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How to Style Bookshelves

Updated: Feb 26

Today is National Clean Out Your Bookcase Day. I had no idea that was a thing, but I do have a lot of ideas on how anyone can make their book collection function for them AND look amazing. Here are my go-to tips for curating a book collection no matter the size of your home and make it look beautiful.

Styling Bookshelves Professional Organizers

Edit Your Books

Choose where the largest number of books are and start there. Edit first, arrange second. Pull out any books that you know you will never read again - *cough cough* The Twilight Series, cliffs notes on The Odyssey, and old college textbooks. Do you have parenting books you went crazy buying when one of your kids was going through a particular phase? Do you have a ton of cookbooks that didn’t pan out or were purchased pre-Pinterest? No judgment if you have all of these and read them all on the regular, go ahead and keep them if you do.

I am not a book hater and I am certainly not going to encourage you to throw out every book you have ever purchased. I love books. I really love design books, kid books, and my husband and I share a love for all things history, so we have our own collection that we hang on to like they are our own children. But, take a look at your books and commit to only keeping the books you actually like and might read again, and most importantly, HAVE ROOM FOR.

Every space is different. It's OK to have a lot of books. If, you have a huge custom bookshelf built to house all your books, keep them! But, if the number of books you have add to the feeling of clutter, consider adding more bookshelves or really paring down on what you have. It is so easy to access books to read off a kindle or check out at the library. If you have a book that you don't feel strongly needs to be a part of your collection, rest assured you can easily access the information in the future if the need arises.

Styling Bookshelves Professional Organizers

How to Organize & Style Bookshelves

After you have done a thorough edit of all the books in your house, decide how you want to style your bookshelves…I mean organize them…I mean style them. See, this is where there is some gray area because books are out on an open shelf and not in bins and baskets.

Books can be beautifully styled while still organized into categories. And they don't have to be flipped backward or in rainbow style 😊. I'm all about color coordination...but that is not the standard we all must follow when trying to make books beautiful.

Arranging children’s books by color looks adorable and is actually super functional. I have found that kids learn the spine color of their favorite books and can find them more easily. They also feel empowered to put them away in their proper place when there is a proper place. I usually organize books like I do clothes in a closet: moving from left to right, light to dark, with the rainbow in between. White, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink, and then black. Separating different colors into their own sections can also look super cute depending on the space.

I also love arranging adult books by color, but that doesn’t always make the most sense. If you prefer to sort them by genre or alphabetize them, great, there is no right or wrong way. Just be intentional about the system you put in place so you can find your books in the future. I like to arrange books tallest to shortest going left to right when grouping books by genre or color. If arranging by genre is important to you, consider adding labels (they can be discreet) with the names of the categories you have created. It will solidify your system and help others navigate it as well.

Think outside the box. Do you have a ton of paperback books and a whole lot of vertical space? Instead of lining one row across the shelf, try stacking them in piles. You fit more books, add visual interest, and fill the vertical space.

Styling Bookshelves Professional Organizers

Using Books When Styling

Books are my favorite way to style any space. I use them to style open shelves, offices, kid's rooms, nightstands, coffee tables, console tables, literally every space (except for bathrooms). If you have beautiful books, use them! I like to use plants, bowls, or even more books stacked horizontally as bookends.

Tip: Taking the paper covers off of hardback books instantly takes books from a 4 to a 10. Hardback books are so beautiful when the paper cover comes off. Just do it, and thank me later.

Adding More to Your Bookshelf

If you have room to add some styling elements to your bookshelf, here are my design tips to make your space feel extra beautiful.

  • Add in some non-book elements and create vignettes. Allow each vignette to have different heights, textures, and focal points. Framed pictures leaning can add height, and figurines can double as bookends. This is a great place to display mementos and accolades. Vases, boxes, frames, plants, and sculptural pieces are my favorite items to use in addition to books.

  • Layer different items. This works especially well with pictures frames. You don't have to use the stand the frame comes with. Try leaning a picture frame against the back of the shelf or just have the frame facing directly out instead of angled.

  • Use what you have. Items that have meaning make a space so much more unique and interesting. Don't be afraid to put them on display. Stack some books horizontally and place your item on top of the stack or use it as a bookend.

  • Add some greenery. Alive or fake, doesn't matter.

  • When putting books on a bookshelf, bring them all the way to the edge of the shelf. This creates a consistent line and makes the books more visible as well.

  • Use baskets on the bottom shelf. Putting large baskets on the bottom shelf can ground the entire look and minimize some of the visual clutter.

Create a special place for books you haven’t read yet. It can be an area on your shelf or a separate basket. Don’t add to your stack until you have finished one and placed it with the rest of your collection (one in, one out rule). If you find that certain books stay in your ‘unread’ for longer than a year, it’s probably a good sign that you don’t need to hang onto it. I hope these tips help you style your bookshelves and anywhere else in your home where you want to display the books you love!

xo Jennifer Martin

Jen is the founder of Reset Your Nest, a Professional Home Organizing Business in Utah (servicing Salt Lake City, Park City, Ogden, Alpine, Highland, Mapleton, and St. George). She loves creating order and systems out of chaos and is known for bringing a beautiful aesthetic as well as easy to maintain function to any space. She shares her tips and tricks on Instagram @reset_your_nest.

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