Decorating A Bookshelf The Easy Way

Do you need a little help and some creative ideas for decorating a bookshelf in your home? Here are a super easy way bookshelf decor ideas that are easy to do and full of charm.


Does decorating a bookshelf seem like a daunting task? Is it hard to know where to begin to style shelves that add beauty and interest to a room? You don’t need to be an interior designer to create the prettiest and most meaningful bookshelves! Let’s demystify the process and create interesting and curated bookshelves. Here is my easy process that you can use over and over again to style any shelf in your home.

Our Bookshelf

Our bookshelves sit at the end of our long entryway just before it opens up to the living room.


It was because of the long wall that I felt a piece of furniture, the right piece, would add lots of interest to this area. But I did not want something big or heavy that would look out of place.

You can see from the image below that this bookcase is quite narrow. Just what I was looking for!


So we chose this white bookcase with black metal doors. You can see it HERE. It’s really a very well made, lovely piece of furniture. It has a light with three settings that light up the cabinet from above.

And it is a nice focal point connecting our foyer and living room. We are finally going to replace the tile with hardwood. Yay!

Because of the openness of our Tanglewood House, there is really no place for shelves in our living room or family room. So this new handsome bookcase gives me the opportunity to do one of my favorite things… style shelves!

We do have built-in bookshelves in our home office and I use the same styling technique to decorate them.

Here are some helpful tips and ideas for decorating a bookshelf.

Two Things To Know When Decorating A Bookshelf


There are so many things to consider when styling bookshelves. We will briefly overview them later in the post but there are two major things to know.

  1. a curated bookshelf does not happen in 15 minutes
  2. my grid method for decorating a bookshelf

First, you really cannot rush the process and inspiration when you decorate bookshelves! Give yourself time to work and rework and add and edit and leave and return and do it again the next day! I have never just styled a bookshelf and got it perfect the first time. So enjoy the process and you will end up with perfectly styled shelves!

The second thing to know is how to use the easy grid styling technique I developed more than a decade ago. It works like magic every time!

Start With Empty Shelves


Start styling a bookshelf with totally empty shelves. And since there is nothing on the shelves give them a good cleaning!

The Grid Method

I came up with a super simple, works-every-time technique to help me decorate flat surfaces like shelves and buffets and hutches and even coffee tables. And it works especially well when styling a bookshelf.

Here’s how it works…

I divide a bookshelf using a grid layout.


I use the evenly spaced shelves as my horizontal lines and divide each shelf into imaginary equal parts vertically. This gives me a grid to help me decorate.

The longer the shelf is the more grids it will have. My new bookcase is 44 1/2 inches wide, so I divided each shelf into thirds. All the thirds are equal.

Here’s an example of items in each grid.


Each grid can…

  • be filled with one or more things
  • or left bare

You can also forgo using the spaces made by the grids and decorate a shelf by putting objects on the grid line. See the example below…


Think about creating a little vignette in some of the spaces.

So with the grids in mind, I started to decorate the bookcase.

Collect Lots Of Accessory Options


When starting to decorate a bookshelf you want to give it a curated look. That means all the books and objects on the shelves look like they have been carefully and expertly chosen. It also means that these objects have been culled out of a larger group of objects.

In other words, the items that should go on a bookshelf are purposefully chosen and are samples of the best decor and books you cherish.

So, grab a bin and collect lots of accents and other decor from around your home. Give yourself lots and lots of choices! I put a utility table up near the bookcase and brought up lots of options from the basement and other rooms in our home.

What Goes Into Or On A Bookshelf?

The easy answer is almost anything. Anything but clutter. For there is nothing pretty about clutter!

Here is a list of the most popular accessories and other things you will often find on bookshelves…

  • vases
  • baskets
  • a vertical stack or horizontal stack of books with spines out or pages out
  • bookends
  • a unique bowl
  • artwork
  • greenery
  • bookends
  • book collections in one color
  • a decorative box
  • magazine holders
  • sculpture
  • piece of art
  • large coffee table books
  • figurines
  • architectural pieces
  • battery operated candles
  • a tray
  • picture frames
  • a tome
  • family photos
  • a pedestal
  • candlesticks made out of brass or other metal
  • something you have made
  • plates
  • small bins and decorative boxes
  • collection of trinkets with a theme

Really there are so many things you can add to a bookshelf!

Bookcase decor is very personal! Choose things that are so meaningful to you that you want to display them. And also choose things to display that add to your bookshelves’ overall look and beauty.

One tip is to add the tall or bigger item to your bookshelf first. Try to balance them throughout the bookshelf. Then fill in with other, smaller items.

The idea is to showcase all the lovely things you have curated to go on a bookshelf.

Choose The Perfect Color Palette


One thing that will really help the items on your bookshelf look nice together is keeping a color palette in mind. Choose a bookshelf color palette that works with the room your bookshelf is in.

A bookshelf looks so pretty when all the items in it work around a coordinating color scheme.

