Lessons Learned in Styling a Bookcase

When we built this house, I always told my husband that the full wall in the living room should be built-ins. I had dreams of a place for all of my books and putting together displays.

And then, just over three years ago – my dream came true. We have beautiful built-in bookcase that I so love and appreciate. (I know, very dramatic ;)

But, the truth is, I found it really hard to pull them together.

This is actually my third try.

But this time, I put more thought into it and I am quite happy with the results.

To show the difference between where I was and where I am, here is a comparison.


I realize it wasn’t terrible before, and I actually really liked it when I first finished it.

Which, of course, leads me to believe I might really hate this version in a few months as well. But, one step at a time.

One of the main things that bothered me was that it was just too cluttered – something I am finding everywhere. I am liking a little less, not stark, but just a little less. It all became a little clearer to me when I worked on one shelf when I shared my interchangeable art.

Did you see that there are even some sections with just one thing? That is quite an accomplishment for me!

So, I thought I would share some things I figure out to make this work better.

To start with - I completely emptied the bookcase.

As in all things – Purge!

We didn’t have a place for our books for so long – they were just in boxes in the basement. When we had the bookcases, I believed I needed to pull them ALL in the bookcase. But the reality is that so many of those books were already read and not to be read again, no longer of interest to anyone or no longer relevant.

So, we purged.


A lot of books are being boxed (yes, they are still in a pile in the foyer, just out of view) and delivered to our town’s Resource Center (i.e. we don’t have a library or rights to a library – criminal, I realize).

Starting with less books, made it a whole lot easier.

There were a lot of books that we still wanted but were worn out, paper back, really small or just not overly pretty. That is where the double cabinet in the center comes in. That whole area is now empty of all the other junk (and there was a lot – and all of that is on my dining room table and on tomorrow’s to-do list) and now filled with easily accessible books.


Oh, and a lot of my decorating books have already made there way up to the office which just works better.

So, my first lesson – not every book needs to be in the bookcase!

You Can Move The Shelves!

Do you see all those holes in the sides of each section? Yeah, those are there so that you can move the shelves. Something that I never did.

Somehow, I was convinced they should just stay where they were.

Well, no more – I came up with a pattern of different heights while still keeping it symmetrical.


I also decided to remove one shelf from each section.. This gave me the ability to create some taller sections to use things like framed prints – which is one of my favorite parts.

Lesson number two – you don’t need to leave the bookcase shelves the way they were on the first day.

Not Every Section Needs to Be Filled

I have a tendency to put layers on layers in decorating. But as I said, it was all feeling like too much. This is not complicated – leave some sections with just one item – an item that can stand on its own.

Lesson Number 3 – it all works better if some sections are simpler.

Pick Some Similar Themes to Carry Through

This, to me, made all the difference.

I picked a few common elements, and carried it through.

Mine were white /cream - textured browns in wood, wicker and metal - vintage brass - and touches of blue.


Each of those elements were distributed throughout the bookcase so it all made more sense.

But then, so it didn’t look flat and didn’t contrast too much with the books – I added color splashes in the art and some of the accessories.


Lesson Number 4 – it all comes together if you have a few things that unify each section.

Only Use What You Love

What is left in this bookcase are all items I love.

But not every item I love. If it didn’t work – it was pulled out to shine somewhere else.

By doing this, I was left with only things that worked and reflected our family.

Favorite family photos, quirky accessories, books we love and beautiful items – all shine because there is LESS.


I still have my first love – vintage treasures – throughout.


But I am so in love with the addition of contemporary style art.


Lesson number five – you gotta love it and try new things.


My living room has always been my favorite space.

And now I love it a little more.


How about you?

Do you have any tips or tricks for styling a bookcase?

If you would like more inspiration, you can follow my Pinterest board for bookcase styling.

Thanks for reading and have a great day!


February 19, 2014 — Laura Putnam