How To Decorate Bookshelves Without Books

With each of us trying to navigate our new normal and spending more time at home, many of us are looking for new ways to spruce up our space and freshen up our backgrounds for the endless stream of Zoom calls we have in a day. Whether you have a dedicated home office or are simply alternating between the living room and kitchen table, one of the tried and true spaces in a home that lends itself well to decorating is a bookshelf, according to The Spruce. 

Although created to house books, bookshelves provide a large canvas to display your interests, memories, or random trinkets. It's also an area of the home that tends to get overlooked as it's not as easy to replace as a chair. Whether it's the focal point of a room or alongside an accent wall, here are some ways to freshen up your bookshelf — without buying a whole new anthology!

Add a fresh coat of paint

According to Book Riot, one of the most noticeable and impactful enhancements you can make to your bookshelf is painting it a new color. Updating the look of the bookshelf from the inside out is a great way to refresh the space without having to change the entire room or swap out all of the items already on the shelves. It also allows you to experiment with color in a way that isn't as drastic or time-consuming as repainting the entire room. 

For instance, traditional wood-paneled built-ins repainted white are perfect for a modern farmhouse renovation. Or, a bold choice like a deep shade of emerald can turn a bookshelf into an accent wall or focal area, depending on its location and size. Picking out a color that brings out the overall feel of the room or that adds a complementary pop of color to those already in the space can help tie everything together into one cohesive design.

Add accent pieces

Similar to a new paint color adding freshness, adding the right accent pieces to a bookshelf can create a brand new look. This is a great opportunity to create a vision for your bookshelf, allowing you to plan your accent pieces around a specific color, texture, or theme. By designing with a specific focus in mind, you're able to more easily search for pieces that fit your ideas and not go overboard or wind up with clashing items. 

Once you have selected your theme, picking pieces that coordinate but aren't identical is a great way to add contrast but still keep everything cohesive. According to West Elm, selecting unique materials such as mixed metals or glass is a great way to brighten a space without introducing too many colors. Adding objects in the same color or color family but in various shades can also spice up the space without adding in too many new elements.

Alternate heights and shapes of trinkets

One of the best parts of decorating a bookshelf is the ability to add so much character and uniqueness to a contained area. Although it's nice to be able to throw all of your new trinkets on the shelf, alternating the height or shape of your items helps keep the shelf from looking too monolithic. Sacking smaller objects on top of items already on your shelf can assist with creating dimensions and adding new focal areas across the shelves. 

Better Homes & Gardens recommends grouping objects of a similar look and feel together, but that contrast in height, shape, width, or texture adds dimension and complexity to the area and helps keep the eye engaged. Look for pieces that are easy to style around and that are known for having unique shapes and structures — such as vases or candles — and build out the contrast from there. Giving yourself a piece to start with can help make the process easier over time. Make sure as you arrange the trinkets to occasionally take a step back and adjust the placement as needed or see where you need to fill in more.

Add wallpaper to your bookshelf

Forbes reminds us that wallpaper is great for refreshing a bookshelf and is more cost-effective and less time-consuming than repainting the entire piece. Additionally, using wallpaper allows you to get creative with textures and styles and create a more dynamic piece than just painting alone. Ever wanted to see what your bookshelf would look like with a geometric or art-deco-inspired design? Now's your chance! 

Although wallpaper is not the same as painting, there is still significant prep that must be done to ensure your wallpaper goes on clean and uniformly. Also, make sure that you find wallpaper that is removable, and ensure that you have the proper tools on hand to smooth it out when putting it on the wall. Enlist an extra set of hands or a ladder if needed, based on your bookshelf's height and width. Another critical step before applying wallpaper is prepping your bookshelf by cleaning the shelves beforehand. Taking the necessary measures upfront to ensure a smooth application will save you lots of time and money down the road.

Include personal photos

One of the most important things to keep in mind as you search for inspiration for decorating your bookshelf is to ensure it still feels like your space and personality! Outside of trinkets or random items you've stockpiled from over the years, adding photos is a great way to personalize and add charm to your bookshelf, per A Beautiful Mess. Whether it's personal photos from memories like a wedding or birthday party, or photos of pets, family, friends, or even landscape-style photos you've taken on trips, photos add so much character to a space. 

Photos also have the unique ability to tell people your story without having to use words. An additional photo idea is framing quotes or song lyrics that have special meaning to you or alternating between different photo styles, such as printing them in black and white to add a new layer of depth and create uniqueness from shelf to shelf.

Display collectables

Are you an avid collector of records, snow globes, or even coins? If so, HGTV highlights that your bookshelf is a great place to maintain your collection without adding to clutter throughout the rest of your home. Dedicating one row (or the top of the bookshelf) to displaying these items is a great way to allow you to admire these pieces whenever you look at your bookshelf. It is also a great conversation piece for people when they enter the room. 

Being able to arrange the items in different ways (chronologically, alphabetically, or simply putting your favorite ones closer to the front) as well as being able to change the order when needed makes utilizing your bookshelf more practical than storing collectables in a closet or locked cabinet. It also makes it much easier to continue to add pieces as you collect them, and the vast space of a bookshelf allows you to use as much or as little space per shelf as needed.

