18 Essential Tips for Styling Perfect Bookshelves & Built-ins [2019]

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Hope y'all survived the kiddoes first week back-to-school. Since back to school means back to the books I thought it was timely to give you my 18 Essential Tips for Styling Perfect Bookshelves and Built-ins. 

Bookshelves and built-ins are such a common element in interior decorating - especially for people with young children. They're a perfect way to show off some adult aesthetic while hiding away unsightly toys. So in an effort to help you obtain a beautifully organized space in your home, here are 18 tips to help ensure that your built-ins and bookshelves add personality while enhancing your room design.

NOTE: You don’t need to do everything on this list, but you should incorporate 8-10 of the tips for best results. And remember - styling is an art. Be patient with yourself.

[Pin it for Later!]How to Style Bookshelves and Builtins

TIP #1 | KNOW YOUR STYLE
Before you go full boar on styling your bookshelves, you need to determine your design style. You can get clues about your style from your wardrobe, where you like to hang out or go on vacation.  If you always dress to impress, you love fine dining and luxury vacations are where it's at, you likely have a more formal design style.  Comparatively, if you like to dress comfortably, prefer pub grub and "whatever's easiest" is how you plan your vacation, you probably have a more casual design style. There are lots of ways to hone in on your style, but if you'd like a quick and easy answer, check out this style quiz.

TIP #2 | CHOOSE A COLOUR SCHEME OR GO NEUTRAL
Choose one to three colours or a variety of neutrals to create a colour scheme for your design. Distribute the colours/neutrals from your scheme on your shelves via your decor. The picture below uses a neutral colour scheme with pops of colour via plants. Otherwise, it's mostly white, black and brown/wood tones. The neutrals are well-balanced and work beautifully as a colour scheme.

Styling Bookshelves and BuiltinsSource

TIP #3 | CREATE CONTRAST
Consider the backdrop of your built-ins and bookshelves before purchasing decor. If the backdrop is light, you'll want to style with medium to dark coloured decor. If the backdrop is dark, then medium to light-toned decor is best.

How to Style Bookshelves Studio McGeeSource

VS.


Dark Builtin BookshelvesSource

TIP #4 | NOTE SHELF HEIGHT
Measure the height of your shelves before shopping for decor to ensure you don't buy anything that is too tall to fit in the space. Avoid buying anything too small (unless it's a detail to add character) because it won't fit the rest of your scale and likely get lost in the design.

TIP #5 | BROWSE ONLINE
Shop for accessories & decor online before shopping in-store so that you can create a plan for the look and feel that you want to achieve for the design.

TIP #6 | CREATE A MOOD BOARD
Using the items you've sourced online, create a mood board so that you can visualize what your shelves will look like once they're styled. 

Bookshelf MoodboardIf you'd like to know how to create a mood board, check out my online DIY Interior Design®  course.


TIP #7 | VARY MATERIALS & FINISHES
Choose decor of different materials and finishes to help with contrast. Using accessories with all the same finishes and textures will result in an uninteresting design.


TIP #8 | VARY SHAPES & SIZES
Varying shapes and sizes of your decor will further help to create contrast in your shelf design and therefore keep it interesting. Try adding a few items with sculptural qualities (eg. trophy urn or animal figurine) to add additional character.

How to Style Builtins and Bookshelves

TIP #9 | CREATE VIGNETTES
Create several vignettes within your shelving design. Use odd numbers when grouping decor because odd numbers are more visually appealing to the eye. Groupings of 1 or 3 are common, but you can try groupings of 1, 5 or 7 as well.

Create Vignettes within Your Bookshelves Source

TIP # 10 | USE BOOKS [OBVIOUSLY:)]
Place books on shelves, horizontally and vertically to create interest. If the spines of your books don't match your colour scheme, turn the books so that that page side faces into the room - that way you have a neutral to work with.

Built in Bookcases Source


TIP #11 | BRIDGE THE GAPS

Use books to bridge the gap when there is too much of a height difference between decorative objects. Stacking items on top of books will give them the illusion of more height.

TIP #12 | CREATE DEPTH & DIMENSION
Layering items in your vignettes will help to create depth and dimension. Instead of placing items side-by-side, layer them in front of one another (eg. layer a small photo frame in front of art) or try stacking items (eg. a small plant on top of a couple of books).

How to Style Bookshelves using Layering

Source


TIP# 13 | LEAVE NEGATIVE SPACE
Over-styling your shelves will tire the eye and make your space feel cluttered. Leave areas of blank space between your vignettes to give the eye an opportunity to rest.

TIP # 14 | ADD LARGEST DÉCOR FIRST
Evaluate all the items you have to style your shelves. Find a home for the largest objects first - they will help to anchor the design. Make sure to place the large items in separate areas of the design to create balance.

TIP #15 | BRING IN COLOUR
If you find that your arrangement is feeling a little lack-lustre, layer in a few more objects that represent your colour scheme or add a couple of items that are in an unexpected colour.  You can even use different metal finishes so the design doesn't come too matchy-matchy. Again, when placing the items, make sure to spread them out so that the colours are evenly distributed throughout your design; this will help to create balance. See how the blue, pink and green in the photo below are used to throughout the built-in cabinet to connect to the pillows on the sofa and fabric on the window seat?

How to Style Bookshelves with ColourSource 

 

TIP #16 | LAYER IN REMAINING DÉCOR
Fill in any large gaps in your design with your remaining decor, making sure to pay attention to contrast. Group straight with curvy, tall with short, shiny with matte, etc. to keep the design interesting.

TIP #17 | ADD FUNCTIONAL ITEMS
Place functional items that are also decorative on your shelves - they will free up space elsewhere and enhance your overall design. Some examples include; serving dishes, baskets, ginger jars, canisters. etc.


TIP #18 | REVIEW & REVISE
Once you have everything placed, take a step back and review the design. Edit where necessary until you have a final design that you love.

So there's my 18 essential tips for styling beautiful bookshelves and built-ins.  I hope you found some inspiration to help you design stunning bookcases for your home, but if you're still feeling stuck, check out my self-paced, online DIY Interior Design® course.  It includes an instructional video on how to decorate bookshelves, as well as several other videos on how to style coffee tables, console tables, throw pillows, etc.  It also includes a 140+ page workbook to help you along your interior decorating journey.  Learn more about the course here.  

Online Interior Design Course for DIYers


If you have any questions or would like further information on how I can help you with your interior decorating project, check out my online interior decorating services or feel free to contact meI'd love to help you. And for more helpful interior design related tips join my Design Tribe.  


Join the Interior DesignTribe

 

Free Interior Design Guides
As always, thanks for reading and good luck decorating your space! 

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Interior Decorator Val Malnar
Val Malnar
Principal Designer | Orangetree Interiors

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