Tips for Arranging & Organizing Bookshelves

Bookshelves do double duty as storage space for books and display space for accessories. Learn how to arrange shelves so they are both fully functional and pleasing to the eye.

Lauren Frandsen


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Desk with neutral bookcase, yellow walls
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Keep It Simple

    To style a bookcase to perfection, resist the urge to pack in accessories on every shelf. Keep a clean look by choosing a one-color or tone-on-tone scheme for vases and figurines, and make sure to mix up shapes. Every so often, step back to assess the overall balance of your arrangement. Place items off-center or try larger or smaller ones until you like what you see.

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Doorway Savvy

    Built-in bookshelves surrounding a doorway can be tricky; start by filling the top row with books. Alternate the remaining nooks with creatively stacked books and accessories.

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Everything Fits

    To add interest to your book collection, alternate stacking books horizontally and vertically. Bold-color picture frames make great bookends and help photographs stand out on shelves.

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Less Is More

    Mod shelves call for a sparse look, so group together a small set of books that are all of fairly uniform size. Accessorize with streamlined vases, leaving lots of open space on shelves to let the accessories shine through.

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Office Symmetry

    To give office shelves an organized feel, gather a wide variety of collectibles and place them between books, creating loose symmetry. If you have a picture frame or square shape in one shelf, mirror it with a collectible of a similar shape and size. In a wall of shelves such as this, it's important to scatter books here and there to punctuate the look.

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Color Smart

    Carry your color scheme onto your bookshelf to give the room a sense of unity. Here, accent accessories on the shelves match the light blue wall color. Storage boxes conceal items such as toys and movies that you may not want out in the open.

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Outside Interest

    Utilize a built-in bookcase as a fashionable and functional headboard. Baskets hold eyeglasses and lotions, leaving plenty of room for a library of nighttime reading materials. Add more appeal with adjustable reading lights mounted inside the bookcase. Hang a favorite piece of artwork on the front of the shelf for visual interest.

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Pleasing Prints

    Adding wallpaper or printed fabric to the back wall of shelves creates a unique look and is an easy way to personalize a bookcase. Add woven baskets and decorative storage boxes to easily organize magazines and maintain a clean look. Attach fun labels to shelves to establish an organizing system for your books.

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Pottery Panache

    Use pieces of sturdy pottery as bookends to keep shelves neat. Bookends especially come in handy for paperbacks and slimmer books, which are less likely to stay upright.

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Bold Yet Simple

    If your book spines lack visual style, paint your bookshelf a vibrant color to make it the focus. To highlight the color even more, choose a single contrasting shade for accessories.

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Great Pyramids

    Books can be used to create visual interest. Pyramidal stacks on the center shelves contrast the top shelf of entirely vertical books. Layer pieces of art behind shorter books or small accessories such as figurines.

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Alternative Arrangement

    For a display-worthy bookcase, organize paperbacks in pretty baskets. Group like books together (by author, genre, etc.) and put labels on the baskets so books are easy to find.

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Functional Form

    Shelves are great tools to keep a craft workroom organized. Slip magazine holders on open shelves to hold loose papers. Storage boxes conceal clutter and can be kept a neutral color to blend in. For a bolder look, cover boxes with printed paper. Use decorative containers and flea market finds to hold paintbrushes or pens and pencils.

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Jumbled Perfection

    Vary heights and create interest by stacking books horizontally to use as platforms for displaying other objects. Pull together a small bookcase by arranging the top and bottom shelves in opposite ways.

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Lovely Layers

    Deep shelves give you the luxury to play with layers. Lean plates and artwork along the back of the shelves, and anchor them with books or heavier objects. Place a few small pieces of art near the front of the shelves to give them depth.

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Photo Gallery

    Turn bookshelves into a family photo zone by lining them with framed photographs. Place small photographs on stacks of books if there's room for both. If your shelves are deep, try pushing the books to the back and placing photos in front.

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Art Focus

    Focus attention on a favorite small sculpture by placing it solo on a shelf. Punctuate the display with groupings of books propped up with small vases or matching bookends.

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Clean Display

    Get the most storage and style out of built-ins by filling the shelves with books; stack them vertically on the lower shelves and keep the top shelves more open. Arrange accessories two or three deep, keeping them fairly symmetrical for a clean look.

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