10 Bookshelf Decorating Ideas from Expert Interior Designers

(image: Jill Abelman)

Bookshelves serve a practical purpose; they store and organize our favorite tomes. However, a bookcase can be much more than a placeholder. Done right, it can be a stunning display of your collectibles, memorabilia, and beloved photographs. The books are just the beginning; a bookcase can showcase your personality and add visual interest and balance to your room.

Are your bookshelves looking a bit bland? Do you need some organizing ideas? It always helps to get advice from experts in the field, so we’ve gathered some photographic inspiration and decorating tips from interior designers.

1. Add Color

Cory Connor

Cory Connor

One of my favorite things to do at the end of a design project is to accessorize bookshelves.  It is crucial to incorporate meaning into the bookshelf by including personal touches that have importance to the homeowner.  I often will do this by including memorable photographs in a variety of sizes – but always in the same finish picture frame.  In addition, I love adding color to bookshelves!  This can be done by either painting the back of the shelves a fun color or by using playful and bright books and accessories that make sense with the overall palate of the room.  Bookshelves should no longer be considered a resting place for worn out books but rather a showcase of personality, memories, and colorful reflections.

2. Create Space


Paige Loczi

Here is a list of tips on building/ designing the ultimate bookcase from LOCZIdesign:

  • Always create empty space for future collections
  • Consider if you want the books themselves to be art and categorize them by color, and size, changing direction where needed to create dynamic appeal
  • Create a way to access all the books! IF you can’t get to them, you won’t read them!
  • Consider if the bookshelf will be backed- or open as that will affect how you arrange and care for the books
  • Make sure that the shelving is well-lit
  • Use materials that highlight the architectural environment

3. Bookology

Oskar Torres

Oskar Torres

To build a unique bookcase means sorting out their elements under the decorative arts point of view. I invented the term “bookology” to define the art of arranging the books by their looks, colors, shapes and sizes trying to match the architecture of the book shelf; in other words, the beauty of a bookshelf does not only come with the structure of the shelf!

4. Add Something Natural

Sue Conboy

Bookshelves create stylish and functional storage spaces.  Books make fantastic accents, adding decorative items is a beautiful way to reflect your personal tastes and interests. Use your room’s style to select and display books of various sizes, shapes and colors. Mix-up the arrangements; stack them both horizontally and vertically.  Classic accents can include vases or bowls, figurines and framed art. Adding something natural will bring your arrangement to life.  Think of driftwood, river rocks or any small potted plant.

5. The Big Picture

Elizabeth Vaca-Ranieri

Elizabeth Vaca-Ranieri

When designing or staging homes, I often decorate bookshelves. I like to begin by evaluating the space and collecting all the items I want to display.
Using art, sculpture, photos, candles and books, I make groupings that vary in size and color and put each grouping up on a shelf. Once the items are up on the shelves, I stand back to see the overall arrangements and move items around to evenly distribute color, height, weight and texture. Every time I make a change, I stand back from the shelves to see the big picture. Too many shelves/not enough decor? Lining the back of the bookcase in wallpaper makes shelves look fuller & more custom).

6. Less Is More

Lisa Escobar

Lisa Escobar

Bookshelf styling is one of my favorite things to do in a space. Here are some quick tips to help those who find it an overwhelming task…

  • Décor should reflect YOU! Think about who and what you love, what inspires you? Add meaningful pieces that tell your story; is traveling your thing? Frame a map or postcard of your favorite destinations. Do you love photography? Display your camera or find vintage pieces from thrift shops around your city. Collections are always impactful!
  • Forget symmetry… especially when arranging books or magazines, don’t be afraid to mix it up. Placement should include vertical and horizontal layouts.
  • Get artsy! Every beautiful bookshelf scheme consists of artwork. Canvas paintings, illustrations, still photographs and even framed typography prints look wonderful.
  • Incorporate natural, organic materials. Some of my favorite elements include crystals, succulents, seashells and of course flowers. Ceramic bowls, vases and sculptural pieces add dimension.
  • Keep it simple and have fun. Remember what your mom taught you, “less is more,” so don’t over clutter.

7. A “Livable” Look

Peggy Scinta

Peggy Scinta

Decorating shelves is almost an art form and in a designer’s world, we take a lot of time to make them look perfect, but also look “livable”, if that makes sense. The trick to decorating a good shelf is all about scale, relationship, color and number. In this photo of a client’s office, we used books covered in wallpaper that bought out the accent colors in her artwork, framed photos that had special meaning to her (friends and family), decorative objects such as vases, lanterns and even organic objects that added dimension and texture. Using objects in pairs or in sets of three can define some of the items as “collections”, which add another layer of interest that often relates back to the client.

8. Curate Your Bookshelf

Jill Abelman

Jill Abelman

A ‘curated’ look for bookshelves creates magic in any room. We like to strategically place several accessories throughout the bookshelf — whether it’s picture frames, baubles or other items. I suggest no more than three groups of items for a bookshelf — and be certain your items have similar textures or color themes such as iron, a color or a texture.

Too many groups of items may look cluttered, so be careful that you don’t overdo it. The biggest mistake homeowners make with bookshelves is creating a mish mash look with too many styles and sizes of items. When curating your bookshelf look, don’t forget books! Even if you’re not a big reader. please add some books. A bookshelf should not be a catch all. Keep a good mix of small, medium and large accessories on your bookshelf. I hate seeing a four inch accessory on a high bookshelf. Another absolute must for bookshelves is to sprinkle personal photos of you and your loved ones throughout. One of my personal pet peeves as a designer is picture frames without photos in them. Don’t wait – fill them up with love.

9. Pair Collectibles

Jane Cunningham/photo by Grey Crawford

Jane Cunningham

There is no one “right way” to decorate bookshelves. However, there are a few helpful hints that can guide a bookshelf arrangement to appear as a “creative genius” moment for the creator. Allowing the eye moments of rest while viewing the shelves, is the best way to display memorabilia. Collectibles can be overwhelming by themselves, so I find pairing them with books, photos or functional items, that play with the room, the best of both worlds. In this Steelers themed home gym, I paired football and even boxing memorabilia with useful towels and weights. Creating a room with items that you love, displayed with a mindful design eye, will bring both function and comfort to the space.

10. Stack It Up

Niche Interiors

Jennifer Jones

Styling bookshelves is an art form! Here are two tried and true strategies from Niche Interiors that are easy to implement, and sure to amp up your shelf style.
• Stack it up! Instead of filling every inch of your bookcase with rows of books, mix it up by stacking books on top of each other in neat stacks. Top the stacks with small decorative objects, boxes, or collections from your travels.
• Create negative space. While you may have enough books to fill each shelf, try paring down your collection and leaving breathing room on the shelves — it’s much more pleasing to the eye.

What ideas do you hope to implement in your next bookshelf organizing endeavor? Do you have any bookshelf decorating tips of your own to share? Let us know in the comments below!

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)