12 tips to styling your bookcases like a pro

Ready to open a new chapter in home decor? Here’s a novel idea: bookshelves.

Creating bookshelf displays that are both functional and decorative is a simple, inexpensive way to refresh a room’s interior and flash some personal style. We’ve gathered inspiring images of shelving design from our archives and 12 tips for how to style them like a pro.

Here’s to a happy ending:

1. Create a blank canvas

To begin, clear and clean the shelves.

2. Add drama

Painting or wallpapering the back wall of your bookcase is a great way to add a pop of color or unexpected design element. Use temporary wallpaper or an accent color that complements your existing design scheme.

3. Balancing act

When placing books and personal items back on the shelves, work from the bottom up with larger items anchoring lower shelves and smaller items on top.

4. Play time

Don’t expect perfection on the first try; it may take a few attempts before everything falls into place. Have patience and experiment. Consider the shelves a work in progress.

5. Read the rainbow

Consider removing dust jackets from books and arranging according to color.

6. Cover story

You may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but some sure are pretty. Display an especially gorgeous cover with the front facing out.

7. Storage and organization

If shelves are also used for practical storage, inject style with decorative storage containers that are unified by color or style. Place larger boxes and bins on bottom shelves and smaller ones up higher.

8. Mix it up

Get creative with book placement. Stack some books horizontally while others stand. Stacked books can serve as a pedestal for a special item.

9. Collector’s edition

Curate a small collection and intersperse the pieces among the books on the shelves. Bonus points for displaying with books on the topic of the collection, i.e. sea shells and jars of sand with books about surfing and the Pacific.

10. Short stories

Create small vignettes of three to five accessories (grouping things in uneven numbers looks more artistic). Vary size and height of items for visual interest.

11. Hanging art

Allow bookcases to provide a backdrop for art. Hang artwork on the frame of the shelves for added dimension and interest. Placing art on shelves, next to or on top of stacked books also works.

12. Less is more

Don’t crowd. Placing fewer items among your books allows them to shine. They are also easier to dust. If you have a large collection, rotate items in and out of the display.

Bonnie McCarthy contributes to the Los Angeles Times as a home and lifestyle design writer. She enjoys scouting for directional trends and reporting on what’s new and next. Follow her on Twitter @ThsAmericanHome.


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