Swap out décor from another part of the home

The concept of "reduce, reuse, recycle" is at the forefront of this idea. Taking inventory of all the décor items you already have as well as identifying pieces that are out of place where they currently reside is a great place to start looking for ways to spruce up your bookshelf, as noted by Bob Vila. This is an opportunity to examine that souvenir you picked up while traveling that you liked at the time but doesn't exactly fit in on your coffee table, or that gift someone at work gave you a few Christmases ago that you aren't quite sure what to do with. 

Moving items around can give them life again and might make a huge difference in how you see them once they're on the shelf. And, for those items that once you moved them around still don't work for you, make sure you keep a donation pile handy so that you can give these items a new home.

Add plants to your bookshelf

For many of us, being home more often gives us new motivation to maintain plants. With this newfound green thumb you have (or hope to have), Apartment Therapy asks why not introduce greenery to your shelf? Plants have a way of brightening up a space with minimal effort (outside of keeping them watered and alive, of course) and adding a lived in-feel that makes an environment more homey and warm. Finding plants that are in alignment with your lifestyle, the amount of natural light in the room, and overall aesthetic can add uniqueness to your bookshelf and a relaxed vibe to the room. 

Potting plants in a fun or eclectic flowerpot adds an element of décor to the shelf, and incorporating other unique pieces such as additional vases or Pampas Grass can help round out the look and create additional points of interest. If real plants aren't for you, there are tons of faux greenery and floral options that still brighten up the space and only require the occasional dusting.

Repurpose the bookshelf

If books aren't your thing but you still want to utilize your bookshelf, maybe it's time to repurpose it and update its functionality in your home, per The Spruce. Depending on where the bookshelf is located, you may have the ability to transform it into something that makes more sense, such as a bar or pantry/snack station. That would allow you to maximize the functionality of the bookshelf in a way that enhances your ability to utilize the piece, as well as make it more custom to your style. 

Having the ability to store or display glassware, equipment, drinks, coffeemakers, bottles, mugs, or frequently used items increases your storage, all without having to buy anything extra or add in any additional assembly time. If you're feeling super handy, you could disassemble the shelf, refinish it, and utilize parts of it in other areas of your home. Or, you can create floating shelves that serve a similar function.

Add sculptures and artwork

Sculptures and artwork add lots of sophistication and flair to your bookshelf, as noted by Architectural Digest. By utilizing the right mix of heights, material, composition, and width, you can create an area on the shelf that is both modern and traditional all at once. Artwork and sculptures are also an eclectic way to show off your personality and create fun visuals throughout the shelf. Ideally, picking options that differ from the color or material of your shelving will help break up the space, as well as provide a healthy contrast that will boost the decorative factor of each piece of art. 

Artwork is also a great way to reinforce a theme for your bookshelf, allowing you to focus on pieces highlighting travel, fashion, quotes, portraits, or whatever ideas speak to you and spark creativity and happiness within your space. Each piece should somehow tie disparate elements together through at least one aspect (color, theme, texture, etc.), but still maintain its individuality and uniqueness.

Place decorative boxes or storage bins on your bookshelf

One of the keys to maximizing your space is finding the right balance between style and functionality. If your bookshelf is mainly used for storage and not as a focal piece, Better Homes & Gardens suggests utilizing decorative storage bins to enhance your storage capacity and minimize clutter. By organizing your items into bins, you are better able to see what you are keeping and not feel like your items are taking over the shelf. 

Using bins with labels or color coordinating them can help you identify the buckets that your items fall into and help you get a system in place that is easy to maintain. Doing so also helps the bookshelf to be more aesthetically appealing by preventing excessive amounts of items from piling on the shelves or having random items scattered across that you may not want on display. Even if your bins end up becoming an extension of the "junk drawer," at least your guests or those who can see your space on a Zoom call won't be able to tell the difference!

Update the shelving

You may have more (or fewer) bookshelves than you need, according to Good Housekeeping. In the case of needing less, taking out shelves and deciding to hang them differently — or maybe even turning them into floating shelves in another area, or rearranging things so you have a shelf on every other row — allows you to house taller or heavier items than before. In the case of needing more, taking the shelves you have to your local hardware store can help you figure out what size and finish you need to make them match your existing shelves. 

Instead of adding in shelves, utilizing storage cubes can also fill in the gaps and give you a refreshed look for your bookshelf without the handiwork. Since you've already taken the shelves out, now would also be a good time to decide if you want to sand and change the color or stain of these shelves to finish off the updates.

Add mirrors to your bookshelf

Mirrors make for great bookshelf additions because of the amount of good they can do for a room, per Cutrate Glass. They can create an illusion that the space is bigger, increase the room's natural light by being strategically placed to reflect sunlight throughout, and hide or minimize the look of imperfections on a wall or within the bookshelf. A large mirror can also serve as a focal point within the shelf, allowing you to not have as much surface area to decorate. Mirrors come in all shapes, sizes, and finishes, so the possibilities are endless for your bookshelf. 

The right mirror can help a seemingly eclectic array of trinkets feel styled and polished. Depending on the amount of shelf space you have to work with, placing smaller mirrors in different areas of the bookshelf can create a design feature throughout, as well as help provide structure to the rest of the pieces as you decide what other items to include.