Bookshelf Styling Tips

In our new home’s living room space – which has a high-ceiling and is open to our kitchen and dining room – there are two bookshelves on either side of a brick fireplace. Styling the bookshelves has been a huge challenge since we moved in, mainly because they are the focal point of the open concept space in our home and because I despise knickknacks and anything that looks cluttered! I wanted everything to look neat and coordinated and I also knew that the shelves needed a little bit of color to liven up the neutral furniture and wall paint.

After months of scouring Instagram and reading blogs and/or books from some of my favorite interior designers, like Studio McGee, Blackband Design Group and Emily Henderson, I finally feel satisfied with how the styled shelves look.

Here’s what I learned about bookshelf styling through the experts or through my own trial and error:

1. The colors of the bookshelf items should match the décor used in the rest of the room and/or any other rooms nearby (if they are open to that space).

Since I gravitate towards any sort of coastal-inspired, California look, I decided to go with light blue as the focal color to carry throughout all six of the shelves, onto the couch pillows and eventually over into the dining room (once I get around to decorating that space!). This may sound like an obvious tip but it’s something I still struggle with all of the time. I’ll see an amazing dining room look that incorporates a bold color and then I remember that whatever I choose for colors in that space really needs to match other rooms since they’re all open to each other.

2. Pick one or two focal colors and place those colors on more than one shelf to draw the eye up and/or to even things out. 

For example, on the left bookshelf, I placed a book with a cream spine on the bottom right, the geode with that same color on the second shelf (to the left) and then the birch bark pot on the top shelf (right side). You can do this with any color.

3. Greenery and textured items act like neutrals and are great to disperse throughout.

Look at any beautiful bookshelf and you’ll almost always see an indoor plant, a piece of driftwood or a woven basket or bowl. There’s something about these textured/natural pieces that are nice accents paired with other items.

4. Search Etsy, discount home retailers and deal sites before making any expensive item purchases.

I have been obsessed with strands of sea glass beads used on a book or draped on a vase. I kept seeing them sold on sites for anywhere from $58 to $100 but was lucky enough to find them sold on Etsy for a fraction of the price (we’re talking $10 per strand!!). Yes, these beads go down as my best Etsy find of all time!  I just made sure to double-check the bead sizes to avoid ordering strands with beads that were too tiny. The ones that I recommend are at least 14mm; 18mm or larger are great. Mine are the aqua sea glass beads and the blue sea glass beads. In addition, the white geode and the blue and white ceramic vases (there are four used across both shelves) were all scored at HomeGoods on a lucky shopping day.

5. Have a live audience as you rearrange all of your desired items.

Re-arrange items in front of someone else who can say “yay” or “nay” in real time. It was helpful to have my husband offer his opinion on the location of each item as I kept moving things around. He was viewing the shelves from our couch and was able to see how things looked from a distance, which helped a lot since he could tell me when there was too much space above an item or if something just looked off.

6. Make sure that the items you use are a true reflection of you and/or your family.

I found a great group of vintage books on Etsy that were all coordinating blue hardcovers but I just couldn’t bring myself to buy them because of the titles! They were either weird mystery novels or had a scary title and I didn’t feel like having those books on display, since they might have encouraged guests to ask me about questions about the books or made guests think that we actually enjoyed reading them! I love the idea of covering books in beautiful paper from Paper Source but, instead, I ended up using some of the random books that we had around the house. I turned them around so the spines are facing backwards. One book has its blue-colored back cover showing (which goes with the blue theme) and it’s a coffee table book that I love (see here). The vintage book from Etsy that I did think represented our family because of its title is called “Hawaii.” That hyperlink takes you to the exact book I purchased but there’s only one copy so snag it before it sells!  Here is another vintage edition of “Hawaii” with a blue spine and a light pink-colored hardcover book called “Kona.” The two design books I have facing forward on the right – because they are safe topics and have lovely patterned covers – are by Allegra Hicks and Rebecca Atwood.

7. Don’t be afraid to incorporate items that you actually use in your everyday life.

Did you notice our little Sonos sound speaker on the bottom of the left bookshelf? We needed a place for it and I was okay with adding it in with the other décor pieces. Since the Sonos is white and silver, it worked. I wouldn’t have added it if it was all black though (it would’ve probably been an electronic eye sore!).

Additional products used in my bookshelves and on the mantel:

birch bark and zinc pot | geode – HomeGoods find but similar here | Z Gallerie 8 x 10 cream picture frame – old but similar from Kate Spade hereCandlefish ceramic candle | glass cloche | Shreve, Crump & Low large Gurgling Cod pitcher | Kate Spade rose gold and silver picture frame (with Crew’s birth announcement) and similar version here |  large gold sphere | natural wood heart – from Kennebunkport’s farm + table store (you’ll have to call them to order because I can’t find any lookalikes!) |  Mercury Glass Candle Holders | Pillar Candles

Thanks for reading and leave any questions or comments, below.

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  • Yacon Root

    September 8, 2017 at 8:50 am

    Great Blog. Very much enjoyed reading.

  • Stephanie

    July 15, 2017 at 1:41 pm

    Beautiful Brie! I love the tip to search Etsy for similar (expensive) purchases. Looks great. I've always admired your eye for style!

  • Shannon

    July 12, 2017 at 8:00 pm

    I love these tips! I just got two new bookshelves so I need all the help I can get. I love the idea of having a "live audience" for real time feedback. That really saves a TON of time and stress. Also love the tip for using greenery as part of the neutrals - it really does freshen things up!! xx Shannon ||

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A brand marketing/PR exec and new mom based in Boston; sharing my thoughts on fave destinations, gift ideas, décor, style, beauty and more. Read More

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