How To Refresh Your Bookshelf Decor

Taking the time to refresh a space every once in a while is necessary, especially since we spend so much time inside the home. We've been in and out of the same living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens, and dining rooms all year long, staring at the same decorations. Create a space that feels different just by moving some things around, adding a few new touches, or including fresh accents on the shelves. This is especially transformative for bookcases — break out of the dullness by making these small improvements to your shelves.

If your shelves are feeling a bit lackluster, making some small changes could really improve your interior design. "We believe in collecting a few transitional pieces that will give your home a seasonal refresher without having to reimagine an entire space," interior designer Becky Shea told HGTV. "It's always nice to see something new every few months. Refreshing season after season allows you to organize your thoughts and objects in conjunction with the time of the year." Whether you're feeling uninspired or your style has evolved, we have all of the bookshelf refresh styling tips you'll need.

Clear it all off

Sometimes when you're redecorating an area for the hundredth time, you could fall into a repetitive pattern of putting the same things in the same places. When refreshing the shelves this time, try to break free from the monotony and refresh your shelves from a new perspective – emptiness. After you give it a good dusting, leave no accessory, book, or candlestick in the area, no matter how much you may love it in its original placement.

According to Studio McGee, with nothing in the way of creativity, you can start to make decisions about which items will be focal points to begin building a new display. On the floor, group your pieces by size to help determine which larger items will go up first and which will act as accent pieces later down the road. Also, take this time to measure the shelves' height, width, and depth to help determine which old and new pieces will fit best. If needed (and possible), you can always adjust the positioning of any shelves to accommodate decoration without the risk of breaking any item.

Decide what isn't coming back

Even though you may start with a clean slate, what you do next will really impact the design. You'll have to sort out which items really deserve to be put back on display and which will remain off. Why? Because eventually, items get worn, trends end, and stuff gets "old." Everything you have is fantastic (we know), but not every item needs to be kept for decades. Whether you are simply tired of the look or the piece is out of season, use this moment to swap some items out for a whole new visual vibe.

Start small when deciding what remains and what goes. Larger items like vases and statutes may be more expensive to replace, whereas smaller accessories are more feasible and interchangeable. "An easy way to refresh a design is by curating a bookshelf with different accessories and books," Vani Sayeed of Vani Sayeed Studios told Forbes. Try to make new groupings of plants, candles, and decorative boxes, and swap old books for new ones, focusing on new covers with different colors. Consider changing petite vases, picture frames, candlesticks, or bookend holders. Store the older pieces for later — you never know when you may need them for the next refresh.

Update any framed art

While there are hundreds of ways to fill bookcases — from boxes to books to trinkets — nothing is quite as captivating as framed art leaning on a shelf. But every now and then, even the most statement-worthy pieces need a boost. If what's currently pictured in the frame isn't matching the energy in the room anymore, change the picture, the framing, or the matting. Thanks to widely available prints, photography, and DIY portraits, updating art is right at your fingertips. 

For those pictures that are more of a keepsake (and have to be displayed), opt to alter the framing or matting it's housed in instead. The "mat" is a thin border that outlines the photo, painting, or print, and is typically white in color. "Most pieces look better with a mat, with a couple exceptions," Tess Wolf at Framebridge told One Kings Lane. "Large format photography looks incredible unmatted — the image has a greater impact without anything qualifying what you're seeing." Whether you switch out the actual print or update the mating, the shelfie will feel refreshed and new.

Pick a color palette

Fill the shelves of any room with shades of color that reflects your interior style. According to Kathy Kuo Home, a clearly defined color palette is essential to styling shelves at home — even for a refresh! But where do you start? First, decide whether your palette will be subtle and neutral or bold and vibrant. This decision will help you determine the prominent and supportive colors to use in your scheme. Once the palette is settled, you can restyle the shelves according to the tones you want to be the focal points in the room. Now, we're not saying everything needs to be matchy-matchy, but you should have a color plan.

With so many color possibilities and pairings, how do you know which creations work best for your interior? The best combinations are those consisting of light and dark shades, regardless of your interior design style. A room with only dark tones can feel visually heavy, and a room only with pastels or light hues can feel flat or sterile; you need a mix of both. You can use a color wheel to create combinations or design a color palette inspired by popular color combinations. For example, many people love light blue with beige, and there are enough design examples on Instagram and Pinterest to recreate it successfully in your own home. "One of my favorite color schemes is a simple Parisian grayish-blue paired with natural beige tones and the addition of gold hardware," Valerie Darden, head designer of Brexton Cole Interiors, tells MyDomaine. You can simply copy those palettes if you don't know where to begin.

Change the book covers

Books are a decorative staple in homes, often used to create elements of height and dimension on tabletops and bookshelves. While you may have heard of removing book covers to reveal the canvas or hard cover underneath, this next idea gives dated books an upgrade. Rather than donating or discarding titles that don't match your decor, consider covering them up instead.

Any book will do for this next refresh tip — just be sure to vary the sizes. A quick and easy way to update your shelf decor is by wrapping your books in paper. While solid colors will be more than sufficient, good quality paper with designs could give a chic new look to an old favorite. Using scrapbook paper (or something similar), decoupage your books with any pattern, color, or combination you can think of (via What Meegan Makes). If you wanted to, you could line the books across the shelves in rainbow hues, neutrals, or varying tones of one color. Don't judge a book by its cover. Instead, tap into your crafty side to refresh your shelf with some old (or new) books that reflect the environment.

