Tips for Styling Bookcases and Built-Ins

November 6, 2019

Styled Bookcases

Today I’m sharing some easy and affordable tips on how to style the perfect bookcases and built-ins. Many people feel overwhelmed when faced with styling so many empty shelves. I often have clients tell me that their displays feel too sparse or boring or that they just don’t look “pulled together”. Over the years I’ve developed some easy strategies that will help you accomplish Pinterest-worthy shelf styling. Whether you have built-ins or freestanding bookcases, these steps will help you create the look you’ve been wanting while still using your own style and design preferences.

One of the biggest challenges is that you really need a lot of “stuff” to fill the space. It can get expensive and overwhelming to try to accumulate enough accessories that all “go together”. So, I always start by adding storage first. By storage, I mean boxes, bins, baskets etc…

This accomplishes 3 things:

  1. Bookcases should have the most “visual weight” at the bottom. They should get lighter and airier as they go up. So, adding baskets or bins at the bottom will accomplish making the base seem “heavier”.
  2. They are great to stash miscellaneous items that have no where else to go. You can also use them as “planned storage” for media items, files, games etc…
  3. They take up a lot of space! Now you’ve filled a few shelves already without having to use multiple items.

My bookcases have cabinets at the bottom. So, I chose to fill space at the top with baskets. Here are the baskets and bins I used:

Labeled magazine file and boxes. (Similar)
Modern Weave Baskets – Whitewashed

The next trick I use when styling shelves is using lots of hardcover books. Most of us don’t have a collection of great hardcover books that will fill a lot of space. So, I shop used book stores, library sales, and The Salvation Army to find affordable books for styling. You can usually get most hardcover books for $1 or less! I don’t pay attention to the titles. (You will take the paper jackets off. ) I just look at the size and color of the bindings. For this display I was focused on finding light neutrals. This is another great way to fill a lot of space for just a little money.

My haul after visiting the used bookstore, Salvation Army, and a library sale!
Styling Tip: If the titles are too bold and don’t work with your display, face out the pages instead.

Now that you’ve filled up a lot of the space with storage items and books, it’s time to layer in the accessories. I love accessories. But, when you have too many it starts to look like a display in an accessories store instead of a point of focus in your space. So, be selective.

When choosing your accessories the most important thing is to “repeat”. So, pick a style, or finish, or shape and choose items that repeat these themes. For example, for this design I chose a theme of “found” looking natural elements. I used urns, beads, and objects that are worn and natural looking. If that’s not your style you could pick a grouping like farmhouse/black/galvanized or traditional/gold/orbs. Many times for me it will start with a single piece that I LOVE and then I shop for other pieces to coordinate.

Layer these accessories in with your books trying different configurations. This step is all about trial and error. Here are some ways to use accessories…

Drape beads over stacked books. (Similar Beads)
Use different sizes of the same or similar shapes.
Add height by placing accessories on top of books.

Now that you’ve placed your accessories, the last step is always to add plants! They add organic shape to your display and help fill holes where maybe you don’t have enough accessories or books. Again, use trial and error to see where they work best.

Plants help to finish the display.
Styled bookcases with storage, books, accessories, and plants!

So remember:

  1. Use storage baskets, boxes, and bins to create visual weight and fill space.
  2. Add books! An affordable way to fill your display and create varying heights.
  3. Repeat your accessories. Pick a theme and disperse throughout the shelves.
  4. Add plants as a finishing touch!

Have fun with it and don’t be afraid to move things around a few times until you find the perfect arrangement.

I hope that this helps take some of the confusion out of what can be an overwhelming project. Thank you so much for being here! Please feel free to leave a comment or question.

Shop some of my favorite accessories for shelf styling:

*Some of the items linked in this post are through affiliate links. This means that if you purchase something through the link I may receive a small commission. This helps to fund this blog and allows me to keep creating more content. So, thank you!!

For more of my projects, follow along on Instagram at @theeastcoasthome. 

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