Learn how to decorate your bookshelves in 5 easy steps, plus get 25+ bookshelf decor ideas to add style and character to your built-ins!
Not sure where to start with bookshelf decor? I’ve got just the inspiration you need. Whether your shelves are few or many, large or small, this blog will teach you simple ideas that make bookshelf decorating a breeze. You’ll learn how to arrange beautiful and meaningful decor to get that crisp designer look, without spending a *bookshelf* full of cash!
When it comes to decorating your home, there aren’t many other spaces that bring you the design opportunities that bookshelves do! The surface area of a large built-in bookshelf creates ample opportunity for self-expression. You can display decor objects that are deeply personal, or use your shelving to simply showcase your style. Your home’s bookshelves give away clues as to who you are, what you like, where you’ve been, and where you come from.
For this reason, it’s hard to top the level of character that bookcases add to the home. Not only do they bring so much warmth and energy to your space, but they can reveal your history, your ancestry, your travels, and your taste.
Just like the books that reside on them, your bookshelves tell a story — YOURS!
This decor opportunity is what makes them special, but it can also be quite an intimidating task. If you find yourself staring at blank bookshelves not knowing where to begin with decor, don’t worry; you’re not alone there!
In this blog, I’ll go over the do’s and don’ts of bookshelf decorating, the staple decor items to get you started, what’s currently trending, and styling ideas and tips that ensure your bookcases are illustrating a beautiful story you’re proud of. Before you know it, you’ll be plopping down in your favorite chair, and kicking up your feet with a warm mug of coffee, because styling your built-in bookshelves is about to be checked off your to-do list. ✔️
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The Dos and Don’ts of Bookshelf Decorating
There are a few simple guidelines to styling your bookshelves with the eye of a trained professional. Let’s lay down some important “dos and don’ts” and ideas for decorating a built-in bookshelf.
- Do group objects together in odd number amounts, typically groups of 3 per shelf.
- Do aim to include a variety of heights within your decor.
- Do incorporate metals and/or glass for some sparkle and shine.
- Do incorporate pitchers and decorative plates, if you’d like.
- Do stick to a color palette. Keep to 1-4 colors for a clean bookshelf decor look.
- Do incorporate sentimental or heirloom objects! This ensures your bookshelves are telling your personal story.
- Do focus on creating balance. Balance out warm earthy materials (like leather and suede) with cold shiny metals (like brass) and glass, because you want to balance out matte with shine. Go horizontal then vertical, tall then short, round then square, antique then new, and so forth.
- Don’t be afraid of blank space! If you fill up every single corner of each bookshelf, it will look too cluttered and take away from the overall appearance. Stick to 1-3 objects per shelf, or 4 at the most.
- Don’t make your pair of bookcases too matchy-matchy. It may seem counterintuitive at first, but the beauty is in the imperfect balancing of things. Bookshelves that perfectly mirror each other don’t create as much visual interest, and it can actually cheapen the overall look.
- Don’t put anything on your shelves you’re not absolutely in love with. You’re the one that will be looking at it everyday, so make sure it’s a view that you’ll never grow tired of.
How to Decorate a Bookshelf in Five Easy Steps
- Framed art or photographs
- Small Decor Objects
- Add your largest decor first. Stagger the items between shelves. These will be items like baskets, bowls, and boxes.
- Add any large artwork. Larger artwork will need to be at the back of the shelf and will likely have small decorative items in front of it later on.
- Add your books and bookends. Choose whether you want to display your books in stacks or perfectly lined up.
- Add plants. Three is a great number and stagger them in placement between shelves to create visual interest.
- Add your smaller decor. Whether these are decorative objects, small picture frames, or momentos, fill in the spaces between with your smaller items.
- Remember that empty space isn't a bad thing! It's okay (even preferred) not to cover ever square inch of your bookshelf.
- When in doubt, stick to groupings of odd numbers.
25+ Bookshelf Decor Ideas
I can’t really talk about bookshelf decorating without going over the classic, bookshelf decor staple items. And who would want to skip them? They are classics for a reason! All the bookshelf designs I love contain at least a couple of these items, and with so much variety available, there’s still plenty of room for your own unique take on them.
There are plenty of bookshelf decor ideas below that you can conveniently shop to get you started, but you can also use this post purely for inspiration and find items thrifted, at yard sales, or make them yourself! The best bookshelves are curated and gathered from things you collect and discover over time that tell a story.
So the truth is, not every bookshelf needs to contain books, but I highly encourage you to consider them for your design! Books add a ton of character to your shelves because each one contains an author’s thoughts, ideas, and creativity. In between each front and back cover is another world. Just think how enriching that is to your space! Even for non book-lovers, I still recommend using them as decor. (No one will know you haven’t read any of the books on your shelves.) If you want to invest in some modern classics, go for it! But you can also achieve a great look using thrift store finds.
You can stack them vertically and cap them with 1 or 2 book-ends, or horizontally with a small bowl or picture frame sitting on top.
A safe bet is sticking with a neutral color palette. Whites, off-whites, pale beiges, and creamy grays will blend well with white shelving. The closer the colors of your books match, the cleaner it will look to the eye scanning your shelves. And while you should never judge a book by its cover, this is the one exception to that adage!
Book-ends are the perfect opportunity to infuse your personality into your bookshelves! Whether you choose to go whimsical, modern, antique, or trendy, there’s a design out there for every preference. I’ve seen book-ends that were figurines of animals, bicycles, hands, antique light bulbs, geometric shapes, and more. There’s truly something for everyone!
