How To Achieve a Well Styled Bookcase

There is truly nothing like a well styled bookcase filled with books, accessories, collectibles, and photos that add warmth, intrigue, and uniqueness to a space.  I’ve been doing some styling lately for a few clients, and it’s been so enjoyable to start with a blank slate and build from the ground up by adding different elements and layers to create an engaging and interesting composition.

Whether built-in or freestanding, bookshelves can represent and showcase you and your families passions, interests, and hobbies.  They can make a bare wall go from blah-to-beautiful and make an overall space feel larger and taller.  No matter your budget, a well-styled bookcase can be achieved using random accessories from around your home, discount store finds, collectibles, and do-it-yourself creations.

The key to the overall look is how to pull the accessories together to create an aesthetically pleasing result, yet not add too much so it looks cluttered and not add too little so it appears bare.

So how do you achieve a well styled bookcase?
And how do you create an aesthetically pleasing result?

Let’s take a tour of some amazingly well styled bookcases and dissect ~

This is one of the BEST styled bookcases that I’ve ever seen – by Jennifer of Dimples and Tangles.  It has the perfect balance of books, accessories, collectibles, and pictures. The overall setting is engaging, intriguing, and has just the RIGHT amount – not too much, but not too little.

The key to good balance is layering from front to back and adding elements at varying heights. For instance, let’s take the bottom shelf…  The tray is propped up and leaning on the back of the bookcase.  Layered in front of it, is a horizontal pile of books with a filled bowl on top.  An appropriate balance of books and accessories has been achieved and the differing elements are of varying sizes.

The other interesting part of this bookcase is that two of the shelves on the right side were removed, which allowed for taller accessories to be added.  A tray has been turned into art by adding the ‘&’ symbol and hung at the back of the bookcase.  Layered in front is a slightly turned birdcage, a photo, and a small accessory.  Then behind that is a small pile of books with a slender, yet tall lamp – all creating a balanced composition.

In all, this small space has so much interest! Let’s pick apart another example ~This bookcase styled by Cassie of Hi Sugarplum is another awesome example of how to achieve a well styled bookcase.  Instead of leaving the backs of the bookcase white, a fabric back with a small geometric patten was added, which gives an unexpected and unique pop.  Using the same layering technique that I mentioned before, Cassie has a good balance between books, accessories, and pictures.  There’s not too much or too little of any element.  By adding framed art to the bookcase surround, another layer has been added giving the overall bookcase even more depth than before!

Want to take a look at another example?

Another great example of a well styled bookcase is the wall-to-wall built-in by Kate of Centsational Girl.  After building this bookcase using 4 Ikea Billy bookcases, Kate used her amazing talents to accessorize the entire wall – WOW, what a task!

Instead of wallpapering the bookcase back like Cassie, Kate decided to paint them which allowed for books and accessories (ie: the white vases) to “speak”. Using a combination of horizontal and vertical layed books, Kate layered them with ceramic bowls, vases, diy creations, and personal momentos.  She also added framed art to the backs AND the fronts of the bookcase, which like Cassie’s composition, made the bookcase appear even deeper.

I think you get the picture by now, but here’s a quick recap on the key elements to achieve a well styled bookcase!

  1. Layer – Add elements to the back of the bookcase and continue it to the bookcase frame.
  2. Add Varying Heights – Incorporate elements with varying heights.  Display smaller accessories in front and graduate to taller and larger pieces behind.
  3. Mix it up – Display a mixture of books, accessories, collectibles, DIY creations, and photos
  4. Books Become Art – Books are beautiful.  From their color to their typography, books are truly art, so let them tell a story.  Display them horizontally and vertically, by color, or by subject.

Here are a few more of my favorite well styled bookcases.

White walls and a white bookcase, allow books and accessories to pop – via BHG

The dark painted bookcase back allows for the books and accessories to “have a voice” – via YHL

Even if you have alot of books, alternate their position between laying horizontal and vertical, then add accessories throughout – via The Art of Doing Stuff

A good balance between books, accessories, and photos is key to achieving a well styled bookcase – via Cottage and Vine

This bookcase has a good mixture of accessories at varying heights – via I Suwannee

Books become art!  This well styled bookcase has some leaning books against a high pile behind to show their beautiful covers.  Accessories are added to give scale and break up the monotony – via Lonny Mag

I’ve always loved this bookcase composition and shared it in a previous about creating a dazzling display. This white bookcase was dressed up with the addition of grasscloth wallpaper at the bookcase back.  It adds an unexpected touch to a typical built-in – via Cottage and Vine

The beauty of this bookcase display is the common thread of color in the books and the accessories.  The hues of gold, white, and varying shades of blue create a cohesive composition – via HGTV

This backless bookcase allows for the vibrant wall color to pop through the color coordinated books – via Style at Home

Creating a well styled bookcase can be tricky and a challenge for some, but with practice and patience a beautiful display can be achieved.  If you have no idea where to begin- no problem!  I love styling bookcases, fireplace mantels, tops of cabinetry, and truly any place in the home.  Read more about my Interior Design Services and Contact ME – I’ll be glad to help no matter where you live.

What do you display on your bookshelves?  Do you find it difficult to know where to begin and what to display?

