Design Hack: How to Style a Bookcase

Bookcase styling is one of my favorite mid-week projects. Since working from home, I find myself rearranging thing more than usual around the house. Whether built-in bookcases, floating shelves or a fabulous freestanding shelving unit, bookshelves aren’t exclusively for books anymore.

Bookcases and open shelves can be one of the trickiest parts of your home to style. There is a fine line between carefully collected and overly cluttered. My signature style always leans toward cleaner, more sophisticated styling. However, bookcases give me a chance to bring a lot of personality to a client’s space. Below, I have outlined my top five tricks to styling a bookcase, which you can do in your own home! 


5 Steps to Bookcase Styling by Kriste Michelini
Design by Kriste Michelini 



Design by Amber Interiors


5 Steps to Styling a Bookcase


Step 1: Start with a Clean Slate

Remove everything from the shelves and collect any other items you may want to include so you know what you’re working with. Think: framed art, boxes, trays, pieces of sculpture or vases, baskets and of course, books.


How to Style a Bookcase

Design by DPages


Step 2: Start with the Largest Pieces First

I move in a zigzag pattern around the bookshelf, making sure focal points are scattered evenly throughout. If items are feeling smaller than you’d like, group them! 3 jars grouped together make more of an impact than 3 spread out.


5 Steps to Styling a Bookcase

Design by Kriste Michelini 


Step 3: Stack Books by Color


I love color blocking a bookshelf (did you see my stories this weekend?!). It makes a stack of books feel more substantial, and more intentional. You can stack them to raise a piece of decor, or create a visual block. Don’t feel like books always need to be lined upright.


Design: Paloma Contreras / Image: York Avenue Blog


Step 4: Bring in Frames and Artwork


This is one of the key places I bring personal family photos into a client’s home. Sweet vintage family photographs, current candid snaps and favorite artwork add so much depth and layers to shelves. It’s a chic way to make your home feel like you.



Step 5: Layer in Decorative Elements


Now that the foundational pieces are in there, you can begin to layer in personalized pieces and decor. I love to group things like vases and decorative boxes in sets of 2 or 3 to make them more visually striking. It helps prevent things from looking too “tchotchke”. I think a design always feels more elevated when better edited.

Pro Tip: When in doubt, scale back. There is nothing wrong with a clean, minimalist bookshelf. When I’m feeling overwhelmed in a space, the first thing I do is pull out items for more negative space.


Image via Caitlin Flemming


Our Favorite Freestanding Bookcases


Modular Metal Freestanding Bookcase

via Room & Board


Mid-century inspired freestanding wood bookcase. How to Style a Bookcase by Kriste Michelini

via Anthropologie


black curio cabinet bookcase

via Anthropologie


The Perfect Bookcase Accessories


In addition to a great collection of coffee table books, there are a few items that make for a great starting point for any bookcase. I love adding storage baskets to hide the less than pretty things, easels for an unexpected way to display art or photos, large sculptural pieces and metallic trays to add a bit of sparkle.


5 Steps to Style a Bookcase

Storage Baskets

5 Steps to Style a Bookcase

Art Display


5 Steps to Style a Bookcase


5 Steps to Style a Bookcase

Brass Tray