And don’t be afraid to think outside the book-end box. Virtually any aesthetically-pleasing, weighted object can be used as a book-end. Just slide it right up against your vertical stack of books, and voila! There’s your new book-end.
Besides books, vases are the quintessential bookshelf decor staple! With every imaginable shape, color, size, style, and price point out there, the sky’s the limit for what kind of vase you choose to display. (Actually, the dimensions of your bookcase are, but you know what I mean, ha!)
Vases are a great opportunity to add some variability to this space, by way of some color. Most commonly, bookshelves are white, so adding in darker vases like shades of amber, for example, add beautiful dimension as they pop against the white shelves. If you’re using greenery in your design, you could incorporate a green vase. It will coordinate nicely with your plants, and help to tie the design together.
A safe bet with most every bookshelf decor style, is a white or clear vase. The white will match your white shelves, and the clear will bring some shine into the space.
You already know I love a good seagrass basket, and the upper shelves of a bookcase are no exception!
Whether it’s seagrass, rattan, or any other woven material, you can’t go wrong with using baskets in your bookshelf design. They add the texture and function you need to the space. They not only make the perfect filler for upper shelves, but smaller baskets are great on top of a horizontal book stack on lower shelves. They can conveniently be used for storage of items you want to keep out of sight, like tv remotes.
Framed art & photographs
Add a personal touch to your shelf decor by incorporating framed family photos. Consider the color of the picture and if a black and white version would blend in better with your color scheme. If using a wooden frame, go with a wood stain instead of a painted white. This fulfills the need for contrast with your white wooden bookshelves.
Framed art is a wonderful way to add in sharp lines, by using square or rectangular frames. These sharp lines create the perfect balance to all the round shapes (vases and bowls) that you’ll be displaying. Not sure what color metal frame to go with? Consider the finish of your cabinet handles that are nearest to the bookshelves, and use it as your guide. Pick a frame finish that either matches or is in the same color tone.
Free Printable Decor for Your Bookshelf
The best way to add life to your bookshelves is to, well… add life! Small potted plants bring so much feel-good energy to your shelves. I have found that even faux plants do this! Which is why adding greenery of any type is a must for bookcase decorating.
You’ll want to check on the amount of sunlight your bookshelves receive throughout the day, and then choose a plant that will thrive in those conditions. If your bookshelf is in a spot that mostly lacks sunlight, then faux plants would probably serve you best. Make sure the plant’s container coordinates with your overall color scheme.
It’s not always your first instinct to incorporate a bowl into your bookshelf decor, but if you do any research on this topic, you’ll see pictures of many designs that include them. Try to stick to a mostly solid color for the cleanest look, but experiment with different shapes, sizes, and textures to create visual interest.
Don’t feel the need to fill up your bowl; it will look beautiful as is on your shelf. However, the option to fill it is always there, and it can be a fun way to keep the space fresh with decorative items that change with the season!
My favorite type of bowl? One that’s attached to a stand. They’re perfect for bookshelf decorating because the stand creates much-needed height variation!
Boxes are a fantastic way to bring style and a little mystery to your bookshelf design. While different finishes may trend in and out, the concept of boxes as shelf decor never goes out, because it’s a classic!
Whether small or medium size, stacked or standing alone, boxes will aid you in expressing your personal style. They can be wooden, mirrored, clear glass, or a woven material. Just make sure if you’re stacking 2 boxes that they vary in size, and put the bigger one on the bottom. They’re also another great solution for hiding tv remotes!
Seasonal Bookshelf Decor Ideas
When it comes to sprucing up your bookshelf, there’s no need to feel limited by a single style. Instead, why not switch up your decor to reflect the changing seasons? Whether you’re looking for a way to add a touch of holiday cheer or simply want to update the look of your bookshelf for the season, there are plenty of creative and easy seasonal bookshelf decor ideas to choose from. Here are a few from my archives:
Current Trends for Bookshelf Decor
Now that we have a good understanding of the staples items you can use, let’s talk about the current bookshelf decor trends that are really growing in popularity this year! Below are some styles to keep an eye out for:
- Wooden links – these have been heavily circulated in design for a minute, and they’re not going away anytime in the near future! I predict we will keep seeing these pop up in new variations.
- Wooden knot sculptures – these are a really fun twist on wooden links that are gaining popularity. If you’re someone who loves to stay on trend, jump on this one to stay ahead of the curve!
- Brass-trimmed, clear glass, rectangular boxes – this is a trend that’s been around for a few years, and I don’t see it losing steam anytime soon. Brass is still going strong as a popular hardware finish, and these boxes are the perfect coordinating piece to tie your design together.
- Large, primitive, bulbous shaped vases – These. Are. Everywhere! Usually a solid(ish) color, and simple in design, these vases are all the rage right now. They’re perfect for holding taller stemmed greenery.
- Fluted and Reeded textures – These textures are fun for elevating your bookshelf decor. Both have a vertical line pattern, or ribbing, but fluted is an inward groove, and reeded is an outward ridge.
- Arched decor – Incorporate this current trend into your living room bookshelf design by way of arch-shaped book-ends!
Time to Decorate Your Bookshelf!
I hope these fun ideas help you feel more equipped to take on the fun project of bookshelf decorating, and that the task seems significantly less daunting now. It can take time to find all the right pieces, but with a sprinkle of patience, they’ll come together exactly the way you want.
Refer back to this blog anytime you need guidance throughout the process and feel free to ask me questions in the comments below!
You can find me on IG @ninahendrickhome. Be sure and tag me when you post pics of your bookshelf decor!
I can’t wait for the moment you get to cozy up in the comfy spot facing your built-ins, and smile as you take in the beautiful story they tell. :)