20 Must-Know Tips for Styling Your Built-In Bookshelves

Ban boring built-ins from your home with these creative bookshelf styling ideas.

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December 13, 2018

Photo By: Claire Esparros

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Focal Row

Create a built-in focal point by lining one of your shelves exclusively with books. Choose an upper shelf to help draw the eye up. Fill the others with favorite accessories, photos and trinkets.

Juicy Details

It might not be your first instinct to style your shelves with fruit, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a try. Come on, people — give pears a chance!

Form + Function

If you’re working with a large collection of books, a sliding ladder may solve all your problems. Visually, a ladder provides a break in the uniformity of a book-clad bookshelf, and practically, a ladder provides a means to any and all titles, even selections from the top row. Choose a ladder in a different finish than your bookshelves, like designer Joanna Gaines of HGTV's Fixer Upper did here.

The Perfect Palette

Before you begin styling, take in all the elements of the surrounding space. Draw from the room’s existing color palette to ensure the end product feels cohesive. In this living room, designer Bria Hammel pulled the pastels from around the room to create a look that feels perfectly seamless.

Forage + Storage

Practical and pretty collide in this living room, where fireside built-ins proudly display an impressive collection of firewood. The wood adds warmth to the cozy design — literally and figuratively.

Ivy Sprawl

Looking to fill some gaps on your bookshelves? Try placing a trailing potted plant like ivy on the top shelf. Arrange its sprawling vines to fill in gaps as needed. You’ll love how much life and energy a little bit of foliage brings to your collection.

Careful Curation

It’s important to be selective when styling your shelves. Every trinket you’ve ever impulse-purchased does not deserve a spot. Opting for a minimalist approach ensures a fresh, clean design.

Front + Center

Plot twist — framed artwork isn’t just for walls. Trying hanging a favorite piece on the front of a bookshelf to break up the boxy grid behind. Just be sure to choose noteworthy art that’s earned its esteemed position.

Au Naturel

Keep your bookshelf’s color palette uniform by flipping each book around to expose its pages rather than its spine, like designer Joanna Gaines of HGTV's Fixer Upper did here. This creates an all-natural, all-neutral look that’s suitable for almost any space.

Color Code

Another way to streamline the color palette of your bookshelf is to choose books in only one color. Select books in lighter and darker shades of the color to create interest, and mix in a few sculptural pieces for wow factor.

Within Reach

If your bookshelf is built around a seating area, like this window seat, consider practicality when styling the shelves in reach. Here, designer Regan Baker ensures window sitters have plenty of reading material at arm’s reach — no climbing necessary.

Graphic Punch

For someone with wild, punchy style, classic built-in bookshelves can feel a bit boring. If that’s you, consider covering your shelves in bold, graphic wallpaper. It’s a simple way to make a major impact.

Play With Scale

A collection of nesting objects (canisters, trays, bowls, etc.) works perfectly as a bookshelf focal point. Place the objects from smallest to largest for a classic approach, or mix them all up for an unexpected touch.

Go Big

Small trinkets are usually the go-to for bookshelf styling, but large pieces actually work well, too. Just be sure to create balance on each side of your bookshelf by selecting objects in similar proportions.

Let There Be Clutter

Kid clutter, that is. A playroom or kid’s room built-in provides an exception to the bookshelf clutter rule. (Because is there really ever enough storage space for all the kid things?) Spend some time organizing and arranging the books and toys for a collected look.

Abstract Animation

Abstract art can bring your built-ins to life in a way basic art can’t. Mix 2D and 3D pieces to create additional interest and depth.

Negative Space

Don’t be afraid of blank space. Strategically leaving certain spots bare can actually enhance your design. The key is balancing the white space with weight. Also, if you’re working with two shelving units flanking a focal point, be sure to give each shelf an equal amount of negative space.

Matching Metals

Let me start by saying mixing metals is totally OK, as a general rule. That said, if your end goal in styling your shelves is a sense of unity, opt to keep your metals in sync. In this chic home office, designer Jenn Feldman proves just how effective matching metals can be.

Animal Power

Lend some life to your built-in bookshelves with the addition of animals. In this living room, an assortment of animal sculptures and figurines gives the area surrounding the TV a personality all its own.

Locale-Inspired

Take a cue from the surrounding landscape when designing your built-in bookshelves. Often, the best way to accessorize is with items that mean something to you and your home. That’s why we have all the heart-eyes for the metal fish sculpture adorning this beach house bookcase.

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