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Arranging Items on a Bookshelf

For hundreds of years, bookshelves have been a utilitarian element of decor. They simply held books. In the day and age of Kindles and e-books, owning books with beautiful bindings is a bit of a lost art. So today we're going to talk practically about how to arrange items on bookshelves.

There is a very fine line between cluttered and empty. And this line becomes even more difficult when using items besides books. So below I've listed 8 tips I use as I decorate for clients here in Dallas.

How to arrange items on a bookcase

  • Collect a plethora of bookshelf decor items (baskets, plants, sculptural figurines, books, magazines, records, vases, picture frames, bookends). Trust me, the more options the better. Options help you experiment. Side note, picture frames are best on bookshelves for a wall as there is only one front side.

  • Have a hero! Often I'll see crowded bookshelves with family pictures but ironically this causes people to gloss over as no one picture stands out. Edit down your favorite 2-3 pictures and put them in a prominent place.

  • If your bookshelf has varied shelf heights, start with items that fit perfectly in a space. This helps the shelf seem purposeful instead of awkward. If you are decorating a more uniform bookcase, then start with larger decor items so you can anchor the smaller decor pieces.

  • Play with stacking items. If you have a couple stacks of books, place some traditionally and lay others down. I also highly recommend bookends as they straighten standing books and add extra interest.

  • YOU DON'T HAVE TO FILL EVERY SHELF! Your eye needs a place to rest. While it might feel funny to only have two items on a shelf, step back and take a look before adding more. Pictured above there are only two stacked baskets on the second shelf but they complement other busier shelves.

  • Add a lamp if the bookcase is in an area that's not well lit. This will make the bookshelf a statement piece instead of something that fades into the background.

  • Place art above your bookshelf. This trick is a great way to make your bookcase feel tall if your ceiling height allows it.

  • Tell a story with the items you incorporate. The story doesn't have to be too literal but each item should say something about the person that lives in the space. Your home is an opportunity to look at things you love and start conversations with the people you invite over!

This bookshelf had a lot of the right elements but when curated it becomes a focal point. Don't be afraid of placing items in the middle of the shelf and save some of the picture frames for a gallery wall or your bedroom. I love how these modern, gold bookshelves came to life with a little tweaking!

These bookcase decorating ideas for the living room can be applied to built-ins or in other areas of the home. I try to freshen up the arrangement of my bookcases every 6 to 8 months because I stop seeing things that stay the same for too long.

So what bookcase styling ideas do you plan to test in your home?




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