How To Decorate A Bookshelf

Styling a bookshelf is one of the best ways to add personality to your home and make it feel like your own. Whether you dress it up with your favorite books, potted plants, or vintage artwork, there are countless ways to inject color and life into shelves. Even if you are a minimalist, you can artfully style your shelves to reflect your personal design tastes and preferences.

However, shelf styling is not always a piece of cake. It can be challenging to figure out which pieces to add and strike the perfect balance between small and large objects. According to The Beauty Revival, styling shelves is about layering objects of different heights and sizes. For example, houseplants, candlesticks, and pictures can add height and prevent shelves from looking like a place for pretty clutter. It's important to be thoughtful with the objects you place on shelves, and it may require some fine-tuning and adjustments before shelves look just right. If you've wanted to spruce up your bookshelves, keep reading for tips and tricks that will take your shelfie game to the next level!

Stack books horizontally and vertically to add visual interest

Books have the power to bring warmth, charm, and character to any shelf. Not to mention that they contain a world of information between their covers. If you want to display your beloved book collection in style, mix up the positioning by arranging titles in both vertical and horizontal stacks. Placing objects on top of the horizontal piles will instantly create visual interest. You can also arrange books to either the left or right side of the shelf, leaving open space for decor items. 

According to Homes & Gardens, arranging books in horizontal stacks leaves open space between the piles to prevent shelves from looking messy or over-cluttered. While there's no perfect formula for filling shelves with books, a good rule of thumb is to curate one pile of books and two decorative objects per shelf. If you want to take it up a notch, arrange book piles by subject matter or author. 

Group books by color to make them look like artwork

Another great way to organize your books is by coordinating them by color. Simply group titles with similar colors together on the shelf. The colorful collection of rainbow spines looks like a work of art, instantly elevating any shelf. If you love vivid colors and have a lot of books to display, this style is probably perfect for your home.

However, before going wild with color-coded book organization, keep in mind that this style will likely make it challenging to find the title you need. According to Book Riot, grouping by color is not the most practical organizational method for shelves. If you are constantly searching for the book you want, it might make more sense to group by author's last name or subject matter. Additionally, grouping by color can be messy in terms of book size. Think about your bookshelf needs before settling on this style.

Dress up shelves with a fresh coat of paint

If you're ready for a new creative project, why not give your bookshelves some color? According to Domino, mixing up your scenery is not only fun, but also helps lift your mood. There are many different ways to paint shelves, from coating every cubby in a different color to painting just the exterior and leaving the inside panels bare. You can opt for a bright all-over hue to make your shelves stand out, or paint them to match the rest of the room for a monochromatic look. 

Once you've decided on the painting style, you're ready to start! First things first, wipe down surfaces and cover them with primer. Let the primer dry for about 15 minutes, and then have your paint ready in a tray. For best results, use a fresh liner and foam roller for the painting process (via Book Riot). Once your shelves are painted, let them dry thoroughly before reassembling and decorating. 

Cover shelves with pretty wallpaper

If painting your shelves feels like too much of a commitment, consider mixing up your style by wallpapering the back of a bookshelf. According to Apartment Therapy, the wonderful thing about wallpaper is that it instantly injects a dose of pizzazz and pattern into your home. With so many different prints to choose from, there's truly something for everyone. Plus, you can easily remove it when the time comes for a change.

You'll just need a free afternoon and a few simple materials to paper your shelves. Start by taking out removable shelves and setting them to the side (via SFGate). Trim wallpaper to the exact size of the bookcase's back wall or into sections if your shelves do not remove. After sanding, cleaning, and priming shelves, let them dry for about 10 minutes before spraying with an adhesive. Then, press it on gently to ensure the wallpaper corners are in line with the corners of the bookshelf. A wallpaper smoother will help get rid of creases or lines. Finish by placing removable shelves back inside.

Mix antique accessories like vases and candle holders to let your aesthetic shine

Once your books are artfully arranged, you can start dressing up shelves with decorative objects. According to Architectural Digest, mixing vintage pieces with books will help make shelves look effortlessly styled. Antique vases and candle holders are a lovely addition to any shelf, especially since you can typically find them at your local thrift store or flea market. Vases come in all colors and styles, so they're a great way to let your personality shine. Additionally, candle holders can add height and dimension to your shelf while providing a practical place for your favorite candles.

To style with decorative objects, place them between book piles and leave empty space in between to avoid shelves looking too cluttered. If you have a vase on one shelf, arrange an object of a similar size and shape on the opposite side of the adjacent shelf for symmetry (via Better Homes and Gardens). 

Breathe life into bookshelves with lush greenery

You don't have to have a green thumb to appreciate the beauty of plants. Sprinkle a few potted plants on your bookshelf and watch it come alive with character and style. According to Apartment Therapy, plants complement any style. Whether you decorate with a large number of plants for a bohemian vibe or stick to three plants to achieve a modern look, there's nothing a little greenery can't help. Plants work great as bookends and can also be used to fill up empty space on shelves.

When it comes to selecting the right plant species for your shelves, think about how much natural light the shelves receive and the amount of available shelf space. Snake plants, golden pothos, and ferns are all great, low-maintenance options for shelves not in direct sunlight. There are a wide variety of plants to choose from, including species that detoxify the air. According to Country Living, scientists claim that certain plants help purify the home by removing dust and germs. English ivy and spider plants are both prime air purifiers.

Display treasured items from your travels

Whether you've traveled the globe or just love exploring your own neck of the woods, bookshelves are an optimal spot to display mementos and trinkets from your adventures. According to The Spruce, your home should ideally tell a story about who you are. Since travel experiences are often unique and meaningful, adding decor that evokes your favorite destinations helps welcome people to your living space and tell them who you are. Plus, it can inspire you to keep making new memories.

