How To

Styling a Bookcase or Shelf – Complete Guide

Styling a Bookcase or Shelf – Complete Guide

When styled to perfection, a bookcase can be a stunning centrepiece in your home office, living room, dining room or bedroom. Instead of cluttering it full of your fave novels – although we do love a voracious reader – mix your top tomes with other decor items, including paintings, plants, sentimental items, baskets and boxes to create a bookshelf that showcases your personality.

Once you’ve picked a beautiful bookcase to adorn your home, it’s time to style. Curate the perfect ‘shelfie’ with these shelf decorating ideas provided by our knowledgeable Brosa stylists.

1. Pick your palette

Any home interiors project should start with establishing a colour palette. What’s already in the room in the way of furniture and decor will definitely play a role, especially when you’re choosing the colour and material of the bookcase itself – an entirely light, bright room in Scandi shades won’t pair well with a black bookcase, for instance.

However, when you’ve got that out of the way, the realm of possibility opens a little wider. Bookcase styling presents a unique opportunity to have fun and add flair with colourful items, so if this piques your interest, we recommend laying down some basic shades that tie in with the room, and then pushing the envelope a little further with colourful accents. Alternatively, you might prefer to select one colour against an otherwise neutral palette, or really play it up with those earthy, natural tones.


2. Place your biggest items first

When it comes time to start your bookcase styling project, the first items you should place on your shelves are the biggest ones. It can be easy to veer off-road and start wildly adorning with tiny trinkets, but this will only cause you pain later on. Place items like baskets, pot plants, vases, artwork and oversized coffee table books first, and then move onto the fiddlier bits!

Draw the eye with your styling - in this case, placing larger blocks of coffee table books throughout the lowline shelves instead of clustering them together creates a beautiful balance.
Draw the eye with your styling - in this case, placing larger blocks of coffee table books throughout the lowline shelves instead of clustering them together creates a beautiful balance.
Draw the eye with your styling - in this case, placing larger blocks of coffee table books throughout the lowline shelves instead of clustering them together creates a beautiful balance.
Draw the eye with your styling - in this case, placing larger blocks of coffee table books throughout the lowline shelves instead of clustering them together creates a beautiful balance.

3. Style according to shape and size

Something we urge you to consider when exploring bookcase ideas and layouts is the shape and size that you’re working with. The process of styling a small bookcase is completely different to a large one, just like a narrow bookcase presents unique challenges that vary from a wide bookcase. If you’ve got tonnes of usable shelf space, you’ll be able to go all-out, but otherwise, this needs to be a careful curation that really takes into account the dimensions you have available to you.

If you are working with a lowline bookcase, you’ll want to bring the eye down so others can revel in your beautiful styling. So, place larger items throughout the shelves instead of clustering them together. Be sure to use the free space on top of your low bookcase to display items as well, as this will tie everything in and create a very cohesive feel. Meanwhile, a narrow bookcase will benefit from smaller items and books stacked vertically rather than horizontally, as not to overwhelm a slender frame. Unique shapes will also have their own nuances – for example, try to style from the outside-in when decorating a funky corner bookcase.

4. Include storage

Depending on which room your lovely bookcase will live in, storage might be a crucial component of your styling efforts. Boxes and baskets make excellent shelf decor, as they’re functional and come in a number of chic designs to suit a variety of styles. If you love a coastal look, grab a rattan or wicker basket to pile items in. On the other hand, if you’re all about uniqueness and a mid century vibe, a velvet basket might be more your speed. One way or another, storage will be handy, and if it looks good, can elevate your bookcase to the next level.


5. Stack up your books

A non-negotiable on any bookshelf is – yep, you guessed it – the books themselves. While many of us love to display every novel we’ve read in all of their glory, if you are trying to create an eye-catching shelf, there’ll need to be a bit of balance between books and other bookcase decor items.

Considering the size and height of your bookshelf, select the books you’d like to show off the most, and place them centrally at eye level. Mix up the way you organise them to add depth and dimension, varying between horizontal stacks and the vertical ‘lean’, which can also be spruced up with a gorgeous pair of bookends. If you do have tonnes of books that you’ll struggle to house elsewhere, organise these on the very bottom and top shelves and leave the centre rows free for styling.

Include lots of diversity in the items you choose for your styling.
Include lots of diversity in the items you choose for your styling.
Include lots of diversity in the items you choose for your styling.
Include lots of diversity in the items you choose for your styling.

6. Play with size and height

With your bigger items and books in place, you’re getting down to the really creative part of the styling process. Try to vary the size and height of the decor items you’re choosing to create a layered look that will ensure your bookshelf is eye-catching and interesting. Pair tall taper candles with a squat succulent in a pot, or stack a few small items atop a pile of books. By including lots of diversity in the items you choose, the end result will be full of fun and a dream to look at that ties the whole room together perfectly.

7. Include natural elements

Something that’s always welcome in any room is… drumroll, please… plants! Our leafy green friends never cease to warm up and reinvigorate tired decor, adding a pop of colour and life that can be tailored to your style with very little effort. Natural elements like plants, as well as flowers, reeds, pampas grass, dried flowers and more, can bring the outside in and draw on nature to break down the clean lines of a room, especially a home office or formal dining room. Simply pick out your favourite pots or vases (a great opportunity to add colour and flair) and pair with a plant or bunch of flowers to complete the look. Don’t forget to keep a watering can nearby!


8. Use glass, metal, marble and more

We’ve established that bookcase styling is all about variation, which is why one of our go-to shelf ideas is to play up textural differences. Texture is an underrated design element that can really go so far – even a completely monochromatic room can look interesting and unique if it combines a range of textures and materials. On your bookshelf, add small items in an array of materials that include (but are certainly not limited to) glass, metals like bronze or gold, marble, terrazzo, cane, fabric, and stone. Certain materials have an affinity with specific styles, too – such as coastal and rattan, Hamptons and whitewashed wood, and modern contemporary and marble – so be sure to use texture to hammer your aesthetic of choice home.

Make your bookshelf style unique by using art.
Make your bookshelf style unique by using art.
Make your bookshelf style unique by using art.
Make your bookshelf style unique by using art.

9. Add some artwork

If you’ve got the space – and perhaps even if you don’t – art is a superior way to establish your personality and show off the things you love as part of your bookcase styling. Art is so varied and so unique, which means that it’s quite unlikely your bookshelf will look like any other if you incorporate this element (what a win!). For those of us working with a big bookcase, rest your art piece/s of choice on a shelf and simply let them do the talking. If your shelves are smaller and more restrictive, you might prefer to use a few little pieces in small (4x6” or 5x7”) frames. You’ve also got the option of stacking them atop your bookcase if you are working with a lower design. This is a great opportunity to go all out and really emphasise the colours, shapes and designs you love.

10. Narrow down your decor

The final piece of the puzzle is to add in those sentimental items, keeping in mind that less is more. Take a step back and assess everything that has already come to life on your bookcase. Is there anything that looks or feels out of place, odd or overwhelming? Consider rehoming these – because even when it comes to a full, lively bookshelf, less is more. Then, when you’re in a good place, finish up with those smaller trinkets and tchotkes, taking note to use things that speak to you or have sentimental value. The scope here is pretty wide, but holiday souvenirs, ceramics, statuettes, clocks, photo frames and other personal items come to mind as a good start.


All in all, styling a bookshelf is a fun process, and should really underpin both your personal style and the aesthetic you’ve already established in the room. The result? A functional and gorgeous shelf that serves as a focal point in your space, and can be curated over time as tastes change. Ready to take these tips and run with them? Shop Brosa’s range of beautiful bookcases, shelves and bookshelf decor now.


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