How to Style a Bookcase {even if you don’t read}


Haha! Vertigo Anyone? Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I have 33 more images to share with y’all and the sensible me would divide them up, but naaaaaahhh…(although, in the end, I did because I had about 50 images! One day I’ll do a separate post on libraries)

Once upon a time, bookcases were for books. Right? Well, they still are, of course, but sometimes, they aren’t. With the advent of kindle, etc. people are reading far fewer hard copy books and some people don’t read much in the way of books at all.  So, some bookcases are more decorative in nature or a wonderful way to display your treasures and collections and maybe a few books or a lot of books.

I’m going to list some ideas and then intersperse some of the photos within the list. Some of you may already know about some of this, but hopefully, I’ll give you some new info to ponder, as well. (please note, any uncredited photos, were left uncredited because I could not locate the original source.)


So, here’s rule one on how to style a bookcase.
  • Don’t feel that you have to place all the books vertical. Mixing up the books both vertically and horizontally as it makes for more visual interest.


Oh wait. Maybe that’s a little too interesting. (although, I have to say that the funky streak in me, kinda likes it.) That’s Nigella Lawson.  Yes, interesting is the word. Time for someone to have a tag sale! lol Alright, I’ll get serious now. [maybe] ;]


 A detail of a bookcase belonging to Mimi Mortimer.

how to style a bookcase
lay books both horizontally and vertically

Wonderfully styled bookcase by Mark D. Sikes. Please notice how he has also layered his displays by placing a clock on top of some books and used Chinoiserie (my spell checker thinks that word should be trichinosis—lol!!!) blue and white ginger jars as bookends.

  • hi-light your beautiful collections!
  • use organic materials such as coral or driftwood, crystals or shells
  • group like with like
  • think composition of a whole entity
  • add art pieces either hung on the outside frame and/or as part of a composition
  • consider balance and form, texture and color.
  • layer books, objects and mirrors
  • do not overcrowd!




Another wonderful Emily Henderson creation




 via pinterest

What a fun collection of colorful porcelain winged creatures. Feels very vintage.



Fresh, modern  styling from South African designer  Kim Stephen.  But, is it me, or does that lamp  look photo-shopped onto the image?


Total coincidence, but this is another very talented South African interior designer, John Jacob He has a fabulous portfolio which you might enjoy viewing. I love his organic decorating!


 Above and below is a young fresh, modern home office by writer Ellie Somerville


  • coordinate the books by color (for those with OCD– (Obsessive Color Disorder) 


I bet she color codes her clothes too. I still love her. Windsor Smith!

colorful-vittsjo-shelving This could very well be a young woman’s first apartment. Ikea shelves spray painted yellow! Fun!

  • wrap your books in pretty paper for a unified look.


  • Consider highlighting a color by painting a freestanding bookcase or painting the back of the shelves or using one primary color to tie the entire scheme together.


via pinterest


Ikea shelves again!

3-18-11  3

Love the different shades of green and of course, the doggies.


  • Don’t forget to illuminate your bookshelves! I love lighting that’s attached to the pilasters or overhead. There are many examples in the coming images.


House and Home January 2011



Aerin Lauder exquisiteness. That painting makes the room, don’t you think?



Here’s the  Aerin fixture (you can just make out the bottom in the image) sold by Circa Lighting. If you want one, (or two) please let me know! (it’s only $4,192.00. What is it they say about the rich getting richer?) ;]


Alex Hitz

and here too.



Carmen Lopez


Albert Hadley


 Books in a bedroom! Love it!


One of my very, very fave designers, the team of husband and wife, Steve and Brooke Giannetti! Love how they worked in a sophisticated (and subtle) “sports theme” into this gorgeous billiard room.



 Home office styling. Very stylish!


Windsor Smith



House Beautiful 3-12 17

And finally, an oft pinned room and for good reason. It’s perfect and Meg Braff, the designer has deftly employed all of the principles of beautiful bookshelf styling in one classic, truly timeless composition! Great room!

phew! That was a long one but I enjoyed putting it together for y’all!



