How to Decorate a Bookcase Like a Pro: Bookcase Styling Guide

How to Decorate a Bookcase Like a Pro: Bookcase Styling Guide

Bookcases aren’t just for books anymore. In fact, they can be a fantastic place to express your personality with displays that feature plants, artwork, personal items, and yes—books. Learning how to decorate a bookcase takes some practice, and what you choose to include on your bookshelf is up to you. We’re here to give you some bookcase styling tips from the pros so you can decorate your bookcase with a few simple and easy shelf arrangement ideas.

1. Provide a Backdrop

If your shelves are looking a little bland, styling a bookcase with some simple paint or wallpaper as a backdrop can really make the items on your shelf stand out. Using a patterned wallpaper can be especially effective because it differentiates the items on display from the pattern on the back. It’s almost like creating a display case for the items in your home that you want to show off.

2. Layer

Styling a bookcase requires more than just lining up a few decorative items. You need to consider the overall balance and depth of the shelf you’re working with. Adding layers of objects that vary in size, height, and texture will help create a beautiful and aesthetically pleasing design. Designing in layers can also help you incorporate smaller items that may be difficult to place on their own.

3. Show What You Love

If you love to travel and have a lot of mementos from your journeys, bookcase styling is a great place to incorporate them and show off a bit of who you are. If you travel frequently, keep your bookcase styling ideas in the back of your mind when you make souvenir purchases, and get lasting art that you will want to display in your home for years to come.

Perhaps you’re not much of a traveler; you can still incorporate personal collections like modern art or antiques and display them for everyone to enjoy. Don’t forget to add a few nicely framed family photos to complete your shelf arrangement ideas.

4. Placement

There are a variety of ways to place objects on a shelf, and now is a great time to get creative and try out new bookcase styling ideas that have been swimming around your head. For books alone, there are at least 7 different ways to stack books. While the options may seem daunting, don’t stress and just have fun playing with different placement options for your books and other objects until you find what works best for you.

5. Play with Color

We’ve all been there—all our books are neatly stacked on the shelf but still look cluttered because of their haphazard colors and designs. If you’re into unique shelf arrangement ideas, consider grouping books by color instead of topic. The bold groupings, combined with creative placement, can turn your shelf into a statement piece that you’ll admire for years.

If styling a bookcase with pops of color sounds interesting but you still prefer a monochromatic color palette, consider turning the spines of your books inward so only the white edges of each book’s pages show. Use a simple, repetitive color palette for the rest of your bookshelf to keep things simple.

6. Add a Ladder

Let’s be honest, everyone who loves books has always dreamed of having a bookshelf with a ladder and enough books to fill the shelves all the way to the top. While your bookcase doesn’t just have to be filled with books, a ladder can help you safely, effectively, and stylishly accomplish your shelf arrangement ideas. If you’re looking to add a classic look to your shelving space you might consider a wood sliding ladder. Whereas if your style leans towards the industrial side, you might prefer metal sliding ladders.

7. Plants

Some people cover their homes in plants and never seem to kill anything—and then there’s the rest of us. Don’t worry, decorating with plants can be done with live or fake specimens and still look amazing. Real or fake plants and flowers can add a beautiful natural element to your bookcase styling. If you have narrower shelves, try placing a plant in the center of the shelf to act as a display piece. Alternatively, you could place fake flowers in a glass or wood bowl next to some books and a decorative bookend to add a pop of color and texture to the shelf.

8. Featured Items

Wondering how to decorate a bookcase with smaller cubbies or shelves? Try featuring a single, decorative item on its own. A simple white vase, bowl, decorative plate, or plant are all excellent choices when styling a bookcase with small or narrow shelves.

9. Power in (Odd) Numbers

This bookcase styling tip will do more for your shelf design game than almost anything else. When placing objects on shelves, odd numbers look best together. Group objects in threes and keep in mind that the height, shape, and texture should vary between the items to keep things interesting.

For example pair a tall vase on the left, with a shorter decorative item on the right-hand side, and an art piece in the middle like a plate or painting. If you’re stuck on ideas, Kris Jarrett has a great post on how to use a simple formula (mostly using odd numbered pairs) to create the perfect shelf every time.

10. Space Things Out

As our final bookcase styling tip, keep in mind that there’s nothing wrong with leaving some space between objects on shelving, especially if you have lots of open shelves. Sometimes the best shelf arrangement idea is to put less on the shelf than you think it should have. Keep your shelves from looking cluttered and try moving some things off the shelf.  

Learning how to decorate a bookcase is a skill that takes practice, but once you get bookcase styling just right, your bookcase can be one of the most beautiful features in your home. If you’re interested in more home design ideas and tips, check out the Artisan Hardware blog and get inspired today.