4 Steps to Style Your Bookshelves (+ what NOT to do!)

I'm hoping that today's post is really helpful for you in learning how to style your bookshelves and why you're doing what. I took some photos of my own builtin bookcases for you and am showing you a couple quick styling tips to keep in mind, common mistakes I see, and then 4 steps to styling your shelves and why those arrangements work. Here we go!


This is a really quick and easy tip to implement. Angling things in slightly makes for a more interesting look and makes it look more intentional. The other small thing I want you to note here is that the larger of the two wood houses is on the right, closer to the white birdcage object that takes up less visual space than the mint jug. This helps evens out the visual weight.

This layering tip goes back to this post from last week. Just moving the blue vase to layer in front of the marble frame does SO much to bring this vignette together.

Same principle is applied here-- things too spread out don't look cohesive, so when we move them in and layer the container in front of the frame, we have a much more cohesive looking vignette! It'd be even better if I got a plant for this jar-- I keep forgetting ;)

This mistake is very common! Things might look "fine" but they can be taken to the next level with the help of layering items and not having even amount of space between each object.

One of my biggest tips in styling shelves is to make sure the shelves aren't symmetrical, but that there is an equal distribution of visual weight throughout. You'll see how I do this correctly below, but this example is showing you the (for lack of a better term) "wrong" way to do it. See how the vase is too tall on top of a stack of books, all the color is placed on one shelf, there's only one light colored object on the top shelf and all the white objects disappear? That is due to lack of balance. When I style shelves, I try to pay attention to:

- how dark or light an item is and spreading these out
- spreading out colored items
- making sure large items are spaced throughout instead of making one side too heavy
- proportion (not all your tall items on one side and short items on the other)

Here's the thing about bookshelves like these builtins: you'll need a lot of stuff to fill it. I know that sounds scary, but it doesn't have to look cluttered or overwhelming. Large shelves like these can take a lot of items and books to make it look well-styled and intentional. This example shows not nearly enough items on each shelf. You'll also notice a gaping hole in the middle, which is another common mistake I see!

I think the MOST common thing I see on builtins is people just lining them with frames. And while I love the sentiment (personal photos are great and SHOULD be displayed!), this often looks unorganized, too heavy, busy and there's not a lot of interest if all you have is frames. You can make this better by leaning a large frame against the back of your shelf and then layering with another small one on top of it. Doing this on a couple of shelves looks way more visually pleasing than just picture frames everywhere. Everything in moderation! 
Here's the other thing I see: people will put way too small of objects on their shelves. Now, notice all these are the same objects I'll be using to style my finished shelves down below, but I'll be using them in a different, more balanced way. For example, that little wood house is way too small to sit on that stack of books alone. And the blue vase is too tiny to sit on those books alone. The lone plant is also too small not to be layered on something else. I'll show you the better way to arrange them below!
As a reminder, I don't always land on the finished look my first try, so don't feel bad if it takes you some rearranging to get there!

I always start with books and try to spread them out in a zigzag down the shelves. If some book spines aren't quite in my room color palette, I simply face the pages out and it provides a nice neutral texture! I know big readers can't really fathom this ;) But these books are strictly for style while the ones we actually read are tucked somewhere else. I also use two types of books: regular reading books and novels and then larger "coffee table books" which I find on Amazon by typing in the subject I want and then "coffee table book". For example, "decorating coffee table books" gets you this! I always suggest getting books with the subjects that you're interested in. For us, that's decorating, flowers, ocean, and coffee ;)

Next are larger objects and frames or signs to lean up against the back wall. I try to evenly distribute this visual weight as well.

Next up I'm placing my vases with some color, making sure that all the color isn't on one shelf, and I'm placing my candlesticks or budvases (the wood ones on the top are budvases) Now that I'm adding more textures and items, I'm conscious of sprinkling the different tones around the shelves. For example, I don't want all my wood items on top of each other or on one shelf.

Lastly, I add in my smaller accessories and always something green or fresh (doesn't have to be a living plant, but this one is from Trader Joe's and I love it!)

(you can see after stepping back, I switched the top shelf because of the wood tones being too close together. This is much more pleasing!)



Some similar decor:

You can see here that the seafoam green colors are spread out and in a diagonal, which makes it even more pleasing to the eye. The neutral tones are arranged in a diamond pattern around the center to keep your eye bouncing around instead of landing on one area and looking away. 
Another tip I have is to not overdo the letter boards, quotes or words! They can be really cute and sweet (even meaningful!), but if you have more than one then it can start to feel cheesy. I try to keep any quotes or words to a minimum and when done keep it as classy as possible with them being neutral :) I love my new one with sentimental song lyrics by my friend Kyleigh. Just my two cents!
Let me know if you have any questions or tips to add in the comments!! I hope this was helpful for you!
Happy bookshelf styling,
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Thank you for stopping by! If you have a specific question, please email me at hello@michaelanoelledesigns.com. I always reply to emails! Have a blessed day! xoxo

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