If your bookshelf decor is very monochromatic or neutral you might want to think about adding interest with a pop of color! A contrasting color can liven up a bookshelf.

Use shades and tones of the colors in your color palette for more variety.

What’s Your Decor Style?

Most of the things in a bookshelf should also work with your decorating style. Because many of the things we put on shelves are things we already have then it’s a good bet they will work within the parameters of your style.

That does not mean there can’t be an outlier or two just to add a bit of fun to a shelf. The bright yellow ceramic giraffe your child made in the third grade might find a home on a shelf. It certainly will be a conversation piece!

When someone looks at your bookshelf they should be able to tell a bit about you! After all the things that go on them are things you have! Things like family heirlooms and other treasures are perfect candidates for a bookshelf. Special souvenirs are other items that will show off your personality in your bookshelf.


I love the cheetah print books in the bookcase! They are special to me because I made them. What an easy DIY! You can see how I made the DECOUPAGE BOOKS HERE.

Where To Start Adding Things To The Bookshelf?

There is no right or wrong place to start decorating a bookshelf. Some start on the top shelf and others might start on the bottom shelf but I usually start on the middle shelf! And that is what I did when I styled this bookcase.

Styling a bookshelf is part creativity and part tried and true interior design. Just take your time as you decorate your shelving.

The best thing to do is just to start!


Books are right at home in a bookcase or on shelves! Group them by color, display them upright or on their side, or show them off with their spines showing or not! If your bookshelf is deep enough layering decor in front of books can add interest and depth to your styling.

In the bookcase, I used more decor items than books. The books I did use were white books and books covered in burlap.

Here are a few things that will really help you when you decorate a bookshelf…

It’s All About Balance


Ballance is your best friend when styling bookshelves.

Balance is all about distributing visual weight in a pleasing way.

Did you know we assign visual weight to everything we see?

We want to distribute our decor across a shelf and between the shelves in a way that balances the visual weight of the decor evenly.

The easiest way to do this is with another imaginary line. Draw a line down the middle of your bookshelf like the image above.

We want the things on one side of a shelf to be about equal in visual weight to the things on the other side. This is often done using symmetry.

From left to right the things in the image above look pretty balanced. BUT overall the left side is too visually heavy!


There was too much visual weight on the left side of the bookshelves! Moving the books with the artichoke bookend to the opposite side on the shelf and one shelf above looks much better because the shelves are more balanced!


You might like to read more about THE DESIGN PRINCIPLE OF BALANCE.

Height Is Important


Our eyes LOVE to travel from one object to the next. And they do this by noticing the difference in height of objects.

Pro Tip

Our eyes LOVE to travel from one object to the next. And they do this by noticing the difference in height of objects.

So we want to make sure that some things on a bookshelf are different heights.

Just remember: Different heights are pleasing. Everything the same height is boring!

Odd Numbers

Consider styling your bookshelves using items in odd numbers. Our eyes are drawn to things in odd numbers. And they love items grouped in three the best!

Here are a few simple ways to add a group of three to a bookshelf…

  • stack books next to a larger piece of art and a decorative object on top of the books
  • group three candlesticks or small vases together
  • line a few books up on the bookshelf and add bookends
  • lay a large book on its side and add a bowl on top of it Layer a piece of art behind it
  • put a lantern on a book and add a small faux plant next to it

Repetition Is A Good Thing

Another way our eyes work their way around a bookshelf is by finding things that repeat.

Here are some of the things to repeat in your bookshelf design…

  • texture
  • color
  • objects
  • pattern
  • metals
  • shapes
  • textures
  • and lots more

Here are a few examples of repetition on the bookshelves.

Color and shape are two other strong repeated elements in our bookshelves.

You might like to learn more about RHYTHM AND REPETITION IN DECORATING.

Layering Decor

Putting two or more items together in an artistic way is called layering. Objects can be put on top of each other, beside each other, and adjacent to each other. They just need to be artfully arranged in proximity to each other.

You might want to think about adding wallpaper, fabric or shiplap as a backdrop layer in your bookshelf! So pretty! Just remember to keep the wallpaper or fabric pattern unfussy!


The main function of layering decor is to create interest and add depth. Most of us layer decor without really being conscious of it!

One word of caution! Over layering or using too many things in a space can look cluttered and busy. Opt for simple layering with it comes to bookshelves!

You might like to read HOW TO LAYER DECOR LIKE A PRO.

Give Everything A Bit Of Breathing Room

When it comes to decorating multiple shelves, remember to leave a bit of space between your decor. I like to call it a bit of breathing room!

Negative space, an area with nothing in it, gives our eyes a tiny rest! And that is a very good thing.


Arrange And Rearrange

Arranging bookshelves is all about adding and editing and arranging and rearranging different items until you have achieved a well-balanced, attractive looking display.

The images below are just some of the arranging and rearranging I did on the shelves!

This usually takes lots of time and many many tries. At least, it does for me! Enjoy the process and be confident that you will create something you love in the end!

