How to Decorate Your Bookshelves

Produced by Architectural Digest with The Home Depot.
Here are nine tips to help you turn your haphazard shelves into works of art

There are as many ways to decorate your bookshelves as there are people with bookcases. Some opt for the traditional approach, packing every available ledge with well-worn spines in a way that feels like a library pleasantly overflowing; then there are the aesthetes, creative types who arrange the covers of their coffee table tomes by color until the stacks resemble the bands of a rainbow. Of course, some don’t even factor books into the equation, preferring instead to display beloved objects and ephemera in an artful way. But if you’re new to the bookshelf decorating game and looking for a place to start, don’t let the sheer abundance of possibilities overwhelm you. Here are nine tips to help you decorate your bookshelves like a pro.

1. Consider what you’ve got.

Despite the name, bookshelves are capable of holding more than just books. Do you have a trophy-worthy mass of beach paraphernalia (sand dollars, sea glass, conch shells) or an award-winning assemblage of antique tea services? Don’t hide them in a box in the closet or behind a cabinet door. Proudly display them where everyone can see them—just be sure to group like colors to help unite different collections under one common theme.

2. Incorporate variation.

A large marble bust, a small wooden box, and a pair of glass candlesticks—choosing items that vary in shape, size, and material keeps shelves from looking monotonous and helps create a feeling of airiness that makes a room look larger. Also remember the rule of threes—and fives, and sevens: things look better when arranged in odd groupings.

3. But also embrace symmetry.

A few editions from a collection of leather-bound books with the same color covers can serve as a visual resting place and help establish a common thread when scattered among disparate objects.

4. Get creative.

There’s more ways to stack a bookshelf than the traditional alphabetical file in. Create several short groups of four or five horizontally stacked books, arrange covers by ROYGBIV (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet) color coding, or opt for a combination of all of the above for an unexpected look that adds visual interest in any room. You can also place bowls and other objects on top of the stacks to take that idea to the next level.

5. Don’t forget to add art.

Alternate between stacks of books, large and small accessories, and framed photos or artwork to devise a layered look that feels as though its been collected over time. Another less expected way to incorporate art: hang frames in front of shelves, partially obscuring them for a layered look.

6. Master the art of the vignette.

Think of each shelf as a series of snapshots and use different elements to create the perfect picture, whether that’s a round bowl to offset a square box, a glass vase to play off a metal sculpture, or a stack of books to balance a large poster. Then repeat until your shelves are complete.

7. Make it useful.

Bookshelves are typically for display, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make yours work for you. Use them as additional storage—think large boxes to hide paperwork and other clutter—a convenient place for a television, or a clever spot for a makeshift cocktails station instead of a bar cart.

8. Use the room as inspiration.

Kitchen shelves look especially inspiring when open shelving pairs cookbooks with a mix of tableware and beautiful yet functional pieces, like bar accouterments and serving pieces.

9. Light it up.

Nothing elevates a bookshelf better than some picture lighting, giving stacks a gallery-like feel while spotlighting special mementos or treasures. Sconces between bookcases impart a similar feel, as do small votives behind key objects.