The real book-lover’s guide to styling shelves

CoffeeCatDogKid | The book-lover's guide to styling shelves

When you study literature in college, you accumulate a lot of books. And when you marry someone who also studied literature in college, that already large collection of books doubles in size, becoming a monstrous entity that takes over an entire closet-worth of cardboard boxes, spilling out into all your empty spaces, filling shelves and piling up on your desk and coffee table and anywhere else possible.

Let’s just say I was a tiny bit excited when Alec built these Ikea-hacked bookshelves in our media room. Finally, a place to put our books!

Ikea-hacked bookshelves

I dove into Pinterest for ideas on how to style bookshelves.

Imagine my surprise when I found that a search on Pinterest for bookshelf styling tips returned a lot of results for people whose primary use for bookshelves is not to store books: some pins didn’t even include books in their pictures, while other pins offered impractical ideas like turning your books spine-inward so that you can’t see what they are or ever find anything you want to find.

Here’s my advice for styling bookshelves if you actually need a place to keep your books.

1) Decide on a flexible system of organization.

We chose to sort our books by genre first, but then within that broader category we used aesthetics to determine the rest. So once we had the books separated into fiction, reference, biography, etc., we tried not to worry too much about author names or sub-genres. Keeping things loose ensures that you can find what you’re looking for, yet also make your shelves look pretty.

style bookshelves 10.JPG

2) Spread things out.

You may only have this luxury if your bookcase is large enough—but if at all possible try not to actually fill every shelf with books. Only two of our shelves contain wall-to-wall books, and those are located in the bottom corners, out of the main line of sight.

3) Supplement with color-coordinated decor.

That doesn’t mean everything has to look exactly the same, but because your books are likely all different colors and sizes, you should try to introduce some measure of uniformity through your accent pieces.

We went with matching blue storage boxes, found at Ikea. (They don’t make them in this color anymore, but I think this is essentially the same item here.)

style bookshelves 1.JPG

4) Use varying configurations on each shelf.

We’ve lined the books up straight on a few shelves, but on others we’ve stacked some of the books, and we’ve tried to alternate spacing and placement too. I wouldn’t say there’s any real science to it, but try to balance everything so that it doesn’t look heavy on one side.

style bookshelves 9.JPG

It’s all about trial and error. I spent a few hours shifting things around, sitting down to do something else, then deciding to get up and reconfigure the shelves again because something about them felt off.

In fact, we’ve had the bookshelves set up for a few months now and just a couple days ago I moved some of the accent pieces around because I’d been unhappy with the balance.

Take your time, feel free to experiment, and don’t forget that you can always change things later on.


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