It’s one of the great decorating dilemmas: how to style your bookcase. Honestly, I think the word “styling” sends some people into panic mode, when it’s really not that complicated.
My method goes something like this: books first (vertical + horizontal stacks); add at least one larger object per compartment; fill in with small accessories; layer with leaning frames, art or even by hanging a mirror on the front.
Not all bookcases can (or should) look alike. I think you have to find your own “bookcase style” and go with that. I’m personally a fan of the more layered (aka “crammed”) bookshelf. In the past, when I’ve helped friends or clients with theirs, I almost always end up saying the same thing: “You need more books.” Books provide an abundance of color and an element of coziness—and make it actually look like a bookshelf and not just a display cabinet.
I’m thinking it might be a good time in my life to read that one on the bottom.
If you don’t have enough books to start, I think it’s worth a trip (or two) to Goodwill to load up. You might also check with your library or thrift stores about annual book sales. (Is it bad to style with books you may never read? Here are my thoughts on that subject.) They don’t have to be the prettiest or most vintage books around. Stick your Danielle Steele books up there—but at least remove the glossy jacket. ;) If it’s something you know you’ll never read, maybe spray paint some of them for color. (Yes, you can do that.)
A kindergarten art project. An alligator, maybe?
Once you have your books in place, I usually search the house for the smaller pieces. I bet you already have most of what you need. Lean a piece of artwork made by your kid, pull some pretty bowls from your kitchen cabinets, display a favorite vase or some candlesticks. Look around the house for heavier objects that could serve as bookends. I’m 99% sure you’ll end up liking the way this looks, as opposed to going to Target and buying all new accessories specifically for your shelves.
I realize I can show you the process of decorating my own bookshelves all day long, but it still might not make you feel any more confident to tackle your own. In that case, you might like my friend Heather’s online class. If you already read her blog The Decor Fix, then you know that she’s gifted at styling and breaking down the steps, teaching others how to actually do it. Her “bookshelf styling class” launches today, and I think it could be a really helpful resource for those of you who feel stuck. The course will give you practical advice and assignments so you can practice what you learn:
If you decide to sign up for the course—or forward this info to a friend—I’d love for you to use my affiliate link here. Also, I expect to see some before and afters once you become a styling extraordinaire. :)
And, if you want to share your own bookcases on Instagram, use #bookshelfstylingclass (and tag me! @emilyaclark).
I cringe when I see a bookshelf styled with all new purchases and I can name the store for every item (they went to Target for that, West Elm for that). Big pet peeve, I don’t know why.
I agree, I love a good bookcase with BOOKS on them and pretty elements from around your own home. Sure, it’s fun to spice it up with one or two new purchases from your favorite store, but it shouldn’t look like a display case from your favorite store – you know? Afterall, if don’t have books in your bookcase, where do you store all your books?
So glad to hear your words about including lots of books – it is a BOOKcase after all! My dad was a used book dealer in his retirement years, so they (and we) have always had tons of books, and bookcases in most rooms. When my parents sold their house, with gorgeous built in bookcases flanking the fireplace in the living room, the purchasers were hears to wonder, “what are we going to put on these shelves?” – nancyo
Emily Clark says
Ha! Doesn’t that make you a little crazy?!
I have enough trouble trying to style my table tops/horizontal surfaces. I’m glad I don’t have a bookcase to deal with also.
But I sure love the look of one filled with books and a few random accessories.
Autumn Beach says
I had no idea people felt so strongly about styling with books that may never get read until Gwen (The Makerista) started collecting books for her built-ins. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it – especially if you’re giving castoffs a beautiful new home – but, to each his own, I suppose. I don’t have traditional bookshelves, but I do enjoy styling my floating shelves. Figuring out what works and what doesn’t. Having the freedom to switch things up whenever I feel like it. AND. I have some awesome books that came right from our basement since our house used to be my grandparents’. Such a treasure.
Seriously? I thought that was the before picture.
Emily Clark says
Well, gee, thanks for dropping by. Ha! ;)
I love love love this bookshelf Emily! Thank you for mentioning that books make a space more homey. I’d never thought of that but totally agree!
Natalie Webster says
I love this post! So helpful! Any tips for hanging things on the front of the bookshelves? Particularly in the middle of the shelf? I am working with IKEA Hemnes shelves.
Emily Clark says
In the past, I’ve always just used command hooks (nothing too heavy!). I went ahead and committed to a nail in the front of this bookcase, though :)
carrie mccarthy says
Hi Emily- I just love the way you styled these book cases. I went searching today as I have 3 tall standing bookcases which are dark and you provided the exact inspiration I was looking for. I am on the hunt for the books and I love the hanging gold mirror on the front of the bookcase. Of course I went searching today at Home Goods and Tuesday Morning for inspiration and found nothing. Where did you find the gold mirror if you don’t mind asking- thanks so much!
Emily Clark says
Hi Carrie, I found mine at a flea market. Try eBay or Etsy. Search for federal mirror or federal eagle mirror.
OK great thank you!