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  1. says

    I am getting close to styling my built-in bookcases, thank you for the beautiful inspiration We replaced our floors, painted the walls and trim and I am just finishing up papering the back of my book cases. I looked for days for wrapping paper to use and couldn’t find what I wanted so I made my own wallpaper. I don’t think I’ll ever do it again, but now I know I can.

  2. says

    These bookcases are all gorgeous. I’m going to use these fabulous ideas to redesign mine. I want to start with a clean slate and shop around my house.

    • Jenna says

      Starting with a clean slate is absolutely key. Even if you are using the same items on the bookshelf, it’s a must to remove everything and start from scratch! -Jenna

  3. Kellie F says

    These book cases are beautif!! My favorite here is the very first one:) any other tips on fireplace mantles? I have been struggling with decorating my (thin) mantle and aside from Christmas decorating, it looks bland. Any ideas? Anybody?

  4. Sara R says

    These bookcases are very well decorated, but I would love some more examples that have lots of books! I have a small home and lots of books and need every inch of shelf space for the books. Beautiful but not practical.

    • Jenna says

      Sara, if you need more book space, adding another bookshelf or storing unused books might be the best idea so you can achieve a balanced bookcase with books and accessories. You can also use my suggestions, but add in slightly more books and less accessories. Use the ideas, but adapt them to your needs. -Jenna

      • says

        I agree with Sara R. – my problem is the number of books. So the shelf is definitely for storage and might be added with some accessories. I like your ideas of layers as well as allowing varying heights. This might work even with high numbers of books. Thank you for the inspiration!

  5. Michelle says

    I have been looking at my book cases for a while wanting to make more of them. Thank you for this post it has given me some lovely ideas. I got started straight away, 1 down, 2 to go!

  6. says

    Hang on, I guess it’s clever to put art on the bookcase surround in front of other items, but I think you have to be careful here. Of all the examples that include that I only like the first one with the framed antlers. The other examples of framed art look misplaced and interrupts the vertical lines of the bookcase. I wouldn’t hang them there, put them on the shelf or behind, but not out front.

  7. Nina Scott-Stoddart says

    Sorry, but I really dislike this sort of thing because it’s so impractical. The photos are pretty and I guess it works if you don’t actually have books. But if you own any number of them, then bookcases are for storing books. You own books because you love books, not because they’re an accessory. We have wall to wall bookshelves in most of our rooms and they are filled with books, arranged not by colour but by author (for fiction) and subject (for non fiction). There’s no room for vases or knick knacks. Besides, a wall of bookcases filled only with books looks absolutely fantastic :)

    • Jenna says

      These are just ideas for those that seek a well-balanced bookshelf with books and accessories, but you can gladly fill your shelves anyway you desire!

  8. says

    Hi Jenna! My sister just tipped me off that my shelves were featured on your blog. Wow! What a huge honor! And, to see the company I’m keeping…blogging stars! I’m thrilled and honored and humbled that you included my photo. Thank you so much for your sweet comments! By the way…I LOVED your chevron tray and used it for inspiration for one of my own. I’m posting it tomorrow (today?? Thursday!).

    • Jenna says

      Well you sure know how to style a bookcase! Your bookshelf is still one of my favorites ever and is so well balanced between books and decor. And I’m so excited that you liked my chevron pallet tray and found inspiration to create your own. Can’t wait to see it. xo Jenna

  9. Whitney says

    We have some built in shelves in our living room that I can’t figure out what to do with. There are 10 shelves altogether. Each one is about 1′ tall x 1.5 ‘ wide and over 2’ deep. How do I layer that?

  10. Kelly says

    Great advice! My problem is my obsession with photographs. I’m an empty nester and I love to display photos of my children…..and I have a lot! I was once told it’s wrong to put photos in a bookcase. Do you have any advise or examples of combining books, objects and lots of photos?

  11. Michelle says

    Love all the ideas! I am moving from a house with virtually no display/bookshelves to one that is covered in built-ins. One room alone has 14 bookshelves! I am really inspired by the Dimples and Tangles look in the second photo. Thanks for the hints on removing a shelf to make room for taller things, etc. I can’t wait to give them all a try.

    • Jenna says

      How fun Michelle. Well you’re going to have quite a fun time styling you shelves with all those built-ins. Remember built-ins don’t have to be just for books!

  12. Adilah says

    My problem is I have this built in entertainment center
    That is too deep, and the shields are different sizes but the depth is the same.
    It ends up being too cluttered
    Can u help

  13. Georgia says

    To me nothing says more about my home and who I am than my bookcases. The books, the photos, the trinkets and everything else I put on them. That being said I’ve got bookcase envy looking at the beautiful examples you’ve included here. Thank you for sharing. I’m off to re-arrange my books (AGAIN!) and everything else around them.

  14. Julie says

    Great ideas, but none address my issue…solid oak, wall to wall bookshelf in the kitchen. black granite counters, solid wood floors, and white shutters. Don’t quite know what to do with it! Looking for suggestions…


  1. […] How to Achieve a Well-Styled Bookcase: I’m pretty nerdy when it comes to—well, a lot of things—and I love reading about how people analyze and solve certain problems or issues. (The only thing this doesn’t apply to is mathematics. I suck at math.) I love arriving at answers to my own how’s and why’s, which is pretty much the reason why I have this blog and seem to tend to overanalyze everything I do. And I loved how Jenna Burger takes apart several well-styled bookshelves and explains why they work. […]