The allure of bookshelves is that they serve two purposes: design and function. The reality of bookshelves is that they often end up cluttered and somehow leave the space feeling disorganized. But wait, it doesn’t look like that in magazines, right?

That’s because proper bookshelves aren’t haphazardly filled with ‘stuff’ like photos and books and ‘oh, I like this candle but don’t know where to put it so I’ll just put it on the bookshelf’ kind of stuff.   In order for the bookshelves to be both functional and stylish, you need to give a little more thought to WHAT you put on them and HOW.

Where to start?

You start by taking everything off of the shelves. There is beauty in a blank canvas!

What should be included:

  • Something meaningful: that could be a photo or a souvenir from a trip
  • Artwork: something that draws your eye and makes you smile
  • A conversation starter. I love vintage decor and shelves are a great place to use old cans, cameras, etc. 
  • Vases, or bowls
  • Plants: greenery makes a space feel instantly alive. Choose low maintenance plants in creative containers.
  • Books-cause, duh. 

Alright, since it is a bookshelf let’s talk about the books. You might want to try some vertical, some horizontal. Maybe a stack to add interest. Consider HOW you will arrange them… instead of by author or subject, what about by color? 

Ok now let’s design… from the bottom up. Larger, more bulky items go on the bottom of the unit. The top shelf should have the smallest items. This balances the shelf and the room. Putting heavy stuff on the top makes it look like too top heavy and there’s nothing relaxing about a piece of furniture that looks like it could fall over.

Build vignettes: Work from one side to the other. Group in odd numbers to make it more visually appealing. I wrote a whole blog on The Rule of Threes that could be helpful. Larger pieces can stand alone. 

Pull in color from the room and mix it into the shelving unit. Add a pop of color. Just don’t make the shelves a boring blob of neutrals. 

Mix in natural materials. I’m all about texture in a room. Metals, stone, wood help break up the design and add visual interest. 

If you have room,  you might want to consider adding a practical element to the shelves.

Remember, shelves can serve design and function. Maybe you want to set up a small entertainment section with bar utensils and a few glasses. Baskets are a great option for the bottom to hide things you might want handy like games, craft projects, or toys.

Now stop, and review your work. Be a critic!. Get out your phone and take a photo. Look at it again. Is it balanced? Is one side heavier than the other? Is there enough blank space? You might notice something you want to move or remove by looking at the photo.

Remember, bookshelves are a reflection of your personality so have fun with it!