how to: style a bookshelf

The charm and character of the built-in bookcase in our living room was one of the things that originally drew us to our apartment (even though it really limits the furniture orientation possibilities). I was overjoyed about the storage, but immediately the poor built-in was crammed with books I'd been collecting my whole life. I'm a proud English major, and the shelves were soon creaking under the weight of all this literature. 

Fast forward three years. The disorganization was driving my wife Kristie nuts, and my books were all collecting dust. There were college assignments, high school yearbooks, leftovers from my mom's book club, books I'd picked up at tag sales and flea markets. Lots of them I'd already read and I was keeping them for sentimental reasons -- don't get me wrong, a totally valid reason to keep a book. But maybe not necessarily a good reason to keep a hundred books. 

I was browsing Pinterest Sunday morning after breakfast and spotted the most beautiful stylized bookshelf. I wish I had a bookshelf I could do that to, I thought to myself, moments before glancing up at the veritable library in front of me. It was go time.
A few tips…

- If you start with a bookshelf crammed full like mine, take absolutely everything off the shelves and make piles. One (small) pile that will go back on the shelves; one to put into storage; one to try and sell on Amazon; and one to donate to a local prison or hospital.

- Do the same thing with the little knick-knacks that end up populating bookshelves. One pile that will be added back to the shelves; one to donate; and one to put away elsewhere.

- Give all the shelves a good cleaning. 
- Start adding items back, starting with your biggest books. Place a couple vertically against the sides, and some horizontally. (In our bookcase, the middle shelf is my favorite. I think it has enough diversity in arrangements to keep things interesting and still look full. The bottom shelf is home to the sound bar Kristie got for Christmas; she is ecstatic it finally has a home!)
- Put smaller books on top of or next to the big ones, creating an ascending or descending pattern respectively. This is the point where you can add framed pictures, toys, and vases back into the mix. Group small ones together, and allow others to stand on their own. Play around and try different arrangements until it feels right. I hung a DIY banner I made for Valentine's Day to help compensate for some of the blank space above the sound bar.

That's it! And while our bookshelf looked a little naked to me at first, it's so soothing to come home to less clutter. (I even styled the one in our kitchen right afterward!)

For more DIYs, recipes, and inspiration, visit the Homesteady.
Contributor Post by: Hannah


  1. I can't see any of the pictures. :(

  2. I can't see them either! I'm getting a new bookshelf and I would've liked to see this post :(

  3. I also can't see any of the pics :(

  4. I can see the pictures! Thanks! xo

  5. what a great post! this is def something that goes overlooked, or at least i always thought so. a bookshelf is there to be full of books right? but wow, you've proved me wrong, the diff is huge! great job!