How to Creatively Style Large Bookshelves

Tips and ideas for how to creatively style large bookcases in a way that is pleasing to the eye and doesn't look cluttered
stack books by color
Updated 9-22

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Our home is gradually becoming ours. You know what I mean, right? When you move into a home, it's just a house...until you start making changes and infusing it with your family's personality.

I'm not one to let the paint dry on my brush! Since moving into our home 9 months ago, we've made several changes.

Recent updates to our home:

This 16-foot wall full of bookcases spans one entire wall in our living room. It's a big space to fill, and while I love all the storage, it's all too easy for it to look cluttered. Trust me, I struggle with that just as much as you do! It's all too easy to let mail and shopping, papers and other stuff pile up.

Today I want to share some  tips for how to style a bookcase rather than just use it as a place to dump stuff.

Quick rehash...this is what the bookcase looked like before we painted it. This was shortly after we moved in and as you can see, I've made a small attempt to style the shelves, but it's far from satisfactory!

5 Tips to Creatively Style Your Bookcases

I found a way to style my bookcases that is colorful, cohesive, and attractive, and I'm going to break down these tips for you below.

Keep this in mind:  If you treat your bookcases as an extension of your room, rather than simply catch-alls, they can be stylish and attractive and enhance the decor in your room!

1. Sort and separate

The very first step is to take everything off your bookcases, and give them a good dusting. You really want to start with a fresh, clean slate!

Now it's time to really look at and analyze what you have and sort it into piles of books and accessories that you want to use. You'll probably want to eliminate some items completely.

Doing this is very revealing! For instance, I found that we didn't have as many books as I originally thought. Nowhere near enough to fill the 5 bookcases lining the wall!

Once you've separated your items and you know what you want to add back to the bookshelves, it's time to do that.

Start with the books

I had to get creative in how I displayed my books, so they'd have a bigger impact on the large shelves.

I really love the look of placing books backwards on the shelf so the spines are inside and they all look the same, but it's not really practical. So I chose to do this on just one shelf that's right in the middle, using mostly paperbacks that I'm not planning to read anytime soon.

I decided to organize the rest of our books by color (rather than by genre as I've done in the past). Separating and displaying most of our books into stacks by color gave the small number of books we have greater impact, adding large punches of color to the white shelves. And this was before I watched The Home Edit where Clea and Joanna organize everything into rainbow color!

This trick elevates books to home decor status! They have a much bigger impact because your eye sees large pops of color at one time.

2. Problem Solve

Every bookcase is going to have an issue that needs to be overcome. Figure out what your issue is and brainstorm ways to problem solve (great little exercise for the 'ole brain!). Don't worry about this step - you'll know pretty quickly what the problem is with your specific bookshelf. If nothing comes up, then consider yourself one of the lucky ones and move on!

The issue with our bookcases was that top shelf. Each shelf is only 8" high, which is much too short for most books (plus, I'd already placed all the books). I didn't want to add several small decorative items up there that would just get lost.

Using pictures all the way across the 5 bookshelves is a great way to fill the tight space and show off my 3 kiddos! It also adds cohesion to the overall look. Which leads us to the next tip.

3. Symmetry

Arranging items in a somewhat symmetrical way is very pleasing to the eye and definitely adds to the cohesiveness of the bookshelves.

I achieved symmetry by using 2 like objects on opposite ends of the shelves

  • baskets
  • gold corbels as bookends
  • plants
  • stacks of books
  • a trio of white ironstone pitchers in the center

You can see that I also styled the top of the cabinets to work with the items on the shelves. I style small vignettes that are each centered with the shelf above them. I used leaning stacks of books on either side, and a larger decorative element in the space in the middle.

Everything works together.

4. Don't overcrowd

As tempting as it is to pack bookshelves from one side to the other, it's easier on the eye to allow some space around the books and decor so that your eye can roam around.

5. Add greenery

Whether faux or real, greenery looks natural on a bookshelf. It softens all the hard edges and adds texture and freshness to your shelves!

Is there anything I shouldn't use on a bookcase?

If your intention is to have a nicely styled bookshelf/bookcase that fits with your room's decor, than anything that doesn't fit that criteria should be eliminated. Things like:
  • keys, purses, mail
  • toys, laundry, bills
Find another spot for those items and keep the bookshelf tidy.

Should I switch up my bookshelf decor for the holidays?

That's a great question! The answer is "it's entirely up to you!" If you enjoy decorating for the holidays and want to carry that decor over onto your bookshelves, then by all means do so!

Just remember that you'll need to remove some books/decor to make room for the new pieces! Don't try to cram everything on the bookcase together or you'll end up with a mess than will just look cluttered! Here's an example from my own home. I displayed by nativity collection, hung a Christmas wreath, and lightened up some of the shelves with glass. I also flipped my books around so the spine colors aren't competing with my holiday decorations.

What's your biggest challenge when it comes to your own bookshelves? I hope I've given you some helpful ideas and tips for styling bookshelves that look intentional and decorated, rather than cluttered and messy.

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  1. I have the same span, only no closed area below. The room is all wood as is the book case. Would love to paint, but afraid white would make it stand out like a sore thumb. And the collection of memorabilia would stagger you. My husband is the collector. Loved your ideas and suggestions. What do you think of painting our bookcase?

    1. Thanks Liz. As far as your home goes, it really depends on what you're trying to achieve. White will definitely lighten and brighten the overall room. If you're afraid of it being too white, you could paint the backs of the bookcases a darker color...or even use wrapping paper for less commitment!

  2. Lots of great tips here Cindy. I also love the look of flipped books that don't show the spine.

    1. Thanks Mary, glad you found them useful! I love that look too, of the flipped books, it's just not practical!

  3. Thanks, this helps a lot


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