11 Responses

  1. Hi Laurel, as always, fabulous post. What paint finish do you recommend for built-in bookcases (in this case, bedroom). I just spent a rare free day painting my son’s floor to ceiling bookcases, on either side of a large window seat. I went with a Ben Moore Semi-Gloss and I seriously hate it! I have to re-do. It looks like plastic, especially with the lights on in the evening. The walls were just painted in a perfect Eggshell “Skimming Stone” – colormatched by BM. I thought I was being clever and asked them to go 25% darker in the skimming stone for the shelves, but even that’s not visible.
    Is it okay for the shelves to be the same sheen as the walls? I may try Eggshell at 50%darker for the look I (think) I want. I hope this is a helpful question. Thank you!

    1. Hi Christine,

      This is actually a great topic for a blog post. There’s a lot here and some common issues that will be beneficial to a lot of people.

      If you see this, though, do you mean shelves or the back of the bookcase. The shelves usually match the trim and/or the inside of the case. I would not make them a separate color because all you will see is a one inch strip of another color.

      1. Hi Laurel, I did find another post of yours on interior painting tips – very helpful! I completely neglected to sand before painting, so my semi-gloss paint was very slippery going on and made a mess. My husband and I are decent wall painters and I paint furniture regularly (using Annie Sloan Chalk Paint), so this snafu was not expected. By most accounts, semi-gloss should be the way to go since I think the trim in the room is that as well, possibly satin. It’s what the house came with. I have painted the entire bookcase in semi-gloss Skimming Stone – back of walls, shelves topside and underneath, as well as the front facing decorative trim on wither side. It will be beautiful, but any which way, I have to re-paint over the semi-gloss after sanding. I will do either eggshell or pearl or satin… so many choices 🙁 I left the window seat section the white and will bring the colors together with new fabric for cushion and pillows…

        1. Hi Laurel and Christine-
          Laurel I love following you- thank you for all the decorating honesty and great advice!
          I just wanted to throw this out there regarding shelves because I recently had a dilemma myself. I did my den and built ins Simply White in eggshell. Whenever I use latex paint on shelves or furniture I have always had a problem with scuffing, scratching, chipping and somehow damaging the surface once I place any objects on it or use it in an everyday manner. This could be a combination of not waiting a full 30 days before curing (I’m impatient) or could be just the nature of latex on furniture/shelving. I’m still unsure and will probably never know. Anyway- I’ve eliminated this by now using a few thin coats of polyacrylic in satin. Works like a charm creating a beautiful smooth and protected surface that is scuff resistant (something to think about as youre pulling books on and off a shelf.
          Just thought I’d throw that out there.

        2. Hi Sarah,

          That’s very interesting. Is there some brand for the polyacrylic and how do you address the color of the paint? I’m not familiar with that product.

          But, painting something that’s going to get a lot of abuse is something I would leave to a professional painter. Not sure if you did or not. I’m not patient either. Not at all! And bookshelves and cabinets require a labor-intensive process of priming, sanding and painting, sanding, painting, sanding and painting to hold up beautifully.

          Also, I very much recommend oil-based paint. But have heard that with a skilled painter and new wood that Benjamin Moore Advance is very good. But it’s not easy to work with.

        3. Hi ladies! I forgot to update my comments. So after thoroughly sanding all sections of the floor to ceiling bookcases, we painted Pearl Finish (Ben Moore) colormatched the Farrow and ball wall color at 50% Darker. It came out great, giving the look I wanted, just a subtle difference between the walls and bookcases. 25% was too light.
          I have used Polycrylic by Minwax for many years on various projects. Everything from painting Dr Scholls when they were in fashion (1990’s!) to kids furniture. It holds up well and doesn’t yellow, always go with Clear Satin. Doesn’t give a natural or authentic look, but does the job of protecting high traffic projects.

  2. Im sure that they are professionally styled
    But for my own taste it looks too much.
    For me its lookes like clutter.
    I think it would be okay to even have a few empty areas .
    I think its the contemporary / minamilist in me.

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