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How to Decorate (Accessorize) a Bookshelf: 4 Guidelines to Follow

Posted on February 14, 2023 by KylieMawdsley

4 Tips & Ideas to Decorate Your Bookshelf (or Bookcase)

Accessorizing bookshelves may seem intimidating if you don’t know where to start. However, I’ve found that most of my readers have everything they need to have a nicely accessorized bookshelf – they have the shelf, the books, and the knick-knacks; they just don’t know what the heck to do with it all!

That’s where I come in handy. Using some basic guidelines and tips, I’ll show you how easy it is to accessorize any bookshelf using what you have around your home already!

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First, let’s check out a list of items to use when accessorizing a bookshelf…


Novels and coffee table-style books all look good stacked vertically or horizontally. Stacking items is a great way to add variation and interest to a bookcase, especially if your display is HEAVY on the books!

Close up of Kylie M Interiors E-design book collection and display at home



Family, friends, hobbies, scenery – picture frames can hold anything you like but can’t be oversized (up to 8 x 10 is usually manageable on a bookshelf).

Decorating a bookshelf with books, accessories and artwork

  • Frames with mats tend to look tidier than frames without mats
  • Be sure to establish some consistency between the look of your frames. They don’t need to be the SAME, but they do need to fall within your palette for colors and textures – unless you’re going for a super eclectic look, but even then, there should be a method to the madness
  • You can also add flow by using only black and white or colour photos



Vases come in HUNDREDS of shapes, sizes, and colors and are a great way to add color and interest to a bookshelf.

teak bookshelf with painted blue backdrop with accessories

  • If you want a more updated look, avoid crystal vases
  • Vases are a great opportunity to add sheen, texture, and colour and, again, should SUIT each other, but don’t need to be matching



Dig into your cupboards, dive into your china cabinets, and pull out any interesting wooden salad bowls, porcelain bowls, decorative dishes, etc. That piece that’s sat in the back of your cupboard for years could be fabulous when on display! Even decorative plates can be put on plate stands for display as a backdrop or key feature.

accessorizing a shelf using stacked books and a vase



The options are really endless in this category. Maybe it’s a larger item that takes up 1/3 of the shelf, or it could be a wee tiny thimble. Find items with texture, interest, shape, humor, or history. You might be surprised at the colour/theme connections that are made when different pieces (like a knick-knack and a vase) are placed together.

Livingroom with white built ins, Benjamin Moore White Dove, tv above fireplace, marble around stone fireplace, white oak surround, blue sofa and accents, square coffee table.

Notice how the built-in looks great, but a bare space in the middle of the bottom shelf needs some love.

5 Easy Ways to Turn Your House Into a Home

When you’re accessorizing a bookshelf, it’s best to start out with ‘more than you think you need’ rather than not enough, so don’t be afraid to harvest items from other rooms. If you have more than you need, you won’t need to think so hard when it comes time to improvise and get creative.



When accessorizing your bookshelf, you’ll want to break things into quarters…

Metal and wood bookcase with home decor. Sherwin Williams Collonade Gray paint colour. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, online consultant


Whether you’re into Nora Roberts, 50 Shades, photography, or scuba diving, these books should be books that you love, books that you feel best represent you, your downtime, your hobbies, and your passions (particularly if it’s 50 Shades…)

If you’re a book hoarder (like me), you might find that your bookcase is HEAVY on the books and light on the decor – and that’s TOTALLY okay, as long as you mix things up a bit here and there.


This can include decor pieces that are strictly sentimental or a mix of store-bought and meaningful!


Whether it’s a beautiful canvas or framed photos of your kids, this is a great way to add a personal touch to a bookcase.


Breathe it in, baby! Air space? Yes, air space is important when arranging accessories so that each piece has room to breathe and the overall display doesn’t look ‘over-stuffed.’

You can mix things up per shelf or keep it simple by having only one type of thing on one shelf. No matter how you decide to do it, each shelf should have 1/4 air space showing, regardless of whether the rest is books, accessories, or both!

Painted black built in bookcases and cabinets. Home decor, books and accessories. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, online paint color consulting and diy decorating advice blog



Of course, there are always exceptions. For example, if you have a bookcase in your kitchen or dining room and want to show off your dinnerware, you might not have it mingling with books and photographs. This dining room buffet/hutch below is a well-decorated display…

Country farmhouse home decor on painted buffet hutch or bookcase. Off-white or warm white. Kylie M Interiors CLIENT PHOTO

Notice the types of pieces used, as well as the use of SYMMETRY over BALANCE.



