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How to Decorate a Bookshelf

Have you ever moved to a new home that had an expansive built-in bookshelf? Maybe you wondered, “How will I ever fill that space?” Or perhaps you’re an avid book collector, and you’ve bought your shelving with the intention of filling it from top to bottom! There is no single right way to decorate a bookshelf, but here at Decoist, we thought we’d take a look at some techniques that could help shed some light on these interesting display areas. [from Abramson Teiger Architects]

Bookshelves in a modern living room

A bookshelf is a unique opportunity to arrange books, as well as art and collectibles. Should you paint the shelves? Should you display all of your books or leave some room for decor? Are there certain techniques that can lead to vignettes that showcase amazing design? We’ve answered these questions and more with the help of some knockout images below. Let them inspire you in your bookshelf endeavors. Whether your shelving is spacious or compact, you can take your decor to the next level…

Enhance Your Shelving

We begin by focusing on the shelving itself. One amazing way to make the most of your bookshelves involves the clever use of paint. You can always paint shelving the same hue as your trim (often white), but many people enjoy adding a dose of color. For example, painting bookshelves to match the shade of the walls is one effective way to make a statement, as is selecting one shade darker than the walls for a powerful effect. [from LDa Architecture & Interiors]

Blue painted bookshelf in a traditional living room

You can also keep it subtle and simple by painting the interior of your shelves a pale shade, such as gray-blue. A hue like this can serve as a neutral tone while at the same time adding some much-needed contrast. [from Ken Gutmaker Architectural Photography]

Pale painted bookshelf interiors

Then again, it never hurts to go bold! Try painting the interior of your shelving a radiant color, such as fire red. This technique can be particularly interesting for spaces that are saturated with color, as well as in spaces that are painted more neutral tones such as white. Note how the vivid hue of the shelving below is complemented by an array of bright accents in details such as glassware. [from Nelson Plachter Design via Houzz]

Painted bookshelf interior

Not ready for something that bright? Paint a portion of your shelving, such as a few interior compartments. For example, in the living room below, we see orange paint on the backing of some of the shelves, yet other areas remain neutral. The effect: every detail counts and nothing is overpowering. [from InHouse Design Studio]

Painted bookshelves in a modern interior

Focus on the Books

From the shelving to the books… We now turn our attention to the reading material. Is it okay to fill your shelving with nothing but books? Of course! But variety is the key. Don’t worry if your books aren’t picture-perfect. Yes, you can display paperbacks with pride! But instead of lining them all up vertically, add some spice by leaning and stacking books as well. [from Harold Forrest “Bud” Dietrich, Architect]

Books line living room shelving

Below we see a close-up of books in an array of configurations. Pay attention to each shelf, the decor of which is arranged to create a sense of symmetry and interest. A few careful arrangements can lead to a big payoff, don’t you think?! [from Abbott Moon]

Leaning and stacked books on white shelving

Don’t forget that the color of your books can play a role in the design of your shelving decor. Note how the vibrant hues in the shelving below pop in a room filled with vivid tones such as blue, yellow and rust. [from Canton Custom Homes]

Colorful books in enclosed cases

Not to mention, you can always color-code your books for a spectrum effect. Grouping books by color calls attention to the shades themselves–a great way to camouflage imperfections such as bent or worn book covers. Who will pay attention to minor details when a vibrant display like the one below takes center stage? [from Carol Vaughan-Davis of via Houzz]

Color-coded bookshelves

Here’s a fun idea to create some striking uniformity: Reverse the books so the pages are showing rather than the binding. There’s nothing like that clean display of white pages surrounded by dark outlining, as shown on the modern shelving below. Of course, it may not be easy to find the book you need, but when your room looks this good, that may be a small sacrifice… [from Turn Collaborative Architects & Designers]

Reversed books on modern shelving

Add Some Decor

Let’s hear it for the decor! Nothing beats a bookshelf that’s layered with both reading material and objects d’art. In the image below from Robbins Architecture, we see a range of pieces, from containers to photography to the books themselves…

Books and decor on a white bookshelf

One strategy involves creating a clever display in each open space. This means treating each shelf as a canvas for detailed vignettes. Try adding a touch of the unexpected. Arrange a series of three uniform objects, or add some curiosities that will make guests flock to the shelving to get a closer look. [from A Bloomsbury Life]

Interesting decorative details on white bookshelves

There’s something to be said for simplicity. Remember not to overload your shelves. Empty space can play as big a role in your design as the objects that fill each compartment. Try leaving a portion of the shelving blank. This draws attention to the items you have on display and makes each piece seem extra special. [from Feldman Architecture]

Books and art pieces in an eclectic living room

The image below also reinforces an “easy does it” mentality. Books are carefully arranged, along with bookends and other artful pieces. The result: a look that is sparse rather than cluttered. And that makes a statement in itself, creating a clean look for this modern living room. [from Cardea Building Co.]

Thoughtfully decorated bookshelves

Speaking of sparse, the next featured room takes a “less is more” approach with the shelving. Uniformity is one design component in this space, and books in neutral shades help to create a clean look, along with an array of white decorative objects that includes vases. Note how the items pop against the taupe hue of the shelves’ interior. [from Munger Interiors]

Sparsely decorated bookshelves

There’s something to be said for pristine decor, but let’s get real for a minute. If you have kids, you can’t possibly control each item that crosses your threshold. So why not make the most of it? Below we see toys and children’s books on the lower portion of the shelving in this comfy space. Style is not sacrificed for the sake of function in this family-friendly room. [from Soorikian Architecture]

Family-friendly bookshelf decor

Let’s talk about pictures… Bookshelves are a great place to display photos of friends and family, as well as artwork. In fact, as you can see, pictures are a major component of the space below. [from Winslow Architecture & Urban Design via Houzz]

Photographs on wooden bookshelves

Don’t hesitate to get creative. For example, in the next featured space we see a painting hanging from the edge of the shelving. This strategy maximizes display space and creates a sense of interest and depth. [from Abbott Moon Design]

Artwork and photographs on bookshelves

We end with a showstopping bookcase that reminds us of the power of innovative design. When the shelving is this interesting, it’s hard to go wrong with the decor! Notice how a lattice pattern creates a series of diamond-shaped compartments that create a truly unique display of books in various states of leaning. [from Candelaria Design Associates]

Lattice-pattern bookshelf

Do you have a bookshelf that houses more than books? How have you created an interesting display space? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below…

Kate Simmons

Kate Simmons is a freelance writer and design blogger with a love of all things decor. She spent her childhood writing stories and working on interior design-themed DIY projects. Kate’s published writing reflects her special interest in how design has changed through the decades. Her blog Mirror80 ( http://mirror80.com/) explores the fashion and [...]

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