The Art of Well-Styled Bookshelves


We here at CBD love to see bookcases and well-made built-in’s in a home. They are a great way to add warmth and character to any space through objects, art, books, and memorabilia – not to mention the added storage! They give any guest a glimpse into the passions and interests of the homeowner – where they have traveled, what they collect, and what they enjoy reading.

Bookshelves are a huge focal point in a room, and if items are placed in an uncurated way, they can quickly look like a random, cluttered mess. When I design a beautiful, well put together room, you can bet that we will be styling the bookcases to go right along with it. It is a large part of that last step of layering and editing that is oh-so-important. I understand that this can seem daunting for many, so see below for some tried and true tips that we use to quickly and easily create a balanced, functional, and aesthetically pleasing display.

– Don’t neglect the back of the bookcase. Dress it up with paint or wallpaper as a fabulous
backdrop for your possessions. Always our first step.

– Gather anything you think you can use in one place to pull from: various sized objects, a
mix of books (we prefer gobs of coffee table and best seller size), candles, plants,
artwork, boxes, sculpture, etc. Also, it helps to start with empty shelves.
– Place larger items first that take up the most space, and spread them out over all of the
– Stack books in various ways: left to right and right to left, alternating shelves, and stacks
of books for placing objects on.
– Fill in with smaller objects like ceramics, frames, candles, sculpture, pieces from nature,
etc. Think in odd numbers. For whatever reason, objects tend to look better when
gathered in groups of 3 or 5.
– Allow for open space. This helps the shelves not look too cluttered, and don’t be afraid to
place a single large piece alone on a shelf.
– A few picture frames here and there are fine, but don’t over do it. (We see this ALL THE
– Make sure there are varying heights and textures on each shelf, and spread out similar
materials (for example gold or porcelain) over all of the shelves.
– Use a small amount of real or faux greenery to bring things to life (Faux is okay if it is
good quality succulents or small ferns) Preserved boxwood is a good option as well.
– Not everything has to go on the shelves! Hang art, mirrors, or photography on the face of
the bookcase for an added layer of interest.

– Take a step back. Constantly take in the overall space as you place objects until the big
picture works for you, not just each shelf individually.

Styling a bookcase is an art and takes practice and lots of trial and error. It is one of my favorite
parts of designing a room because of the huge impact a well curated bookcase can make.  Hopefully following some of this advice will help it become something you love doing as well!

Happy designing!

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Caroline Brackett
Caroline Brackett is founder and principal at Caroline Brackett Studio of Design, a full-service interior design studio based in Greenville SC. A graduate of UGA School of Interior Design in 2001, Caroline has been in the industry for 16+ years, recently relocating from Charlotte, NC. With a fresh and sophisticated approach to design, Caroline is known for creating unique and comfortable spaces for her clients near and far. Learn more at​

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