How to Style Bookcases

I want more bookcases. Actually, I need them. My bookshelves are completely overflowing and don’t look great. I’m desperate for something that will allow me to get my books neatly single stacked on the shelves. You see, I love to read. I need to read more. I used to read a book a week. Now, there’s this thing called the internet that sucks me in and steals all my free time. I want to get away from that and dive back into my one true love: literature.

Also, I refuse to get rid of any of the books I do own and love. I am not a read once and donate kinda gal. I’m likely to read my favorite books every year and to return to favorite series biannually. So, don’t even suggest I reduce my collection! Actually, I need more books, to fulfill my childhood dreams of being a private library for all my friends. Then I can get super rich and have a fancy Living Room / Library like this to lounge in all the time. #dreambig


I used to hang out in my Oma & Opa’s office — which was a little room off their living room — and play with the books that lined their floor to ceiling bookshelves. I’d sit by the fireplace in there (yes, they had a library with a fireplace, can you say, “life goals?!”) and create “library cards” for pretend people on their typewriter. I’d force my little sister to come and pretend to check out library books and then I’d charge her late fees for all of her returns. You know, just in case you forgot I’m an older sibling.

So, back to today, I have this abundance of books and dreams of one day lining the Dining Room at Berrybrier with wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. But that doesn’t solve the problem of today. The problem being: my two childhood bookshelves are overflowing and no longer cutting it for book storage. While I’d love to create something like this in my Dining Room (give me all the library ladders!), it’s just a bit out of the budget right now!

Instead, I’m thinking about purchasing two of these IKEA Billy units for my Dining Room. I like that they have glass doors (though that adds quite a bit of cost!), which would be nice to keep the dust cats out, but I could still style in some plants with out them destroying them all.

They could live on either side of the window on the left in the Dining Room below. I have bookshelves there now, but they’re smaller. I could also add some of the side units in to make these units wider. I have to measure to see if it will all fit and if I can actually afford it! But I like the idea of something like this for now. Or I could go to one of the natural furniture stores in town and buy some unstained shelves for the same purpose, but they wouldn’t have fancy glass doors, which means more dusting and the cats still could wreck havoc.

While I’m sorting all that out and running the numbers, although I’ve already addressed styling bookshelves full of books here and mixing books with objects in a bookshelf here, I wanted to round up even more bookshelves today. Everyone loves a styled shelf of books, right?!

Okay, so white built-ins are like the 1970’s shag carpet of the 2000s. Everyone is obsessed with them and they are everywhere. Unlike shag carpet, we’re not going to be ripping these out in 10 years though! These shelves are stylish, timeless, and add a whole ton of storage. This one below is styled in the sparse manner of those who don’t have a ton of books. So, it’s not very me, but I love the playful use of color and shape here. See how that round platter helps break up the repeated square geometry? And I’m very into that woven basket. the neutral palette pops in bits of green and blue to break up the natural tones. The crisp black accents in the hardware, wire object, and other accents create a nice contrast with the white on white look.

I can’t talk bookshelves without chatting about Chris Loves Julia‘s Reading Room. Their DIY bookshelves are stellar and Julia always has them styled with the most interesting objects with plenty of books thrown in too. Julia really mixes a lot of white and metallics here, which show very well against the moody blue-green paint. Even darker artwork is framed in white to provide nice contrast from the walls behind. Plus, I’m super into the lighting. I dream of lighting like that above more traditional shelves in my dining room. Wouldn’t that just be amazing?


I’m obsessed with the round boxes pictured below in these shelves styled by Emily Henderson. They remind me of these super affordable ones from IKEA with mismatched lids! I really want some hat boxes of my own, because I think they mix up the sea of squares and rectangles and help to create a more interesting styled shelf. Otherwise, I am digging all the color and packed in interest here. Emily Henderson is a styling genius and this shelf really showcases her ability to mix objects, books, color, storage, and tons of fun in one vignette. My favorite part, is that awesome, big, patterned vase on the bottom shelf, breaking up the line of larger book spines and the little brass objects scattered around the shelves. The color throughout provides tons of fun. There’s poppy red, dark teal, light teal, pink, yellow, and blue! That’s some serious use of color, you guys. I’m envious, because when I mix this much color it looks a bit Disney! I’m definitely taking notes from this image though. If that shelf was a deep, moodier color — like I have in mind for the Dining Room — would this still work? I think so! Note to self: find and buy more tiny brass objects.

