useful Fillers

Let’s face it. Sometimes storage space is at a premium. That is why I love the idea of using the extra bookshelf space between books for additional sneaky storage. My favorite tricks?

a) Stacked nesting boxes filled with family photos.



 b) Beautiful, matching baskets filled with…. Just about anything! This is one of my favorite ways to sneak extra storage out of a room.

 c) Adding a mini-bar or water bar on a tray. This is an artful and practical addition to a bookshelf. The water bar idea is my new favorite! It is so nice to have a display of sparkling Italian waters to offer to any of your guests.


5. Think outside of the box

This is a simple trick that truly elevates your bookshelf beauty to another level: Hang some gorgeous art onto the outside of your bookshelves! Layering in this way adds depth and texture {not to mention pretty art!} to your bookshelf design.


Ultimately, have fun with your bookshelves. Remember that decorating rules are meant to be broken. And always, decorate with what you LOVE! Who has time for “like?” Basic bookshelves never need to be boring!


For more bookshelf inspiration and design tips, I would love to have you join me over at Fieldstone Hill Design!

42 Responses to “ 5 Tips for Styling a Basic Bookshelf ”

  1. I am pulling out my boxes of books today. I have a cabinet that’s been sitting empty for a year…I’m inspired to create some book shelf magic of my own. Love the water bar idea too!

  2. This is JUST the inspiration I needed to get busy on my family room shelves. Not just beautiful, but functional styling. Well done, Darlene!

  3. These are all really great tips. I definitely struggle with styling my bookshelves. Thanks so much for the inspiration….I especially love those top two photos!

  4. Great tips!!! I love the look of a wall of bookcases filled with so many old ad new books!!! Classic!

  5. Wow! Just the type of advice a decor-challenged lady like me rejoices in! Each tip and photo looks so great, and they are actually things I CAN DO! Thanks, Darlene, for the motivation and ‘Ah,so!’ moments.

  6. I love books, shelves and all the fabulous tips here. I just want to stare at these photos for hours to soak them in and try them on my shelves.
    Thanks for sharing your decor knowledge with those of us who are challenged in this area.

  7. I definitely need bookshelf decorating ideas. Being such an avid reader I want to display my “treasures” proudly. Thanks for giving me ways to do that.

  8. You’re amazing, Girl! Awesome post and a great decor resource! Love the way you style!

  9. I love this article. Great information! Darlene really knows her stuff. I agree that bookshelves should be about the books and other things added in…

  10. Thanks for your help Darlene! I love the focus on the books themselves and then just adding the “icing.” I adore the black paint behind the books in the first picture…

  11. A-MAZING tips. I’m working on my 31 Days of 15 Minute Decorating Ideas series and this fits right in. Books are key, and I think most people forget that when styling a bookcase. Thanks, I’m sharing this everywhere!

  12. I couldn’t agree more with #1! I feel like books & music add soul to a home, & I always encourage my clients to fill those shelves. Great post, Darlene!

  13. I haven’t seen your design with the ikat ottomans before- I like it!! Great tips!!

  14. Couldn’t agree more with you: It should totally be about books and the rest is the cherry on top. Great tips!

  15. Love the idea of built-in book shelves in lieu of a headboard in the bedroom. So practical & pretty. That big art smack dab in the middle of it is a stand-out. Lots of great ideas here.

  16. My husband and I have a book addiction. We love them! Especially classics. Oh, and I am trying to decide where to put my water bar. Great idea!

  17. THANK YOU SO MUCH for posting this! My husband and I are HUGE book readers and other posts about styling shelves BARELY have books! It’s refreshing!

  18. Fab ideas! I always enjoy this writer. She gives the best tips, inspires my own ideas and is not frivolous with the wallet. It’s real!

  19. Fabulous article!! Love that you started with the actual BOOKS on bookshelves!!! :)

  20. i agree with the last comment- you started with the books- hoorah! after all, they are bookcases!!!! beautiful examples, too!

  21. Great tips, Darlene, and beautiful examples! I also love the touch of navy on the back of the shelves – so chic.

  22. Great tips, Darlene! I agree that bookshelves should be filed with books! I also love how you added color to the backs of the shelving to create contrast with the objects!

  23. One of your Master Designers popping in to show you some love! This was such a great article! CANNOT wait to see your article in the magazine!

  24. THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!! I cannot tell you how annoying it is to a certified bookworm to read articles about how to style bookcases that HAVE NO BOOKS! Ridiculous! A bibliophiles home has stacks and stacks of books and to see someone filling any shelf with knickknacks that don’t include a book is an auto-eyeroller to us! I love the examples you use too. Of course, I think you’re fab anyway, but really appreciate and adore this article!

  25. Beautiful, wonderful inspiration! I like to add artwork to the front of my book shelves when possible, but so far I have not tried the arrangements like what you shared… the ombre or color coding/ shape organizing. how clever! Your designs are always gorgeous. xoxo
    i will be finding this issue for sure!

  26. I love all of these ideas especially the bookcases built around the doorway and over the bed. I think if I were to hang artwork on the outside of a bookshelf, I would try to put a piano hinge on the top inside of the frame so that in effect it would make a horizontal cupboard which could again be used for even more storage.

  27. Awesome inspiration!! Finally, someone using books on bookshelves! Thanks, Darlene!

  28. Totally agree with you! I love bookshelves that are all about BOOKS! That being said, your extra ideas and tips are great, and I love your example pictures!

  29. My shelve’s are not wide enough to put basket’s on, or I would use them, so my place would look like, the picture’s
    In your magaze’s, and on your website.

  30. Adding “built in bookshelves” to my list of things we must have. :) gorgeous examples! Thanks Darlene!!

  31. Great tips–you thought of everything! I love the globe groupings and, of course, kitteh.

    Thank you, Darlene!

  32. All these are amazing tips! I also like the concept that instead of having bookshelves built along doorways and as the head board.

  33. Any small flat will benefit from the addition of multi-purpose furniture. To avoid making your flat feel cluttered, choose furniture that combines functions – for example, a bed with drawers built under the frame, or a coffee table with built-in bookshelves.

  34. When you’re working on your proposal or project, it’s easy to let your mind wander. Ignore interrupting phone calls that are not related to your business. As long as you’re prompt in returning a call.

  35. I,m happy for the tips the all amazing i love these ideas especially the bookcase builting the doorway an over the bed.

  36. Beautiful, thanks

  37. We moved this summer to a larger house. I have had fun decorating but ran out of steam when we got new shelves for the living room. Your article was just what I needed to inspire me to get going. Your examples were great. Thanks!

  38. Where could I find book shelves with the blue background ?

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