art · displays · Home Decor · Home Tips · Home-Room Design · interior design

Bookshelf Styling


Many years ago, even before I got married, I was part of a book club.  Oprah started her book club in 1996 and everyone was joining along.  It was a wonderful reason to get together with other intelligent women, sipping wine and analyzing the story we had all experienced that month.  Some were fantastic reads (The Red Tent, My Sister’s Keeper, The Kite Runner) and some were agonizingly painful to finish, IF you actually DID stick with it and read it all the way to the end.  “I sometimes just read the end, and then go back to finish the book,” confessed my friend Jenny.  WHAT?!  Find out how it ended BEFORE learning about all the characters?!  I had never heard of such a thing!

Back then, you either checked your book out from the library or you purchased the book at your local bookstore (remember Borders? or B.Dalton?).  There were no audible stories unless you had a Walkman to play the book on CD from the library. And the invention of the Kindle would not happen till 2007. Let’s calculate this: between then and now, 24 years later, 12 months a year, that equals (24×10) + (24×2) = 240 + 48 = 288 books! Holy Toledo!  And, let’s say I purchased every book: let’s say approximately $20 each (I always bought them on sale…but still…) that would equate to $5760 (I had to “work right to left and carry the 1” on that calculation…!).  That’s a LOT of books AND a LOT OF $!

Hardback Books

Starting off as newlyweds, IF I couldn’t get the book from the library OR borrow from a friend, I would always buy the hardbacks.  “They look better on a shelf,” I believed.  And “back then” (man, I am sounding old…I hope you can relate! 😉 ) they truly did look better on a shelf. I even took off the jackets to uniform the colors. I know…not good for resale.  I saved them but who knows where they are now!  With all these books that I now own, I need to put them on display but how?

On February 22, 2020, we gutted our kitchen.  Across from the kitchen is our family room which has a fireplace and built-in bookshelves on either side.  However, when our house was built around 1996, Oprah’s book club was invented but the flat screen TV was not. (not until 1997 and they were super expensive!)  The left bookshelf was flat against the wall, like a normal bookshelf. The one on the right of our fireplace was built at an angle with this HUGE OPENING in the middle to hold the big “tube” TV of the 90’s.  We have no use for that huge space now.  So, we were already tearing out all the kitchen cabinets, we might as well add a few bookshelves to that list for our contractor to demo and build!  What’s a few more grand?  Money grows on trees, right?

How To Organize a Bookshelf

Now that everything is complete, I have the final piece of the puzzle: making it all look good!  And by look good, I mean decorate and arrange all the CRAP WE OWN into these two bookshelves! 😉

I like to break down how to organize your bookshelves into three categories:

  1. Books
  2. Backdrops
  3. Stacked Treasures


What is the first thing to start with when working on displays in a bookshelf?  Books!  I am not sure how or why some people don’t display books in their bookshelves but to me, that is the soul of the whole display.  The books that you buy and the subjects you decide to collect says a lot about the person(s) that lives in the house.

I have two ways that I separate my books.  First is by size.  Coffee table books, I like to stack horizontally, and novels I like to display vertically, with bookends or heavy objects supporting the end, if they don’t go all the way across the shelf.

Second, I like to colorize them. You don’t have to colorize them, but it makes it look a little less messy and a little more intentional.  One other trick is I sometimes turn the books around, so the spines are hidden and just the paper shows. This works if you want a little less color and a little more neutral texture in your display.  You just have a little “game to play” when looking for a book.


Lots of times, your books either don’t stretch the full length of the shelf or your stack of coffee table books isn’t very tall.  In either case, there is a blank space that leaves a lot of the back wall of the bookshelf showing.  To “fill this space”, I like to bring in either art or trays or something tall, flat and decorative to the back of the unit.  These items don’t have to be expensive.  I get lots of trays from Homegoods or TJMaxx that have lovely patterns.  I also like to collect vintage silver from estate sales, antique stores or even Goodwill will have a treasure or two sometimes.

For art, you can frame anything from a note from a loved one to a postcard from your travels.  As a wedding shower gift, I was given vintage tea towels that my grandmother had stitched many years ago.  (Oh lawd, I bawled my eyes out when I opened it!  I am not one to show such extreme emotions, especially in front of others.  So much so that I can still remember my mom totally baffled by my reaction.)  Those are framed in inexpensive white frames that I purchased from IKEA.  But, can you guess what my favorite thing to frame is?  I would definitely say the art my kids create.  Some of their preschool pieces are so beautiful (and framed here!)!  They are totally simple abstract pieces yet the colors are intensely bright and so very cheerful.  I just love them!

Stacked Treasures

Lastly, treasures.  It is totally OK to just have books on a shelf, but it does not tell the whole story of the family living in that home.  I add treasures and trinkets and things that have interesting shapes and bones to them to add interest to my shelves.  Something you found on your vacation, maybe a beautiful vase or box from a special place you spent a weekend, or a figurine or statue that you found at a vintage flea market are all wonderful display items.  When I moved out of my parents’ house and was on my own for the first time, I started to collect white pitchers and creamers.  I love collecting things that are useful and have a purpose.  Call me practical.  That pitcher obsession lead to other white objects like milk glass vases and urns.  I have always loved the simplicity of a white vessel that has detail.  It isn’t the color that makes the object interesting, but the details put into the design of the object.

“It’s in the DETAILS!”  

But, hold your horses!  I don’t want you to just go and put a bunch of treasures on your shelves.  Their placement must have purpose and intent!  That is why I like to say “stacked”.  Elevate those precious items onto a stack of books.  Or, use a larger box as the base and put 1 or 2 or 3 treasures artfully arranged on top of that box.  Even a simple framed photo, place it on top of those horizontal books.  It gives more importance to that treasure or that photo.

Combine all three elements: Books, Art & Stacked Treasures to your shelving units and your displays are going to look cohesive, polished, and perfect!

Still need help making your shelves “look pretty”?!  Call me!  I would love to help!  For a minimal fee (&/or wine 😉 ), I would love to facetime with you (or meet in person once this Coronavirus thing has passed)!

In the meantime, be safe & stay well!

xo, Melis

5 thoughts on “Bookshelf Styling

    1. Thanks Jess! Framing old notes is something my good friend Oprah taught me! 😉 I don’t have famous friends, but I do have sentiments that are definitely too good to throw away. xo!


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