How to Style a Bookshelf Like a Pro

Organizing drawers is my favorite kind of therapy. Bookshelf styling and decorating shelves is a close second. So, if you’ve been looking to learn how to decorate a bookcase and style it like a pro, I have great tips for you! This post will show you the foolproof formula I use to decorate our bookshelves at home.

how to style a bookcase

Last year, we purchased a -huge- entertainment center for our living room. Two large bookcases flank the media console. At first, I was stumped. I had no idea how to style a bookshelf, especially because I do not have an interior design background. But I did a decent job in the fall when I mixed and matched my ever-changing decorating styles.

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How to Decorate Bookshelves

Although I have a good eye for arts and crafts, home decor doesn’t come easy. I think that part of the problem is my obsession with uniformity, neatness, and matching colors. But, with time, I have learned a thing or two, and sometimes breaking the rules is what makes the difference. You’ll see what I mean when I show you how I styled our bookshelf.

But bookshelf styling doesn’t have to be complicated. Follow these four steps, and you will see how easy it is to style a bookcase in no time!

1. Start With a Blank Canvas

If your bookshelf is already styled, take the time to strip it from its current decor and knick-knacks and set them aside. I realized that it takes me a lot more time to figure out placements when things are already placed on the shelves.

Decorating a bookshelf or any shelf is like creating a drawing or a painting. First, you start with a blank canvas; then, you need to paint a couple of strokes, stop, take a look at the progress, and keep painting.

Along the same lines, when you are styling bookshelves, you have to start with empty shelves and bring your decor pieces one by one. Take a few steps back to look at the placements and make adjustments.

2. Sort Decorating Elements Into Groups

When decorating your bookcase, do not skip this step. I think it saved my sanity. I suffer from analysis paralysis, and having all my decorating elements sorted into groups helped me decorate my bookshelves much faster than the first time around.

Once your bookshelves are empty, sort the decorating elements into groups. I sorted my objects into color groups, but you can make any group. You can sort them by color, textures, type of object, style, shape, and size; you name it.

The following are my personal examples, but they will give you an idea of how to sort your own.

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1. Potted Faux Plants and Greenery

greenery for bookshelf styling

Small plants add a beautiful touch to any bookshelf. I am a fake plant lover, and I have several potted succulents and eucalyptus spread out throughout the house. They look real to me, and I love zero maintenance.

2. Gold and Metallic Elements

I consider gold and metallic elements essential when styling a bookshelf. Especially a stark white bookcase like ours needs a touch of glam to add interest and sparkle. I keep the gold bookends through all the seasons. They serve their purpose, and their traditional corbel look is timeless.

gold elements for bookshelf styling

3. Books

books to style a bookshelf

You can’t style a bookshelf without books, of course! So, I gathered all my books, but only those in the colors and hues that I wanted to display in the bookcase. I have a lot of faux books that I once used to style a wedding.

4. Woods and Neutrals

Any elements in wood and neutral and natural tones always attract me. I use them to balance out the golds’ glam and add a rustic, farmhouse touch.

wood and neutrals - bookshelf styling

Pro Tip: You don’t necessarily need to use every piece. That is the beauty of sorting your pieces into groups when you want to decorate a bookshelf. The groups help you grab one piece at a time, depending on its size, texture, or color.

3. Style One Side of The Bookshelf at a Time

Now, for the fun part, decorate your bookshelf! My first piece of advice is to follow a certain order when styling the bookcase.

If you have more than one bookcase (or symmetrical bookcases like mine), start with one side first and follow the ‘triangle formula’ (explained below). This is the only way you can start seeing the balance and the progress on your shelves.

how to decorate a bookshelf

4. Use The Triangle Formula to Decorate Bookshelves

Decorate the shelves one by one, starting from the top left. Using the pictures below, I will explain how I styled each shelf following the triangle formula.