It’s important to have some anchor pieces to stabilize your bookshelf. If you have too many small items, your bookshelf will look hodge-podge, cluttered and busy.

Examples of an anchor piece…

  • vase with or without flowers/branches in it
  • stack of books with a decorative item on top
  • slightly larger scale, dominant decorative item
  • leaning piece of artwork (which is really more of a foundation piece)
  • large basket (like the two shown in the previous photo)
  • framed photo/artwork

The anchor piece is OFTEN, the tallest item in a vignette, so you’ll want to place it slightly further back if possible. It can also be the LARGEST instead of the tallest.

And most importantly, EVERY SHELF NEEDS AN ANCHOR. The anchors don’t need to be equally as strong as each other or the SAME as each other, but it’s important that each shelf has an anchor to call its own, and the placement should STAGGER from shelf to shelf, so they don’t line up vertically.

Although it’s behind the fixture in this next photo, the anchor piece is the tall basket with greens.

Sherwin Williams ARgos in dining room with formal, traditional wood furniture and chair rail. Kylie M E-design, online paint color consultant

And yes, the dining table could use a little love on the top, but you know what the COOL thing is? These are all REAL people’s homes – my E-Design clients! This means that while not everything is perfect and edited, you get an authentic, real-world take on decorating your home. Not everyone has a budget to blow at Home Sense; sometimes, we just use what we have on hand!

This bookcase is JAM-packed with emotional value – and it should; it’s my Mom’s!

Ideas to update a room on a budget. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, black painted buffet and hutch with home decor

In the above photo, notice how each SHELF has an anchor piece. Also, notice the groups of three and how they’re layered (i.e., stacks of books, lime green, framed pieces). To learn more, check out this blog post: How to Decorate Using the Rule of Three and Odd Numbers.



Staggering, stacking, and layering pieces add flow, depth, and interest to your bookcase or display. The width of your shelf will dictate HOW much you can do. You might have a more spread-out display with an anchor piece on either end or a condensed display of ONLY an anchor piece!

ideas for decorating with books on foundation wall. Sherwin Williams Tricorn Black and Benjamin Cloud White by Kylie M Interiors Colour Consultant

  • Stack 2-3 coffee table-style books horizontally and place a decorative item on top. You can also do this with novel-sized books as long as they aren’t pocketbook size and place a smaller-sized item on top
  • Place a plate or a clock on a plate stand and place it near the back of the shelf as a backdrop to some of your smaller items (or as a backdrop to your horizontally stacked books from above)
  • Place a large vase, accessory, or framed picture near the back of the shelf and place another item, like a small stack of books with a decorative item slightly in front and off-set from it

In this next example, notice two things: 1. the wood frame picture and wood bowl are diagonal to each other – not in-line, and 2. the vertically and horizontally stacked books are also diagonal to each other. The layout wouldn’t look as purposeful if they were underneath each other.  These little details can make a BIG DIFFERENCE!

How to decorate with books on a bookshelf, mantel, and home decor. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, online paint color consultant and diy decorating advice blog



Whether you’re going for a matchy-matchy look or prefer a more eclectic arrangement, it’s important to have at least three pieces on your bookshelf that add texture and/or visual interest.

Kylie M Interiors Edesign, powder room, small bathroom with gray hexagon tile floor and green painted vanity with gold accents. Sherwin Williams Pure White. Online paint colour advice and blog

Just like with ‘foundation pieces,’ make sure to stagger your textured/interesting pieces so they don’t line up vertically from shelf to shelf.

Check out this next gorgeous display – the mirror is the foundation, the vase/branches and the stack of books with the brass decor on top are the anchors, and the rest are the filler pieces…

Dining room with wainscoting in Sherwin Williams Creamy, walls Benjamin Moore Chelsea Gray, ceiling Oakwood Manor. Round dark wood dining table and home decor



  • baskets
  • woven bowls
  • wood pieces with grain (or driftwood)
  • floral (fake or real)
  • books


  • bright or striking colors
  • white things (when placed with other non-white items)
  • one item on one shelf – as long as the item and shelf are proportional to each other. You don’t want a piece too big for the shelf it’s on or too small!


How to Decorate Using The Rule of 3 and Odd Numbers

The Best WHOLE HOME Warm Neutral Paint Colors

6 Budget-Friendly Ideas to Update Your Home

How to Create a Decorative Vignette

4 Tips and Ideas to Accessorize a Mantel

Need help?

Check out my fun E-Design Books and Online Colour Consulting packages! 

 Chat soon,

Kylie M Interiors, decorating blog, e-design, online colour consulting expert. signature

Originally written in 2017, awesomely updated in 2019


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