How to Style Symmetrical Bookcases (+ How NOT to!)

A few days ago I went to my lake house client's house to style his bookcases. We did these beautiful builtins on either side of the fireplace, so they really are the feature of the home. I thought I'd take you on the job with me and show you how I styled the shelves, along with how I didn't style them and WHY!

First of all, I'm showing you what NOT to do. Sometimes we learn best by seeing something done the wrong way. 

Mistake #1: Too small of items. As you can see below, nothing is really jumping out at you, because the items are too small that it makes it hard to read. The items might be pretty and work well for the space, but you have to think about scale. Bigger is almost always better! Another mistake I see often is A TON of small items, thinking it will make up for the size. This just makes your shelf seem cluttered and not intentional. When you can see too much of the back of your shelf, you know you need bigger items.
Mistake #2: Items too spread out. When items are lined up or too spread out too thin on a shelf, they all end up looking like a lone ranger, just waiting for a buddy to come along. When we group decor together, they look more intentionally placed and read better to our eyes.
Mistake #3: Lack of balance. If you look above, though the colors are sort of hard to make out in the lighting situation, you might notice there is a blue vase and more greenery on the right side of the fireplace. We want to make sure to spread out the color throughout the bookshelves. This goes for texture, height, and equally distributing the types of decor you have as well. For example, you don't want two stacks of books directly under each other or two blue vases sitting next to each other. Instead, you want to space those out on different shelves. 
Here's an example of how to create balance well, by separating similar textures. The lines are drawn to other decor that shares the same color or texture. See how the wood elements are in a diamond? This causes your eye to continue scanning, reading it as cohesive, instead of landing on one group of the same texture and moving on from the bookshelf entirely. The black/dark brown textures found in the candlesticks and mirror are placed diagonally from each other to break them up but bring needed contrast in two different places.
Okay, now moving on to show you how to do it correctly!

Just a recap for those of you who are new to the blog: I always say to gather books (big coffee table books, as well as more regularly sized reading books), objects with varying shapes, heights, colors, and textures, then finish with plants and greenery.
COLOR: Now you can see that we have brought color to both sides of the fireplace. But not just once with a vase on the left and a vase on the right-- we found books to add to the shelves that were also in that blue hue to really tie it together and have a repeated element of color. This creates unity!

LAYERING: Where there once was a ton of the back of the bookshelf showing, we now layered the textured black mirror behind the succulent and candle to give it depth. Layering is what creates intentional vignettes, or groupings of decor that look like you put everything there on purpose. I love the idea of a candle in front of the mirror because when it's lit, it will give a little extra flicker in the reflection.

BEFORE: too small of items, too spread out, not balanced, see too much of the back of the bookcase.

If you scroll up and see where the little globe was before, all on its own, it was totally lost. Now it's front and center, layered in front of the two candlesticks. Now it doesn't look too small at all!

Instead of the vase sitting on top of the books by its lonesome, now it shares space with a clock (the only request to have on the shelf by the homeowner, by the way!) and a small succulent. On its own, this succulent would have been entirely too small but grouped in a set of 3, it's perfect!

Rule of Thumb: our eyes see things grouped in 3's or in odd numbers as most visually appealing.

Now for the other side of the shelves:

This would be an example of how NOT to do it again, just for a comparison. 

Here is a better option, which shows you better groupings and adding a tray for something substantial below. But I still didn't love how small the globe looked, how randomly placed the blue vase was, how the height was distrubted throughout and how heavy the tray felt.

After switching things around I found something that worked really well! I grouped the bird and vase on a stack of books and placed the twisted driftwood to the far right with a vase and succulent tucked in it to create depth and give it some color. Down below, I added light colored books to the tray to brighten the metal color up and give some more height to the vase, put the succulent on the tray, along with the metal jacks. You can see the left side is STILL a bit too heavy, though.

To fix that, I brought a really cool book with an ocean on the cover to tie in the blue vase to the right side of the shelf. When in doubt, distribute color diagonally! This is getting better, but to create more depth, I kept layering. Currently, the book feels a little lost on its own.

I layered this cool marble picture frame over top the book. You can see the weight is being more evenly distributed now!

Finally, I finished it off with an hourglass. It ties in the glass from the top shelf and is a little shorter than the picture frame, which creates the perfect finishing layer.
In case you're interested, a few of the items I found at World Market that I can link here. All other items are from a cute store in Michigan called Dwellings. Great books are key to any bookshelf, so I suggest searching for topics you're interested in on Amazon. Since my client is a builder and loves nature, I searched for "Architecture Coffee Table Books" and "Nature Coffee Table Books". Adding the "coffee table" part will ensure you're searching for large books. Here are the ones we bought for this project linked in here:

Hopefully this was helpful! Have a wonderful day

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