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How to Style a Bookshelf

Eight tips and tricks for styling your books like a pro.

Sep 19, 2019

Gwyneth Paltrow may have hired a personal book curator to style her library, but luckily you don’t need to be rich and famous to boast chic shelves. Still, there’s a lot more to it than lining up your favorite paperbacks and calling it a day. Here are a few of our top tips for achieving perfectly put-together bookshelves that will earn you all the Instagram likes. 

Mix it up

Use more than just books on your bookshelf. It may seem counterintuitive, but only displaying books on your shelves will lead to a dull, one-note look. Instead, intersperse your tomes with stylish knick knacks, sculptural objects and vases. Make sure to vary the shapes and heights of your accessories.

Try inside out

Rather than displaying all your books with their spines facing out, position some (preferably ones you don’t need to refer to frequently) with their pages facing out. Not only does it create a more dynamic look, but it gives the eye a rest, allowing for neutral blocks amidst all the colorful spines.

Go vertical and horizontal

Avoid lining all your books up in one neat row. Instead, group them together in generously spaced-out vertical and horizontal stacks. Separate and/or top each grouping with a decorative object to break things up. Don’t overcrowd each shelf, or it will look cluttered and unappealing. 

Image by @haveanicydayy_ | ALIGN : LEFT

Liven things up 

Bring your shelves to life with greenery, plus other natural, organic objects (think shells, geodes, woven baskets, etc.). Plants add a pop of bright color, as well as interesting shapes and varying heights, not to mention boundless opportunities for pretty display pots. If you don’t have a green thumb, don’t worry—go for high-quality faux.

Incorporate photos and art

Framed photos and favorite artworks add some much-needed personality to your shelves. When incorporating these into your design scheme, use the same rules you would if you were decorating with knick knacks and objects.

Color coordinate

Arrange your books in a rainbow pattern or group them in blocks of color, in descending order of brightness. Play around with a few options and see what looks best in your space. Remember, while arranging books by color can be fun, be careful—it can be hard to maintain the look depending on how many books you have and how often you use them. 

Shine a light

Create an elegant ambience by adding lighting to your bookcase, whether it’s gallery-style lights running along the top, a cute little decorative lamp placed between a stack of books or stylish adjustable wall sconces on either side.

Add a backdrop

There’s nothing like a graphic wallpaper or a bold shot of paint on the interior of a shelf to turn your bookcase into a conversation piece. It’s one of those insider stylist tricks that looks amazing and is also super easy to DIY—and will have everyone asking you for your interior designer’s number.

Last but not least, make sure the books, objects and photos you display are ones you really love. There are no rules when it comes to decorating a long as you’re creative and let your personality shine, you have a good shot of giving even Gwyneth’s shelves a run for their money.

Written by Kamala Nair

Kamala Nair is a London-based writer. Her work has appeared in 1stdibs Introspective, Luxe Interiors + Design and, among other publications. Read an excerpt of her debut novel, The Girl in the Garden (Grand Central Publishing, 2011) here:

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