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How to style functional yet beautiful bookshelves

How to style a bookshelf

When styled properly, bookshelves have the potential to be absolute showstoppers. When used as a catchall for every book, magazine, souvenir, and tchotchke you have ... well, they may stop the show, but not for the reasons you'd hope.

A beautifully styled bookshelf gives you a place to showcase some of your favorite items in a way that suits your personal aesthetic. And the good news is, you can do all of that without sacrificing function. You just need to be thoughtful about what you stock your shelves with and how you set it all up. Not sure where to start? Read on for a step-by-step styling guide for beautiful, functional bookshelves.

Take Inventory

The first step is to get a good idea of what you'd like to display on your bookshelf. If you already have items on your shelves, start by removing everything, and then group all like items together. Do you truly want everything back, or are there a few items you felt obligated to put somewhere? Remember: You do not have to prominently display every decorative item you've ever picked up in your travels or received as a gift. If it's something you love and looking at it makes you happy, find a spot for it! If not, store, sell, or donate it.

Consider the Overall Style

Is there a specific look or trend you're going for? Does the surrounding room have a specific type of décor? While you don't need to be regimented in your styling, if the rest of the space is light and bright and Scandinavian, stuffing a bookshelf full of large, dark, or heavy items may create a jarring effect. And although it's great to have variety (and a few fun, decorative surprises!) throughout your bookshelf, a little harmony from one shelf to the next can go a long way toward creating a cohesive and appealing look.

Begin with Your Books

We're talking about a bookshelf after all, so the natural place to start is with the furniture's namesake. Rather than fill your shelves from one side to the other with your favorite reads, try creating smaller groupings of books using bookends or other weighty decorative items to hold them in place. Place some vertically and then stack a few large hardcover books horizontally. You can even use the horizontal pile as a bookend for a group of vertical books. If your book collection isn't enormous, grouping books by color can create a stunning visual. Or you might prefer to arrange your books by size (either similar sizes together or a mix of large and small titles) or by subject.

How to style a bookshelf

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Add Decorative Objects

Need more décor? If you've added items you truly love to your shelves but still find them lacking, include one or more of the following elements to really up your shelfie game.

  • Reflective elements such as glass, metal, or mirrors
  • Greenery (low-maintenance live plants such as succulents, especially in a chic container)
  • Natural materials such as wood, rope, coral, or stone
  • Attractive baskets or boxes that complement the colors and materials you included
  • Ornamental, battery-powered lighting
  • Decorative paper (or wallpaper panels) along the backs of the shelves

The last tip that even the pros swear by is to be ready to play, walk away, and try again another day. It can be difficult to see what's missing or what needs to go when you've been moving the same items around for an hour. Style your shelves and then leave them as they are for a bit. Come back with fresh eyes and you may find the answer is as obvious as swapping a candle for a seashell.

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