After revealing our formal living room, I received a bunch of questions in regards to our built-ins… specifically- styling with lots of books. This time around I went heavy on the books because, after all- it is a bookcase and that’s what it’s used for (Emmett and I both really enjoy reading). However, when styling with bunches of books, you’ll likely encounter challenges. It’s not quite as straightforward as typical shelf styling (with objects). I’m sharing 10 tips to make your bookcases or built-ins look collected, curated, and intentional… as opposed to chaotic and non-cohesive. Click through for the post!
#1 // Source Books on a Budget
While I have a pretty large, existing collection of books, I still needed to buy more to fill this massive built-in. I always underestimate the amount of books I’ll need to fill shelves. It takes a LOT. My favorite place to buy books that fit our budget is the thrift store. 90% of my books cost under $4.
Thrifting books can be a bit time consuming, but you’ll end up saving lots of money. I look for a few different things when shopping for books- color, subject matter, and size. Try to find subject matter that is interesting to you, things you’d actually read or discussion points you’re passionate about… books you’d actually enjoy having in your home. I try not to buy just to buy. I also like to mix in a few more expensive books on topics I’m passionate about (mostly design).
#2 // Remove the Jackets
I’m not a fan of book jackets. They’re typically ugly, get in the way, and if they’re thrifted books- they kind of gross me out and can look pretty worn. Before I do any shelf styling, I remove and recycle all of the book jackets.
#3 // Stick to a Consistent Color Palette (Remove Anomalies)
When I’m shopping for books, I try to keep color in mind. That’s not to say I stick to 3-4 colors… I buy a bunch of different colors, but am careful to avoid any extreme anomalies (neon pink, bright green, sunshine yellow, etc). Anything that will drastically stand out from the rest of my collection, I leave behind. That’s not to say I don’t own some bright books- I just keep those organized in a drawer or cabinet, out of sight. Sticking to a unified palette will make your built-ins feel more curated and will make shelf styling easier. In my case, I have a lot of black, green, blue, gray, mustard, burgundy, brown, beige, etc. It’s a vast color palette, but I’m intentional in leaving out extremely saturated hues.
Once you start styling, be sure to mix a variety of colors throughout. For example, I wouldn’t group all of my blue books on one side of the built-in. Try to scatter blue books throughout… that way there isn’t a strong concentrated color field in one area. You’ll want the built-in or bookcase to read as a single unit, in terms of color.
#4 // Get Creative with Stacking
Rather than styling your shelves with standard, straight lines of books, don’t be afraid to stack them. In an effort to fit more books onto my tall shelves, I stacked books in a few different ways… even on top of other books. I also think this makes your shelving look more interesting and textural. Stack them vertically, horizontally, in a tapered pile, or on top of another stack… just play around with it until it feels balanced.
#5 // Group by Scale and Book Height
Another way I make shelf styling easier, is by sorting the books by scale and height. Books come in a few different standard sizes. I sort them into three different piles: small, medium, and large. In the above image, you’ll see the taller books to the left, and the shorter books on the righthand side. By grouping books together by height, it makes stacking objects or more books on top of a row much easier. It also looks neat and tidy!
#6 // Use Bookends
Bookends are a great way to keep your books in place after styling them. Toppled books aren’t a good look (they feel messy and chaotic), so using bookends or heavy objects to keep them upright is a must.
#7 // Fill Negative Space with Art
Given I was going for a “full” look for our living room built-in, negative space was not my friend. After running out of books, I relied on small works of art to fill awkward holes and negative space.
#8 // Keep Your Favorite Titles Accessible
Since Emmett and I read (these books aren’t just for decor)… I also had to keep function in mind. All of our shelves are fairly accessible, but if you have a super tall bookcase, be sure to keep reaching height in mind. For easy access, I kept our favorite titles or books we refer to often, at an easy reaching level.
#9 // Mix in Unique Objects & Artifacts
To make your shelves feel even more curated and interesting, I recommend mixing in unique objects and artifacts. Emmett and I like to collect objects from our travels, vintage pieces, and other treasures that are special to us. Displaying them in the built-in is a great way to share our collection and look at the objects that make us smile on a daily basis. I mixed in things like pottery, art, artifacts, sculptures, vases, etc.
#10 // Flip the Spine for Texture and Better Color Balance
Last, but certainly not least, I’ll flip some of the spines inward toward the back of the shelf, in an effort to balance color and texture. I have a lot of books with black & blue spines and my shelves were feeling pretty dark and ominous. It just took flipping a few to lighten up the entire built-in. I try to be selective with this and flip books that we have already read or won’t refer to again (for convenience). This is actually a controversial styling move, but it’s one that I like… and it works for our household.
There you have it… 10 of my top shelf styling tips that I hope are helpful if you’re also planning to go “heavy on the books”. It’s a look I really like, think is functional, and makes the most of beautiful built-ins. If you’re interested in making your own built-ins, check out this DIY we shared a couple years ago. This is the same process we used to construct the bookcase in our formal living room. If you’re curious how I installed grasscloth wallpaper on the back of the shelves, this is the DIY post you’ll want to read.
As always, I love hearing your thoughts in the comment section below! Please let me know if you have any questions or other tips I should add.