Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Our Finished Shelves and a few Bookshelf Styling Tips

Big week for the blog... second post this week!  Woot woot :-)

Earlier this week I posted about the rustic shelving DIY project that I worked on, and today I wanted to share some photos of the completed project, now that the shelves have been styled.

I am certainly no expert on styling bookshelves, but I did learn a few things as I went - especially after several failed attempts at styling them.  They were looking messy.  Cluttered.  And I was frustrated because I loved them with nothing on them, and was hating them with all our stuff.

The challenge for me, is that these shelves are not just for display.  They actually needed to be practical (ugh, I hate practical) and store things - mainly books and magazines.  It's not like we have a ton of books since I have done most of my reading on a Kindle for the last several years, but we do have SOME, and I'm not willing to part with most of them.

All my design books, which happen to be big and beautiful and perfect for styling a bookshelf are all in the living room for easy grabbing.  I like to leaf through them on weekends or at night when we're watching TV, so those weren't going on the bookshelf.  

All my cookbooks that are also large and gorgeous are in the kitchen for obvious reasons.  So that left me with only a few hardcovers, and a lot of paperbacks.  Not ideal for "beautiful" styling, but that's what needed a home, and we live in the real world... not the pages of House Beautiful... unfortunately.

Ignore the radiator... looking at these photos makes me realize how badly that needs to be sanded and re-painted...

All the shelves I loved on Pinterest and in design magazines weren't necessarily functional... they housed gigantic seashells, and cool candlesticks... driftwood... cloches with cool weird stuff inside.  Not helpful.

So per usual, I turned to Google. 

"How to Style Shelves".


OODLES of results came up, and I recognized a few of my favorite bloggers among the results. Little Green Notebook. Censational Girl. Emily Henderson.  Queen of bookshelf styling.  Seriously.  She wins.

After reading all the tutorials, there were a few key points that stood out. As I worked at re-styling the shelves, these tips REALLY helped me put together an arrangement that I was satisfied with in the end...

Here are the tips I found most helpful as a guide:

Start out with the largest pieces and then add the smaller.

By arranging the large pieces first, and filling in sparse space after, the end result was more balanced, although even looking at these pictures I see a few things I'd like to change.

Group like with like.

I kept photos together, books together, and small decorative items together.  In my first attempts, everything was too scattered, and there was no place to rest your eyes.  There were books on every shelf, photos on every shelf, and it ended up feeling really busy.

By grouping things together, it instantly "makes more sense" when looking at it - especially keeping the books together... which brings me to my next super helpful tip...

When organizing books, group by color.

Game.  Changer.

I started sorting books by color category and quickly realized that with the exception of maybe 4 or 5 books (that as a result aren't on the bookshelf), everything fell into the following color palates:
   - white / neutrals
   - blue / teal
   - yellow / gold
   - black

Grouping by color is not only pretty, but also cleans up the chaos of the book spines when they're all lined up

While on the topic of arranging books, alternate books by stacking them vertically AND arranging them in rows.

This will also help to make everything more visually appealing.  Apparently (and this was news to me)  there are seven... yes SEVEN... ways to stack books.  If you're curious like me, you can read about them all here.

With the big objects in place, and the books stacked by color, it was time for the decorative items...

I think I may be the only person on the planet that cannot keep succulents alive.  These are fake.  BUT they look real... which is what matters (don't judge me).

I liked the varied heights, and the varied textures of the glass, concrete, and terracotta, and I thought it all looked really pretty against the greyed out wood.

The wire basket on the top shelf just looked cool to me, and I like the rose gold color.

It's actually a fruit basket, but it felt really sculptural, and I like it.  So it's on the bookshelf now instead of in the kitchen.  Just thinking outside the box a little...

Another tip I read was to anchor the shelves with a collection on the top... I don't have any collections of lovely milk glass, ginger jars, antique vases, African masks, or all the classically beautiful and cool things you see on styled shelves, but I felt that a few large frames staggered would do the trick.

They add height, and in a way sort of anchor all the shelves below.

Plus I just like them...

Finally, one of my favorite tips - use baskets as a catch-all.

We have magazines for days, and I like to save a lot of them for inspiration to come back to.  These baskets are perfect for collecting them, without having a million magazines on the coffee table.

This tip is actually a good rule of thumb in general - we have baskets all over the house - in the living room to corral blankets and throws, in the kitchen for spices, and rarely used gadgets.  They hide clutter beautifully, and bring together the best of both worlds - function and aesthetics.

I also think that having fewer visible "things" on the lower shelves serve the same purpose as having a collection (or in my case, picture frames) on the top of the shelf - it anchors everything, while letting the books organized by color, and the pretty decorative items shine.

So that's it!

What do you think?

I do not pretend to be an expert on this topic, so if you're curious about my favorite articles on the topic of bookshelf styling, here they are:
     Emily Henderson: Living Room Styling (there aren't a ton of tips, but good photos)
     Emily Henderson: Tips to Bookshelf styling (this one is gold)
     The Lovely Cupboard: How to Style a Bookshelf (I really liked this one too)

A few of these pictures give you a sneak peek into the progress of our dining room - and I can promise you that while it's still a work in progress, there are more pictures coming your way soon.

Happy Wednesday!!


  1. This is a great post! My bookshelves always look really cluttered and yours are beautiful and functional. I'm feeling inspired to clean them out now! Really helpful advice

    1. You are so welcome! Mine are still a work in progress - styling shelves is one of the hardest things to get right... I'm certainly no expert, but found some of these tips REALLY helpful! Glad to hear that you did too :-)

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Wow I just love how the shelves look. How much space did you leave between each one?

    1. I left roughly 16 inches between each shelf - I wanted space so they didn't feel cluttered, and I think it feels about right.

  3. Do you have any information regarding the actual hardware of your shelves? I love the wood and the golden supports, I would love to replicate this idea!