Dos and Don’ts of Arranging a Bookshelf

If you're just lining up your books alphabetically on metal shelving units, you're missing out on a great decorating opportunity. A well-styled bookcase pairs functionality with aesthetics, letting your books become part of the decor and an expression of your personal style. With a selective arrangement of books, collectibles, and objects of art, you can create a tableau that’s both practical and beautiful. Try these styling tips to give a boring bookcase a sophisticated makeover.

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Start Empty 

First, clear the bookshelves so you can work with a blank canvas. Before setting up your arrangement, thoroughly clean each shelf. Don’t forget to dust your books too. Occasional gentle cleaning of your bookshelf and contents not only keeps your room fresh but also extends the life of your books.

Think Horizontally

For an interesting shelf, don’t just go with the status quo. Rather than lining up all your books side by side, produce a sculptural effect by stacking some books horizontally. By varying the orientation of your books, you’ll establish a sense of balance. 

Capture the Colors

Don’t be afraid to be bold—with a color-coordinated bookcase, for instance. Incorporate the room’s color scheme into your bookshelf to give the space a sense of unity, or simply cluster books by color, with red in one area and purple in another. You can go a step further by color-coding your accent pieces too.


Add accessories into the arrangement to create a dynamic display. Group together objects that have some connection, such as pieces of a tea set or a selection of candle holders. Tip: Place items in odd-numbered groupings; three is usually the magic number.

Stack Up Style

Books that are stacked horizontally can create pedestals for displaying decorative items. Avoid making your book stacks the same height, but rather vary them to create visual interest and depth. Never, however, store valuable books in stacks. Shelve them vertically to put less strain on the bindings and keep the books in their best condition.

Do More with Less

Don’t fill every inch of the bookshelf. Instead, leave lots of empty space for your accessories to shine. Keep the arrangement light and clutter-free, allowing the eye to rest on occasional open pockets of space.

Bring Books Forward

Bring your books up to the edge of the shelf instead of pushing them against the back. This not only adds dimension, but it creates a hierarchy between the books and objects. With the books front and center, the accessories become supplemental players, offering touches of character and personality.

For More…

If you’re interested in more home decor ideas, consider:

8 Decorating Rules Meant to Be Broken—and 1 to Live By

Budget Decor: 10 DIY Ways to Dress Up Your House for Fall

8 Classic Ways to Make a Small Room Look Big