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How to Style Your Bookshelves Like a Pro in 5 Simple Steps

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Picture it: the bookcases on either side of your fireplace look collected and balanced…full, but not too full, of items that are both beautiful and meaningful. Items that tell the story of your life, experiences, and travels. But how do you get there?

Styling your bookshelves like a pro does take skill, but with some expert tips and a bit of practice, you too can style your bookshelves so they look tidy and collected.

In today’s blog we will be sharing our best tips for styling your bookshelf like a designer. Read on to find out more…

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1. Begin with a Blank Canvas

The first step to expertly styling any space, shelf, or tabletop is to remove everything and start with a blank canvas. Remember the old adage “less is more” and know that careful editing of the items being displayed is critical to your success.

Although you might have a strong desire to display everything that you have ever collected, this will often not result in a beautifully curated display. You have to be selective.

Not every item you pick will be a meaningful prized possession. You will need what we refer to as some “filler pieces” to provide a rest for the eyes or to achieve the right height or balance in some cases.

Excellent filler pieces include:

  1. Baskets or lidded boxes
  2. Books & bookends
  3. Sculptural pieces
  4. Vases – ceramic or glass
  5. Bowls – ceramic, glass, metal, or wood
  6. Natural objects like driftwood and stones

These are the supporting items that you will intersperse with those special conversation pieces, like the original painting that you picked up on vacation, the bronze sculpture that you purchased at an art opening, or the treasured collection of first edition books that you inherited from your grandfather.

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2. Create Item Groupings

Unless you are aiming for a perfectly symmetrical arrangement, it is best to group items in odd numbers like 1, 3, or 5. Groupings are effective because the repetition of forms is pleasing to the eye and a group of small items together has more visual impact than a small item on its own.

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3. Vary Items for Added Interest

Objects in a variety of sizes, materials, and textures offer visual interest, however it is best not to exceed more than 5 different materials or colours in a wall of bookshelves, otherwise the arrangement will look too busy.

Keep your background colour in mind when selecting objects for display. Contrast is key to creating an arrangement with visual impact. If your bookcases are a dark wood stain, choose mid to light coloured objects or layer something lighter behind them so they will be more visible.

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4. Layer Accessories & Decor

When creating your arrangement, look at all of the meaningful objects you have and consider how much filler is required. If you are short on key pieces or if your precious objects are small, start with a repeating pattern of larger filler pieces like baskets, lidded boxes, or bowls to cut down on empty shelf space.

For instance, you could fill all of the bottom shelves with matching lidded boxes and the top shelves with large sculptural bowls, leaving only the middle shelves at eye level to be filled.

You will want to spread meaningful objects throughout the bookshelves and intersperse them with additional filler pieces as needed.

Build layers with visually heavier things toward the bottom or at the back, moving toward lighter, or more sparsely displayed objects at the top.

Some symmetry is desirable, but balance is equally important. A large item on one side can be balanced out by a grouping of smaller items on the other side.

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5. Step Back & Edit

Once most items are in place, stand back and take a good look at the overall picture. Does it feel balanced? Are shelves weighted heavier at the bottom, thinning out toward the top? Is there a place for the eye to rest?

If something doesn’t look right, keep moving things around until it does. Sometimes it helps to leave the room for a time or take a photo and return to it with fresh eyes. It may take several iterations before you are satisfied. This is perfectly normal.

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Styling shelves and surfaces is not an exact science and it can be challenging, but it can also be satisfying and fun, so we encourage you to take a stab at it. If all else fails, you can always call us. We are here to help!

If you love tips that you can use right away, there is more where that came from. 😉 Subscribe to our newsletter for monthly tidbits and inspiration.

Until next time,
Lori

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