Styling Bookcase Number 1

First Shelf

  • Left, tall element: faux plant on a stand.
  • Right, low element: books with a blue ceramic decorative bowl on top.
  • Middle (back): wood window pane. (I placed this last, after the third shelf was done)

Second Shelf

  • Right, tall element: brass taper candle holders. The brownish tone of the brass coordinates with the planter vase (first shelf top right).
  • Left, a stack of books with the gold picture frame (similar) on top
  • Middle, low gold 3-D sculpture to bring out the gold of the book pages (top shelf)

Third Shelf

Shop the Elements on Bookshelf 1

So, let’s take a closer look at the triangle formula that makes bookshelf styling easier than you think!

Triangle With Blue Items

The blue ceramic bowl on the top shelf ties in with the books’ blue spine on the second shelf and the blue candle on the bottom shelf.

how to decorate bookshelves

Triangle With Gold Items

The books’ gold pages on the top shelf tie in with the gold picture frame on the second shelf and the gold hardware of the hurricane vase on the bottom shelf. The gold sculpture and the gold candle snuffer are also within the triangle path.

how to style bookshelves

Triangle with Brown Tones

Once all three shelves were decorated (or so I thought), I noticed an unbalance in the wood/natural tones. I decided to form another triangle to tie in the browns at the very end. That’s when I added the windowpane on the top shelf, behind the rest of the decor.

So in this triangle: windowpane, brass candlesticks, and wood dough bowl.

bookshelf styling with wood tones

Ok, so hopefully, the formula will give you an idea of how to balance colors and pieces within your bookshelves. Once the first bookshelf was done, I moved on to the second bookshelf.

Styling Bookcase Number 2

With one bookshelf styled, I had a starting point and an idea on how to decorate the second bookshelf, using the first one as my guide.

First Shelf

  • Left, tall element: books (including one with a blue spine) and gold bookends (similar). I broke the rule and placed one of the books with the spine facing the other way – I did this to show the gold pages.
  • Right, books with light-colored spines and a faux eucalyptus plant on top.

Notice that this time, I placed the faux plant on the right side of the shelf to balance it with the plant on the left on the first bookcase.

Second Shelf

Third Shelf

Shop the Elements on Bookshelf 2

Triangle With Blue Items

The book’s blue spine on the top shelf ties in with the blue and white ginger jar on the second shelf and the blue book (added last) on the bottom shelf. I also decided to offset the tobacco basket and move it more towards the right. I noticed that the green wreath was competing with the gold picture frame in front of it.

how to style bookshelves

Triangle with Gold Items

The gold bookends on the top shelf tie in with the middle shelf’s round gold picture frame and the gold pages of the book on the middle shelf. Finally, the gold picture frame on the third shelf completes the triangle.

how to decorate a bookshelf

Triangle with Off-White Items

The off-white books on the top shelf tie in with the off-white picture frame on the middle shelf and the birdcage with a candle on the third shelf.

bookshelf styling

Decorating the Shelves in the Top Center

Lastly, I styled the top shelves of the entertainment center, which consists of 3 cubbies. I did not follow a triangle formula with these since they are sitting side by side. However, I kept the theme of blues, off-whites, gold, and greenery.

The right and left cubbies are balanced with two books each (pages facing forward) with small objects sitting on top of the books. Coincidentally I placed my Rae Dunn clock on the left and an hourglass on the right. It wasn’t planned, but I like it!

I balanced the center cubby by adding a mix of all colors and objects at the right height.

Things to Remember When Styling Bookshelves

I hope this post is helpful and that you can decorate your bookshelves with more confidence now. I understand is a lot to take in, especially if this is the first time you are styling or decorating bookshelves.

Here is a recap and a few things to remember so you don’t get overwhelmed throughout the process.

  1. Start with a blank canvas.
  2. Sort decorating items into groups.
  3. Decorate one bookshelf and one shelf at a time.
  4. Try to follow an order.
  5. Apply the triangle formula.
  6. Walk away and look at the shelves from a distance.
  7. Make adjustments as needed.

You can shop for home decor at discount stores such as Home Goods, Marshalls, or TJ Maxx. I like to invest in pieces that I know will last me a lifetime, like our bookcase. But, when it comes to knick-knacks and seasonal decor, I do not splurge.

My favorite online retailers for inexpensive home decor are Amazon, TJ Maxx (yes, you can shop online at, and Decor Steals, which is my go-to online store for farmhouse style and vintage decor. And of course, Target is always a good idea!