4 Tips and Ideas to Decorate Your Bookshelf, Built-in or Single Shelf
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!
First, let’s check out a list of items to use when accessorizing a bookshelf…
Novels and coffee table style book 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!
Family, friends, hobbies, scenery – picture frames can hold anything you like, but they can’t be oversized (up to 8 x 10 is usually manageable on a bookshelf).
- 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 colours 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 colours and are a great way to add colour and interest to a bookshelf.
- 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
DECORATIVE BOWLS AND PLATES
Dig in your cupboards, dive into your china cabinets and pull out any interesting wooden salad bowls, porcelain bowls, decorative dishes and the like. 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.
KNICK KNACKS AND PADDY-WHACKS (but no dog bones)
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, humour 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.
Read more: 5 Easy Ways to Turn Your House Into a Home
Admittedly, the basket on the top shelf isn’t enough to do the trick, but this homeowner wanted a simple look and didn’t want to buy more than what she had around her 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 think you need, you won’t need to think so hard when it comes time to improvise and get creative.
BOOKSHELF TIP #1 – The 3/4 Rule
When accessorizing your bookshelf you’ll want to break things into quarters…
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.
1/4 DECOR AND MISCELLANEOUS
This can include decor pieces that are strictly sentimental or a mix of store-bought and meaningful!
1/4 FRAMES OR ARTWORK
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.
1/4 AIR SPACE
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!
BOOKSHELF TIP #2 – The Anchor
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
- 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.
In this next photo, although it’s behind the fixture, the anchor piece is the tall basket with greens in it.
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 how to decorate your own home. Not everyone has a budget to blow at Home Sense and sometimes we just use what we have on hand!
This bookcase is JAM-packed with emotional value – and it should, it’s my Moms!
In the above photo, notice how each SHELF has an anchor piece. Also notice the groups of three and how they’re layered (ie: 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.
BOOKSHELF TIP #3 – Stagger, Stack and Layer
Staggering, stacking and layering pieces is what adds 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 you might have a condensed display of ONLY an anchor piece!
- 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
BOOKSHELF TIP #4 – Add Texture and Visual Interest
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.
Just like with ‘foundation pieces’ you want to make sure to stagger your textured/interesting pieces so they don’t line up with each other vertically from shelf-to-shelf.
Examples of texture…
- Woven bowls
- Wood pieces with grain (or driftwood)
- Floral (fake or real)
Examples of visual interest…
- Bright or striking colours
- 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!
Check out my fun E-Design Books and Online Colour Consulting packages!
How to Decorate Using The Rule of 3 and Odd Numbers
How to Create a Decorative Vignette
4 Tips and Ideas to Accessorize a Mantel
Originally written in 2017, awesomely updated in 2019
Great tips! I have a built-in book shelf in my living room that I’ve been meaning to do something with for a long time. This post will help with ideas!
Happy SITS Day!
Oh I definitely need help with this one!!! Thanks for sharing your tips and tricks 🙂
Hey! Feel free to send me a shot of your bookshelf and I’d be happy to throw a few pointers your way re: using the accessories you currently have or adding a few new ones – I love acccessorizing!!!!