Lesson in Bookcase Styling

Whatever happened to the days of actually using a bookcase just for its intended purpose, i.e. storing books?!  Unlike the public library, you will likely see more "styled" bookcases/shelves in the home setting that are filled with as many decorative accessories than books.  With a trend towards "right-sized" living, homeowners are finding ways to maximize every inch of space for both storage and display.

Shelving is the perfect opportunity to incorporate something decorative with practicality.  I tend to lean towards a combination of decorative and functional elements when it comes to styling shelves.

Here is a real-life example of how shelving is used in a home setting for both function and decor:

dining room storage library multi-functional multi-purpose expedit shelving

This homeowner maximized their tight living quarters by installing two side-by-side Ikea bookcase cabinets for both storage and display.  The cabinets are an effective solution for storing and displaying dishes, accessories, and books.  In smaller spaces especially, a double-duty "library and china cabinet" is very practical.

However, I think the overall appearance of the shelves can be improved so it appears more streamlined and uncluttered.  Here are a few design tips that can be incorporated:


bookcase styling


  • Edit, edit, edit.  Use restraint with the number of items you display to achieve a less cluttered appearance.  I always advise people to rotate their collections rather than putting it all on display at once.  You can achieve greater impact when the eye is able to focus on fewer things.


  • I'm not sure why, but items that are grouped in odd numbers lends itself to a more balanced arrangement.  A grouping of 3-5 objects that vary in scale and height is effective.  If you happen to have several smaller, same-colored objects, try grouping them together to create the look of a solid display item.  But don't be afraid to have one larger-scaled item stand alone too!


  • Play with how books are displayed.  They don't all have to be lined up perfectly straight, or stacked flat.  Lean a few books, and mix in a decorative accessory.  Use a book as a surface to add height when displaying a smaller-scaled decorative object.  A useful tip if you have a lot of books is to store some into a woven basket, and "display" the basket instead of all the books.


  • Always step back from the cabinet and make sure it is balanced in both object scale and visual weight.  Make sure it is not "top heavy", "bottom heavy" or "side heavy".


(Tip: To add stability to stand-alone bookcases/cabinets, you may want to secure the units to the wall using brackets.)


The styling of the shelving above exemplifies restraint and balance, while serving as both display and storage.  The appearance is streamlined, balanced, and uncluttered.


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