Here’s the shelf styling I decided on for today! I think I’ll probably edit a few things out tomorrow when I look at it with fresh eyes.


Use Your Smartphone


Your smartphone is like your decorating assistant! Snap a few pictures as you work and you will be amazed at what those pictures can show you.

As we work, our eyes can get used to our design, and often we don’t see what might not be working.

But pictures can! So get out your phone and snap away!

Walk Away

At one time in my life, I used to paint. I loved to paint and took lots and lots of painting classes.

One teacher told me to take my painting home and leave it in the trunk of my car overnight and not look at it until the next day. So I did.

And when I took my painting out of the trunk the following day I was actually surprised at how much better it looked! I called that trunk magic! It seemed to work almost every time!

Here’s how I use this lesson when I decorate.

After I style something I walk away from it for a while, especially if I’m a bit frustrated. Then the next day I go back and give what I’ve decorated a good look! It’s amazing how much better it looks! Or if something is not quite right I can pick it out right away and change it.

Trunk magic works when decorating a bookshelf too!

Don’t be too hard on yourself! Decorating is a continual learning process. Find joy in learning interior design and all the secrets, tips, and tricks of the trade.


I hope you have lots of useful tips for styling the shelves, bookshelves, or bookcases in your home!

Click The Video Below For More Inspiration



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  1. excellent and very helpful Yvonne!! This is the best and most comprehensive article on styiling shelves that I’ve ever read. thank you.

  2. Hi Yvonne,

    Thank you for the great tips on how to decorate a bookshelf. Do you think this same system would work on decorating a Kitchen Hutch?

    Hope you have a fantastic Monday!

  3. Lovely, just lovely!!! I have too much variety in color. I can see how you achieved a balance. I will have to reassess my objects and rebalance them. I like the division of threes. Thanks

  4. What’s wrong with books? Not covered in burlap, not used as a platform to put “decor” on, but to be accessible to read? Book covers and book jackets look attractive and make it easier to find the book you want. You can certainly use balance and variety and add other items, but it’s a bookshelf. Where do you keep your books? Hidden away in the attic like Grace Poole?

    1. A little bit snarky, Laura! There is nothing at all wrong with books. I noted them the list of things you should put in a bookshelf. I’m decorating our bookshelf for my taste. And I hope it has helped my readers style their bookshelves with or without books! Remember, if you don’t care for a post you don’t have to read it.

      1. Sorry—meant no offense. As a book lover and avid reader arranging bookshelves is a major part of decorating my house. While I have a few objects I place with my books (bust of Churchill, geodes, photographs, etc) arranging them can be a challenge. By subject? By color?(not my fave). To a certain extent size comes into play. I try to have biographies, mysteries, history, etc. together. But it would be lovely to see some suggestions that would assist those of us for whom books are important in our houses.

  5. I purchased 2 swinging arm wall sconces to hand above my nightstands. They are electric with cord..not going to hard wire. How high do you recommend above the nightstand?
    Thank you

    1. It all depends on how tall your bed is and how high your nightstand is. You want your sconces to be at a height so you can read in bed comfortably and the lightbulb in the sconces are not glaring over your head.

  6. I still find my best time to work on styling my bookcase and coffee table is when I first get up after the dogs have been fed and let out and I am having my first cup of coffee. I can’t count the times I have removed or added items when I am doing a change over of seasonal decor. This hour before my husband gets up is my most creative and also most relaxing ?

  7. I love your bookcase.Styling shelves is quite the process, thanks for all the tips.

  8. It looks lovely, Yvonne. Your bookcase is a statement piece. The perfect size and color for your entrance.
    You mentioned changing up the tile for hardwood. Any plans on refinishing the old to match the new? I know you don’t care for the color. ?

  9. Thank you for the tips. This bookcase is beautiful! What happened to the beautiful mango wood bookcase/shelf display you had? I have been drooling over that one and hoping and waiting for a link to purchase. Actually, I don’t live that far from you and would drive to buy one if you are able to share the store you bought it from.


    1. The mango bookshelf was way too big for the foyer. A lovely young family took it. I found the bookshelf at The Treasure Place in Intercourse Pa.

  10. Thank you! I volunteer at a local benefit shop and do much of their merchandising—glass shelving, china cabinets, furniture pieces, and windows. It’s sometimes a challenge since I have to work with what we have that week, but It’s nice to know I’m doing it right!

  11. MARY-ANN (FROM CANADA!) says:

    Yvonne, I love how you have styled your new bookcase — just so pretty! You always give us such great suggestions and I thank you!

  12. Hi, Yvonne! I’m interested in perhaps purchasing a couple of those Delano cabinets and have a couple of questions. My plan is to display dish collections in them. Are the shelves sturdy enough to withstand that kind of weight? Do you recall receiving any information with a guide as to the maximum weight allowed for the glass and/or stationary shelves? I most definitely wouldn’t want to destroy my purchase right out of the gate! Thanks in advance!

    1. It’s probably best to contact Ballard Designs. They will be able to tell you the best.