Tips for Styling Bookcases and Built-Ins

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styled bookshelves

Whew, the library shelves have been filled. And let me tell you, styling these babies was almost as much work as building them.  (Though it was much more fun.) It was completely overwhelming facing 34 empty shelves surrounded by stacks and stacks of books and pretties.
shelf plus books
After spending several minutes paralyzed with indecision, I decided to just dive in and get started.  And I managed to come away with some great tips for anyone else looking to style bookshelves and built-ins so you will hopefully not be quite so overwhelmed.

Choose a Focal Point

When dealing with a wall of bookcases like ours, I think it is important to create some type of focal point.  This gives your eyes somewhere to rest.  In my case, I created four larger shelves in the center and then styled them with larger eye-catching items rather than books.

bookshelf focal point

Books First

While I wanted my bookshelves to be pretty, I mostly wanted them to be a useful place that would hold all of my books.  So that was the logical place to start.  First I organized our books by genre – my fiction, my husband’s fiction, Christian nonfiction, etc.  Then I started arranging the books on the shelves, spreading them out throughout the entire bookcase.  I did all the usual things to prettify the books as I went – removed dust jackets, grouped by color, arranged by height.

just books bookshelf

Add items with interesting shapes

Books and bookcases are naturally rectangular and full of hard lines.  Adding lots of round or flowing lines helps balance all that harshness.  I used lots of circles when styling my own bookcases.  Other great curvy items include vases, plants, shells, and baskets.

round collage

Mix up your book displays

Bookshelves always look more interesting with some books shelved vertically and others stacked horizontally.  But there are also other ways to add a little pizazz to your books.  I displayed a few books with their covers facing out, bookstore-style.  I also grouped together sets of books in trays, baskets, a tool caddy, and a repurposed clarinet case.

book display collage

Hide the ugly stuff

I had a bunch of big fat mass market paperbacks from many years ago.  I wasn’t ready to let those books go but they were definitely not looking so hot.  So I hid them away in some cute vintage luggage.  Now they are still in the library with the other books but are out of sight.

suitcase of books

Add personality!

This is my favorite part.  I love unique, vintage, and handmade items so that is what I focused on.

unique collage

And I can proudly say that the only thing that was bought new during this styling process was a command hook to hang my book page wreath.

The library is really coming together now – the only problem is each time I complete a project I feel like everything else that was going to be in the room looks bad in comparison.  Which leads to a whole slew of new projects.  Luckily I am okay with that.

As always, I would love to hear what you think. Just so you know, I read each comment (usually with a big dopey grin on my face) and try to respond to each one. You guys totally make my day. Hope you have a great weekend!

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Comments

  1. says

    Carrie… WOW!!! This looks fabulous! What a great job you did, it look perfect. I’m really into the vintage luggage & globes. The display is a masterpiece – I just had to pin it! Have a great day!

  2. says

    Carrie, It looks great! I like how you broke it down to make an overwhelmimg task into something fun and managable. I love the vintage suitcase for the books. I also have a typewriter that I display with messages “typed” in…it’s fun to change the messages for different occasions!

  3. Linda says

    It looks wonderful! Nice job ~ I can’t imagine how overwhelming all of those shelves must have been. Love the globes and the wider/taller shelves in the middle!

  4. Annie says

    Your bookcase look pretty, but all mine are full—of books! They’re organized by subject, except for the fiction books. I put all novels from the same author together. I don’t have space for decorative items on the shelves. And, no, I won’t give up my books!

  5. says

    Awesome! I had to pin it too! I’ll be putting together a small section of built in’s soon, so I was thrilled to see your beautiful job. I love the idea of making a focal point. Good stuff!

  6. says

    Great suggestions. I think I’m ok with the books part, it’s the accessorizing part where i start to get paralyzed. I took my mass market paperbacks (I’ll admit it, trashy romances and mysteries) and lined them up spines-in on my kitchen mantel, perfect solution. It gave lots of texture without shouting the titles (which would have been pretty embarrassing).

  7. says

    Love this post! I’m going to take a second look at the shelves my husband built in our bonus room. Do giant foam dinosaurs and matchbox cars count for interesting shapes? :-) I’m your newest follower!

  8. says

    i REALLY enjoyed this post- the picture of everything assembled instantly caught my eye, but now that I’ve read everything I really appreciate your perspective on how to style everything. That process totally makes sense- starting with books- mixing things up with how to display them, then adding things with different shapes. This is so helpful. LOVE that shade of blue too. It adds a great pop of color. Thanks so much for sharing!!!

  9. Anonymous says

    Thanks for this! Already have the bookcases separate and have been wanting to do something like this! Thanks to you, now I know how.

    • Carrie says

      Thanks! They are from Ikea…and yes you may have noticed I have since stenciled and repainted them to lighten things up. But even so, I more or less put everything back in the same places. Styling that many shelves is a lot of work!

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