How to Style a Bookcase

Posted by on July 5, 2014

“A home without books is a body without soul,” or so said Roman philosopher Cicero more than two millennia ago. For me, the same holds true today. I love books. I can’t help it. I “wrote” my first book when I was in nursery school (okay, so it was a scratch pad with squiggly lines and stick figures) and was a typical bookworm in school.

I have a lot of books. And the bookcases in my home office were looking a bit, well, crowded, to say the least. So in an effort to make the bookshelves more functional and a bit more stylish, I started to thin out the collection a bit last year and added a few accessories to the shelves. This is how one of the bookcases looked in April 2013:

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And after my first try of at a bit fewer books and photos, and a little more style:

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Still, it looked dark and lifeless.

Last week I showed you how I lightened up the back of the bookcase with Devine Color® wallcovering from Target. This week it’s all about putting the books back on the shelves and adding some personal touches to keep it interesting. Here are the 5 steps to styling a bookcase:


Take all the books off the shelves, setting aside any books that you’d like to purge. (Tip: Donate your unwanted books to your local library or charity.) Then, scan the titles to see what categories naturally emerge. Categories might include general reading, biographies, literature and any special interests you might have. Anything with five or more books is its own category. Here are my categories, to give you an idea.

Classics & Poetry
General reading (trade paperbacks)
Gift Giving
Health & Healing
Personal finance
Politics & Economics
Spiritual growth

That might seem like a lot of categories, but that’s the level of breakdown that makes sense to me. You may have more or less categories, or you may sort your books alphabetically by title or author. Do what makes sense to you.


Once you have your categories established, you’ll have a sense of how much shelf space each category will need. Then simply designate shelf space for each category. Put the most frequently used books at eye level; that’s the most valuable shelf space. Think about how the most popular brands are front and center on grocery store shelves and more generic brands are towards the bottom. Same principle applies here.

Here’s where personal preference comes in: how to stack the books. Now, library purists will advocate the straight row approach with little or no accessories “in the way.”

If you’d like a more interesting looking bookcase, then vary the way the books are stacked on the shelves. Here’s a pin from one of my Pinterest boards with seven ways to stack books. Be creative! By mixing up the look, it will give the bookcase a more dynamic, inviting appearance.


Let’s face it: all books are NOT created equal. What I noticed with my book collection is that the foreign language dictionaries and some travel guides were small and kind of busy looking on the shelf. So I stashed them all in this pretty box that I found at Home Goods for $8. I also have some sheet music and music books that I used a magazine file to keep them together, and two more decorative boxes for notebooks and odds and ends. It just gives the shelves a neater appearance.

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If a row of books stops anywhere but the other side of the bookcase, you’ll need a bookend to keep the books upright. Of course you can purchase bookends at many retail stores, but think outside the box on this one. Anything that is hefty enough and tall enough can be a bookend.

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On my bookcase, I’ve used a Chinese statue (above), a short stack of books turned sideways and a mercury glass vase. The point is, it doesn’t have to be a traditional bookend. Be creative here; this is a great place to let your personality and interests shine.


Yay! The fun part! Select a few accessories to display on the shelves with your books. Don’t let it get too cluttered looking, or place accessories in front of frequently used tomes. Otherwise you’ll have to move the pieces every time you need the book. I have just a few meaningful photos and figurines, along with a few pieces of mercury glass for a little sparkle and shine. This is the finished product:

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I hope you find these tips and the video useful! Please post photos of your bookcase re-dos on the Facebook page.

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