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The Dos And Dont’s Of Styling Bookshelves: Bobby’s 4 Easy Tips

Design: Studio McGee

Styling a bookshelf is one of those tasks that seem quite straightforward, but can often turn into a real decorating dilemma. (We know you’ve been there.) But we’re here to tell you – it doesn’t have to be! You just need to learn the dos (and the definite dont’s) that will make styling a whole lot easier – and visually appealing. 

Like most tasks in interior design, outfitting a bookcase is all about knowing what works, what doesn’t, and why. And today, we’re here to help you fully understand the difference between stellar styling – and a bookcase that’s in need of a serious boost. With just 4 easy tips, you’ll be able to confidently add visual appeal to any bookshelf – no matter your style.


Keep scrolling to learn our top 4 dos (and dont’s) for perfectly styled bookshelves – that you can achieve for free!


Want even more styling tips? Check out these posts: The 4 Styling Items You Never Knew You Needed (But Won’t Be Able To Live Without) and Re-Decorate For Free: How To Use Items You Already Have To Create A Whole New Look

DO: Think Beyond Books & Bring In Variation

Unless it’s a library, a bookshelf should be holding a lot more than just books. To add interest, bring in a variety of different items, from ceramics to artwork, baskets, plants, and decorative objects. A mixture of objects creates a much more appealing shelf that really tells a visual story (and one that you’ll actually want to hear).



DONT: Add-In Everything

You may have the urge to put every book and accessory you own on display, but you’ll end up with a collection that feels chaotic instead of curated. So be sure to exercise restraint when styling. Instead of filling an entire shelf with objects, place your favorite pieces – and be sure to give them some breathing room.

DO: Switch Up Size & Scale

Once you’ve pulled an assortment of objects for your shelves, you’ll want to think about how their size and scale will work together. The most appealing shelves have a mix of large, medium, and small pieces that play off each other and create a nice sense of variety. To achieve this mix, start by placing your largest objects first and then layer in medium and smaller pieces (while also making sure to fill the height of a shelf too).



DONT: Go With Just Big Or Small

Sticking to pieces with only one size or scale is a total shelf fail. All large items will overpower a bookcase, while only smaller pieces will end up looking like dollhouse decor. Embrace a range of sizes and you’ll find a fit that’s just right.

DO: Create A Flow For The Eye

There’s a simple phrase that can guide you throughout your bookshelf styling process: When in doubt, follow the “S” route. By that, we mean you want the eye to flow in a back-and-forth S shape when viewing shelves. You can easily achieve this by placing larger items (like a stack of books, a basket, or a group of vases) on opposite sides of alternating shelves, allowing your gaze to move back and forth. This will not only create some real visual appeal – but also keeps an entire bookcase feeling connected.


DONT: Leave Things Unbalanced

Placing similar items or all your visual “weight” on one side will result in shelves that are out of sort- and out of balance. Your eye will be drawn to just one side of a bookshelf instead of flowing throughout. So if you’ve slid all your books to one side, try rearranging to achieve a bit more balance.

DO: Create Curated Groupings

Items on your shelves shouldn’t live totally isolated. Get them together! – and create compelling groupings. Combining different types of smaller accessories together will make them feel connected and more substantial on a shelf.  Aim for groupings of 3 (which are most visually appealing) with the tallest item in the center. You can also easily layer pieces in front of artwork or on top of a stack of books to create even more interest.


DONT: Group All Like Items Together

Unless you’re displaying a large collection, like items don’t need to all be grouped together. So avoid an entire shelf of art, ceramics, or vintage finds and instead spread things out. Pepper in a few pieces on each shelf for a much more dynamic design.



  1. Love love love this piece packed with practical, aesthetic, and free tips. Masterclass-worthy stuff here. Bookmarked!

    1. Thanks so much for your comment! Stay safe and inspired. xx -B

  2. Perfect timing as I cultivate a Moroccan/organic/eclectic design. Just bought a home and will use this article as a guide for my shelving layering and styling ?? Also, I love how you add the products at the end- being island life (HI) this helps a lot bc we have target and Amazon prime at ease here. Everything else is extra charges on shipping! Mahalo Bobby ?

    1. Thanks so much for your comment and congrats on your new home. Happy styling and hope my tips help you xx -B

  3. Would love some advice on how to have stylish shelves when you have large collections that need the real estate on bookshelves. It’s much easier to style when there isn’t a lot to store!

    1. A large collection can either be grouped together on one shelf or spread out in smaller groupings throughout the shelves. If you have too much to display, consider storing some tiesm in a decorative basket on a lower shelf. xx- B

  4. Is there a rule of thumb for balancing books and other items? Perhaps a % of books to fun stuff?

    1. Generally, a 50/50 mix will work best. If you have lots of larger coffee table books that have more visual weight, you just want to balance them with larger “Fun stuff” too. Thanks for reading! xx -B