The number one biggest styling struggle is the dreaded bookshelf. Understandably, because it requires a lot of décor and a lot of styling.
Bookshelves don’t have to be so overwhelming. Allow me to show you the basics of bookshelf styling by teaching you how to arrange the three areas of your bookshelf: the lower shelves, the middle shelves, and the top shelf.
If you prefer to learn by watching, then you can get The Basics of Bookshelf Styling video when you sign up for the free Home Styling 101 video course. Click here to get the video course.
How to Style the Low Shelves
Let’s start with the lower shelves on the bookcase. Those are the shelves that are below waist level. On a built in, they might actually be cabinets, in which case, you don’t have any styling to do. But on an open bookcase, you want to ground your bookcase with items that have a lot of visual weight.
By visual weight I mean items that are bulky, large, dark or opaque. You want the items with the heaviest visual weight to be at the bottom of your shelves. As you work your way up to higher shelves, you can lighten the visual weight.
The easiest way to style your lower shelves is with storage containers, like bins, baskets, crates, or lidded boxes. Using storage containers on the bottom shelf gives you hidden storage and creates visual weight on that bottom shelf to anchor your bookcase.
You could use more storage containers on the second lowest shelf maximizing your storage space and minimizing the amount of styling that you have to do. If you don’t need that much storage, you can do something more decorative on the other lower shelf. Just keep the visual weight in mind. Some other visually heavy alternatives for lower shelves include decorative boxes, magazine holders, or oversized books.
What I want you to take away from this is that your lower shelves need to have the most actual weight and visual weight on your entire bookcase.
How to Style the Middle Shelves
The middle shelves are the ones that fall between waist level and the top shelf. This is where you need to do the most styling. It’s where you’re going to put all of your books and most of your decorative objects.
The arrangements on your middle shelves should be visually lighter than your lower shelves, but if you’re displaying books there’s still going to be quite a bit of visual weight on these shelves. To break up the visual weight of a block of books, use bookends or a decorative object, like a vase or lantern, to act as a bookend.
As you work up the bookshelf, you can lighten the load so the visual weight goes from heaviest to lightest. Keep book heavy shelves lower than a shelf with mostly decorative items.
One good way to fill visual space without adding a lot of visual weight is to lean a framed picture, art piece, or tray against the wall behind your other decor.
How to Style the Top Shelf
The last area to style is your top shelf. The key for the top shelf is to keep it light and simple. Remember, we’re lightening the visual weight as we go up the bookshelf, so on the top it should be the lightest. But that doesn’t mean using small objects.
One of my favorite ways to style the top shelf is to use a single large decorative object, and that’s it. You can leave the rest of the shelf empty. Give the large object breathing room.
If you want to display an object with more visual weight on your top shelf, then keep it as simple as possible. Only display one dark, bulky, or opaque item by itself. What you don’t want to do is display a collection of visually heavy items on the top shelf, because it’s going to make your shelf top heavy.
If you want to display more items on your top shelf, then I urge you to follow the Rule of Three. On the top of my bookshelf, I leaned the ampersand against the wall in the back. I added a short stack of books with a globe on top that, since it’s a stack, counts as one item. Then I added the mirror star to finish off the arrangement. Although there are several items on the top shelf, the arrangement is light and simple.
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The main thing you have to remember when you’re styling a bookcase is to follow the visual weight hierarchy. The heaviest things on the bottom, working up to the lighter things on top. When you get in the middle, just make sure it’s balanced. You want the heavier weight of your books to be lower than your decorative objects. Then you can use the other styling tips I’ve shared in the Home Styling 101 course to decorate the individual shelves.
Next week I’ll be teaching the dos and dont’s of balancing color, shape, and texture on your shelves and across your home.
I’m in the midst of a purge of a larger bookshelf so this will help me figure it out better instead of constantly rearranging. Where is the bookshelf from that you used? Love it!