Introduce new scents

What better way to spruce up a living space than changing how it smells? A home's scent can affect emotions and experiences; therefore, changing the scent alters how each person perceives the interior. "Scent is such a powerful thing, and if you find a new scent that you love, bringing that into your house is a nice way to create a different atmosphere," Swedish interior designer, Beata Heuman, told Vogue. "Look for candles, soaps, even a bag of lavender or lavender water that you can put in your iron to get your linens smelling really lovely." Whichever smell you fancy (or maybe the container is just that cute), layer it onto the shelves, on top of a stack of books, tucked next to a vase, or solo.

Candles are suitable accessories for all home aesthetics since they can act as decorative trinkets when lit or unlit. In addition, they set the mood and alter the ambiance in any space they are put in. For shelves with closed cabinetry, you can still easily incorporate new smells (minus the flame) with diffusers (like this one from Nest), essential oils, and bowls of potpourri. Refresh any of the shelves in your house with the power of smell by adding new aromas to familiar territory.

Spruce up the greenery

The easiest, most effective way to fill voids is with plants. These natural beauties can be placed on a shelf in any room of the house, from the living room to the bedroom and even in the space above the toilet. Connect the interior and yourself back to nature by refreshing some of the greenery you have on the shelves. "Replacing some of your indoor plants that are beginning to look a bit sickly with fresh new ones is an easy change that will add a nice pop of color," KD Reid of KD Reid Interiors told Oprah Daily. You bring life into your space by decorating with fresh flowers and greenery, so it only makes sense to refresh the potted plants from time to time.

If you are scared of adding bold colors to your oasis, decorating with plants is a great way to introduce some tonality into an otherwise colorless landscape. And if nothing else, they will help fill dead space where furniture won't fit. There are so many "shelfie" plants to choose from, from bird's nest snake plant to devil's ivy to a variety of philodendrons (via My Tasteful Space). Mix and match several plant types and switch them up seasonally to revitalize the interior.

Only put what makes sense in the space

As any good designer knows, there is more to refreshing a place (or shelf) than just how it looks. While others may be puzzled about how to style their shelves, compiling decorative elements together is easier than you imagine. It's about how all the items you select come together in the space to give you the best experience. The room in which you're redecorating plays an integral part in the overall design.

For example, not every decorative item that matches in color, shape, or pattern may actually belong in the room you're decorating. "What you display should make sense in the room with the exception of universal items like plants and art," Emily Ruff, principal designer at Cohesively Curated Interiors, told Architectural Digest. This means the tea kettle won't be nearly as impactful in a bathroom as it would be when styled in a kitchen. Stimulate visual impact by restyling the shelves with items that actually belong in the room you're redoing. Study the colors, textures, and definitive patterns that are in the area and use these as inspirations to add complementary items in like tones and silhouettes to the shelves.

Repeat items you love

Repetition can do great things for any home interior, regardless of which style you favor. Use this decorating tip to your advantage as you plan to refresh your bookshelf with new objects. Considering all the items currently on display, think about which elements you love the most and repeat them throughout the design. According to House by Hoff, this doesn't just mean buying the same item twice, though you can certainly do that. It also means repeating textures and colors, such as placing multiple plants, wooden frames, terracotta planters, and canvas books across different shelves. The idea is that incorporating recurring elements of texture, patterns, or color will help unify the interior.

If you ever stop and wonder if you should buy both sizes of that pretty vase, candlestick, or decorative bowl set, the answer is yes. Depending on the shelving you are restyling, you can stagger the similar objects on different shelves for the eye to navigate in different directions, or right next to one another on the same shelf but in different sizes. The alternating heights will create an appealing contrast like in the image above. Sometimes two (or more) of a design, bowl, or decorative box are better than one as the duplications create a cohesive look.

Check the balance

As you place all the objects back onto the shelves, you want to be precise with the placement of each addition. Where every item is (or isn't) establishes balance. Balance is a critical design element and one not to be overlooked when refreshing your bookshelf decor. "While simple, one of the quickest ways to refresh a design and feel of a room is to reorganize your shelves," Hannah Leas, project manager at Stregan Group, told Paintru. "I always consider visual balance when filling them back up with my favorite items and books." When all the pieces are where you think you like them, take a few steps back to admire the bookshelf display and check the visual weight. Ask yourself, how does it all look? Does anything seem out of place?

To create a balanced design, find what components go well together and which appear "off" to you. Many factors play into visual weight, such as scale, proportion, color, and texture, so consider them all when you're gazing at the placement of your pieces. You can achieve a visually balanced shelf by mirroring the same objects on opposing sides or using contrasting items with similar characteristics (via Asian Lifestyle Design). Refreshing the shelves requires a bit of strategy and understanding of positive and negative space for a pleasant arrangement.

Ground the look with the heaviest items on the bottom

Creating shelf symmetry is a design tactic you want to master. It works with every style, and no interior is complete without it. Whether you are decorating open shelves in the living room or a closed cabinet in the bedroom, when restyling shelves in a home, you want all the pieces to come together harmoniously. After all, it's not just one shelf that makes the whole design; it's every level combined. "There is an art to arranging your shelf, start with the heaviest and largest items on the bottom layer and arrange by weight and size [as] you go up each shelf," interior designer Anna Grace Davidson told Good Housekeeping. Every object you decorate with has a "weight" to it — from small to large — that helps you determine its placement.

Whether it's a no-cost makeover with items you already own, total renovation, or a few new pieces scattered in, restyling your bookshelf decor is something to check off the to-do list. There is no better way to make a space feel new again than by changing what you have become used to. There are many ways to update your shelf decor, but for those who need a little direction, we hope you found a tip or two to take with you while you restyle your bookshelf decor at home.