This image is very extra, as it would need to be in order to be featured by House Beautiful magazine (aka, my bible!). It’s been on my pinboards for years and years. I love how the shelves hold a mix of colors and sizes of books. That big, beautiful painting in front looks so awesome and creates the best focal point when layered in front of the chaos of skinny book spines. If you look closer, there’s even another sconce and another little painting below the big one! How ballsy is that? This is basically my dream house, y’all. Someone buy me a giant, gilded antique mirror!


This image below showcases a similar, but much more achievable design for those of us who don’t have thousands of dollars budgeted for large custom portraits. Look how cute that tiny mirror is tacked on to the shelf that way? I’m on the hunt for tiny, gilded mirrors now, too! I like how the books are color blocked here, something I often do. This helps the books read as larger blocks of color rather than hundreds of skinny spines.

This more modern shelf from CB2 packs on the books in a way that truly worms its way into my heart. The addition of a large plant, single bowl, and vintage sewing machine makes this shelf feel styled and thoughtful. I’m into it and can see this in my own space as I also tend to have an abundance of books, but not very many objects. Plus, this is a great way to get your space hogging serving ware out of your kitchen and onto display. It can still be snatched up for that occasional dinner party!

This colorful shelf is just too fun. Look at the mix of objects, books, and COLOR! It’s beautiful, stunning, and I can’t get enough. I love how whimsical it is with everything from a casual nude drawing to a halloween decoration on the shelves! The use of black / charcoal throughout the shelves helps to tie all the design together without being overtly “styled.” Plus, they’re using magazines to style here, something I have too many of and yet also struggle to get rid of. Please pray for me and my reading materials addiction!


I have a soft spot for this image below, because I’m constantly recommending this solution to clients on a budget who want a built-in look. These affordable, adjustable shelving units are available everywhere from Home Depot to Ace Hardware. Buy the adjustable extensions and brackets, but skip the melamine or wire shelves themselves. Then, DIY some shelves from 1×10 flatstock and stain or paint them to your liking. They often hold over 300lbs and create tons of storage. These are styled with books, magazines, and some awesome sculptural objects. I like how the occasional book or picture frame leans up on the shelves creating a large block amidst the skinny book spines. A couple blocks of magazines on a lower shelf also helps create a resting place for the eye. I’m super into this look and it can work in modern and transitional settings. The adjustable shelves are easily transportable which makes it so perfect for apartment hopping as well!

Finally, I love how these dark and moody shelves is full of reading materials and the tiniest little brass bust. Additional small photographs placed on large stacks of books gives them a larger presence. Although there are a few stacks of booksets in the same spine color, for the most part these shelves have mixed together colors, subjects, hard-, and soft-cover books. This really is something I can achieve now in my home with my crazy overcrowded shelves. Perhaps, I’ll make it a primary goal? I definitely have a few sets of books and y’all know I have plenty of other books. This could work quite well for me… if I splurge on the Billy units and have a little more space!


So, there’s a round up of different shelves I’m eyeing as inspiration for my own home. I really want to be one of those people with cohesive book storage that looks so pretty. Right now I can barely find my books, since they’re double stacked on the shelves and hidden away! Does anyone else have this problem? I know the solution is to donate more books… but I can’t part with my favorites! Sure, if I don’t like a book, I’m happy to stick it in the free library up the street (gosh I want one of those so bad, too!), but the books I’ve read and enjoyed? I’m holding on to those forever!

Which styled shelf is your favorite? Are your bookshelves styled with books, or objects, or both? Do you have built-ins or are you also rocking the freestanding storage? Does anyone still read anymore or is the internet sucking the lives out of all of us? Dang internet!

2 thoughts on “How to Style Bookcases

  1. I have a big space open wall space across from our kitchen which right now just has a desk sitting in it. We used to have a long desk for the kids to do work, but we took that out because it just didn’t work. Now its just a lonely wall. Maybe bookshelves are the way to go here – maybe with cabinetry below that extends out enough to use as sort of a sideboard or area to serve in the rare occasion when I entertain and need that extra space.

    1. Definitely! Especially near a kitchen, floor to ceiling built-ins with cabinets below and open shelving above can be such useful storage for books, cookbooks, knickknacks, and any extra servingware!

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