How to Style a Bookshelf Like a ProBookshelves can be so much fun to decorate, but sometimes, it’s hard to find the right balance between having it look organized and having it look natural.  If you’ve ever tried just randomly placing items on the shelves, you know that it can quickly look like a disorganized mess!  So how do people get those great looking shelves that seem so effortless?   A lot of planning, that’s how!


by Emily A. Clark
by Emily A. Clark

I came across this bookshelf while browsing Houzz and thought it was a great example of how to style a bookcase.  At first glance, it might look like things were haphazardly placed on the shelves because there doesn’t immediately appear to be any sort of pattern.  But in reality, there is!!  These shelves “work” because of three carefully planned and executed things:

1.  Color Palette

2.  Weight Balance

3.  Color Balance






Let’s look at how each of these work:

1.  Color Palette

While there are a lot of colors used on the bookshelf, they are all shades of primary colors and they are used in repetition throughout the space, not just on the shelving.  In this way, the items used on the shelves blend seamlessly with the room and become part of the overall color scheme.

The bookcase is primarily blue and white, with red, gold and green accents and these same colors are found in the room (or at least the part shown in the picture).


Here you can see that the red on the shelves is picked up in the chair and the coffee table décor.Red Accents


Similarly, the gold and green in the chair is picked up in the books on the shelves.Green and Gold Accents


And last but not least, the blue from the back of the shelves is picked up in the chair’s accent pillow.Blue

Even though various shades are being used, all of the colors are primary colors and are used throughout the room, making the bookshelf part of the room’s overall design.

 2. Weight Balance

Although no two shelves are identical, you’ll notice that the weight is evenly balanced between the left and right sides.  Balancing the “visual weight” of objects does not mean that the two sides need to match, it just means that the overall visual space used on one side roughly matches the visual space used on the other.

Here you can see that the top shelves both have the majority of the weight toward the outside of the shelves, with smaller, decorative objects on the inside.Top Shelf


The middle shelf is basically one large mass in the center.  What’s interesting is that the left side would have appeared heavier on the outside (and therefore, not balanced with the right), if it weren’t for the black framed picture that is of equal height to the books, making it appear as if it is one continuous mass on the shelf.Middle Shelf


The bottom shelves are arranged very similarly with books weighing down the sides and decorative objects in the middle.Bottom Shelf


Also notice that the white sculpture on the left is balanced by the larger white matting used in the frame on the right.  And this leads us to the third point, color balance.


 3. Color Balance

Every shelf has a pop of white that balances out the two sides.  The other primary colors are then sprinkled throughout the shelves as accents.  Your eye is trained to find patterns, so you’ll automatically scan between the white objects like a game of connect the dots.  Because every shelf has a white object, your eye will travel the entire bookcase, making it feel balanced.Balanced White



Although this bookshelf was styled as described above, there are actually many ways to style a bookcase.  But in general, the three points above apply to all styled shelves, although the execution might vary.  For instance, here the shelves were weighted evenly from left to right.  In other bookcases, they might be evenly weighted from top to bottom or they might alternate the weight from the left side to the right.

However you style a bookcase, the key is to

  1. balance the color and weight
  2. use colors that are also used throughout the room so that the bookshelf becomes part of the room, not a random object in the room


For more information on decorating bookcases, check out 8 Tips for Giving Your Bookcase a Decorative Look!


Happy styling!






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  1. That’s an interesting breakdown and I learned a lot! Thanks for posting your tips and I’ve got this linked to my DIY bookshelves post too today, for inspiration!

    1. User Avatar Tidbits&Twine says:

      Hi Heather – I’m so glad that you found this post useful and thank you for including it in your roundup!

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