There are plenty of ways to decorate shelves with items from your adventures. Frame postcards or photos and lean them against the back of the shelf, or use art you picked up in faraway destinations to add character and color to shelves. To help encourage your wanderlust, place a small globe on top of a book pile or cover the back of shelves with map-themed wallpaper. If you have a favorite place, incorporate items that remind you of being there.

Think about the size and scale of your decor

Identifying the items you want to display on your shelves is not the only piece of the puzzle when it comes to decorating. You'll also want to consider scale and symmetry, and how items fit in relation to each other. According to The Spruce, pieces on a bookshelf should ideally be of different heights and sizes but feel cohesive. No item should be so big that it overpowers the shelf, nor so small that it disappears behind other pieces.

To keep shelves looking symmetrical, work with the rule of threes and ensure that objects are arranged equally on the shelves. For example, if you have three houseplants, arrange them on different shelves and sides to create balance. The same rule applies to color, height, and textures as well (via Michaela Noelle Designs). Repeating elements in different places on your shelves will help them feel balanced and cohesive.

Create a kid-friendly bookshelf by displaying toys next to your child's favorite books

Adding a bookshelf to your child's room or playroom can work wonders when it comes to transforming messy, cluttered spaces. A child's bookshelf can serve as a useful storage space and be a spot for displaying beloved books or cute toys. According to The Everymom, a kid's bookshelf essentials include stuffed animals and furry friends, woven baskets for organization, playful colors, and picture frames for a personal touch. Hanging shelves up on the wall is also a good idea since it frees up valuable floor space your child could be using for playtime. 

If you need to store a large number of toys, consider opting for storage containers with lids and adding labels to each container, so each toy has a designated home on the shelf. Keep books and toys your kids regularly use on lower shelves so they can easily access their favorite items and put them away. 

Place your favorite art pieces on the bookshelf for a unique look

The best way to make your bookshelf a true masterpiece is by dressing it up with some artwork. Whether you layer framed paintings behind your books or hang a drawing right on the bookshelf frame, art in any style adds personality and visual interest. 

According to House Beautiful, hanging up a piece of art on your bookshelf makes a big impact. It's also a great trick if you want to hide something like a stray cable or router. While a traditional portrait or nature scene is always a good choice to hang up, don't shy away from more eclectic pieces. Once you select the perfect piece, use command hooks or velcro to secure it to the shelf. This way, you can switch it up without leaving a permanent hole in the shelf. Lastly, don't limit yourself to just framed pictures. Hats, ticket stubs, and even hanging planters can also be hung directly on your bookshelf as art.

Add texture with woven baskets and wooden boxes

If you're looking for ways to fill empty space on your shelves, decorative boxes and baskets made of natural materials are a great option. According to House Beautiful, these multi-purpose items can be used to hold plants, books, newspapers, knickknacks, and clutter you might not necessarily want to put on display. Not to mention that they are super stylish and complement most homes. Plus, there are plenty of styles to choose from.

Decorating with natural elements like wood, jute, and rattan gives bookshelves texture, dimension, and a timeless feel that won't go out of style (via Modsy). While natural materials tend to complement rustic and bohemian looks best, they fit with all interior design styles. To layer natural elements into your bookshelf, look for baskets or boxes made of materials like seagrass, rattan, or water hyacinth. Lightweight and durable, these pieces are just as practical as they are display-worthy.

Hide clutter with strategic storage

Sometimes it seems like no matter how much love and care goes into styling shelves, they still look messy or cluttered. Whether you have floating shelves or a built-in bookshelf, miscellaneous objects like keys, glasses, and letters easily accumulate on shelves and make them look disorganized. But according to From House and Home, there are some storage tips and tricks that will make your shelves easier to manage and help them stay intentional, well-decorated spaces.

The first step is to remove everything from the shelves and start from scratch. Take down the random trinkets and objects that don't belong so you can see the shelves with fresh eyes. Then, add designated storage boxes to the bottom shelves. If they are a little plain, you can always spice them up with paint, stickers, or wallpaper. You can also use objects like vases and large pictures to hide objects you don't want out in the open. Alternatively, you can install curtains or sliding doors on shelves to keep clutter out of sight.

Lighten up your shelves with creative lighting

No set of shelves is complete without lighting. Shine a spotlight on your favorite books by installing cool lights, lanterns, or lamps throughout your shelves. According to Closet Works, bookshelf lighting creates a visual focal point and illuminates shelves so you can find items more easily. It's also a great way to let your personality shine, since there are so many different lighting options available.

One of the most beautiful ways to lighten up a room is by wrapping a set of fairy lights around shelves. Not only do they look magical, but these battery-operated lights can be found almost anywhere in a broad range of styles. If you are a fan of flickering flames, illuminate shelves safely with flameless candles (via Happily Ever After Etc). Another cool trick is to use a book lamp, which is a lamp disguised as a book (via Etsy). Other classic lighting options include overhead LED spotlights, hanging fixtures, and lightboxes. 

Don't forget to decorate with cute bookends

Don't leave your books hanging! Give them some support by adding bookends to your shelves. According to Book Riot, these heavy objects ensure that a row of books will stay in place and not fall over, making them especially useful for floating or open shelving concepts. And they are also a great opportunity to add some flair to your shelves and show off your unique interests. For example, if you love crystals, you can add some serene sparkle to shelves with amethyst, agate, or quartz (via Book Riot).

If you're looking for cute bookend ideas, start by thinking about what you're passionate about. There are bookends inspired by pet lovers, feminist icons, nurseries, and city skylines (via Oprah Daily). You can also opt for a set of neutral marble or clear acrylic bookends if you prefer a more minimalist look. No matter which style you choose, bookends will add the perfect finishing touch to your shelves.