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!


About Finding Home

Welcome to Finding Home Farms where we share our favorite DIY and decorating ideas and inspiration. We believe your home should be a reflection of you and your family. Our blog is the story of our journey - and what we find along the way. Thanks for joining us!

Leave Us A Comment

48 thoughts on “Lessons Learned in Styling a Bookcase”


  1. I love it! We don’t have book shelves except a small one in the office that really does hold all books. I would LOVE to have a place to display and view family mometos and found treasures. I totally love horizontal surfaces. I doubt I would be as disciplined as you are by editing carefully. 🙂 looks soooo amazing.

  2. Oh it looks simply beautiful. I like the way some of the shelves are on an even line and some are not. The bottom ones add a kind of uniformity but the top are uneven but it isn’t haphazard. I’d be ashamed to show you our bookshelves 🙁 All of my friends are lined up on them, and you are right , I should try moving them. What I really need is another book shelf. I really like what you’ve done.

  3. Your bookcases look GREAT! I too have been a “layer upon layer” kind of decorator until the past few months. I too am finding that I like the look of less. As for my bookcases in my family room, I was never happy with them…so I took them out! I could never find the right look for them! Maybe I’ll give them another try…Thanks for the lessons! Life to the full! Melissa

  4. They look great both ways but I do love the new look! I recently styled my new office bookcases and I find that I am constantly tweaking. It’s fun though, isn’t it? I love having all my “treasures” out where I can see them now. Great tips by the way! I think I struggle most with not filling every single space!

  5. I love the last bookcase, I love how the shelves are different hieghts it books, makes the eye look at all the different books and objects, its beautiful,and well thought out good job.

  6. Thank you for the thought to NOT put all the books in my bookcase! I keep looking at my bookcase thinking that
    it was too full of books but thinking well it is a bookcase. Will purge today! Love all your posts. Thank you for sharing.

  7. I adore your style! The soft colors combined with plenty of places for the eye to “rest” is fantastic. After first seeing your bookcases I told my husband that I wanted to enclose the dining room (open to the living room) so that I had a wall big enough to do the same. Sadly, he informed me I’ll have to use the walls we have……… 😉

  8. I have always loved the way you styled your bookcase and I love it even more now! Great job!
    We have two walls of floor to ceiling built-ins in my husband’s study and they make me absolutely crazy! One wall is plenty to style but two without the advantage of much covered cabinet space makes me dizzy. He works from home so he’s constantly piling things on some of them, so instead of re-styling and adjusting I just close the door to the study so I don’t have to look at them – ha! After seeing your beautiful shelves, I’m getting the itch to go in there and spiff them up — maybe when he’s out of town, though so he won’t move or pile anything on them for a day or two. 🙂

  9. I love how you put all the decor together. The after is much better than the before! I agree, books get read but for the most part they don’t get read again so why keep them unless they’re needed for reference. We have a rule in the house…we only check books out from the library! I know it’s nuts, but I got so tired of selling books for a fraction of what they cost. We have to keep things moving in our little house or we would become bombarded with books or what have you!

  10. I have zero tips or tricks. I find this part of decorating so hard. I’m continuing to purge (I’ll just have to sneak some of the books out when my hubby isn’t looking!) and continuing to shop my attic! Great post, Laura!

  11. I just love your bookcases, and in fact had saved the picture of them and have been using them as my inspiration for built-ins in my living room! Right now we have the estimates and just have to pick which one will build them!
    I loved the way they were before and I love them after!

  12. Beautiful!! I’m still in the “dreaming of built-ins” stage, but your tips are going to make it much, much easier when it becomes a reality! Thanks so much for sharing! Have a wonderful weekend!

  13. You did a great job! I recognize a tray that I almost bought from Target today. I have an enormous full wall bookcase in my living room. I painted it and restyled it once. This post is inspiring me to take another shot at it. You can see it on my twitter background…. The shelves are all very slim, it’s so annoying. Plus we have a ton of books.

  14. oh I am so happy with your room…trying not to be envious! Love the whole wall!
    My style is trying to hold back too! I am learning! I love to have a lamp on shelves and also hang art even on the seams of shelving out of the case!
    But you have outdone yourself! what a beautiful room!

  15. I love how it turned out. I love styling book cases and hutches….and yes my favorite secret to use is removing and moving shelf heights!
    Hello from Im lovin it!
    leelee @ paperbagstyling.blogspot.com

  16. What a great and easy to follow tutorial! Book cases are my favourite, but SO much harder than one thinks to actually style 🙂

    Can I ask where you got that wood paneled tray (in the column second from the left, two selves down? I just love it!


  17. If you ask me (which you didn’t) all of those knick knacks and dust collectors are a waste of some perfectly good amazing bookshelves.

  18. Great tips!! I think the staggered shelf sizes makes the biggest difference. It’s more visually pleasing to the eye!! 🙂 I have bookshelves on either side of my fireplace/tv so I am always looking for examples of how to style them. Thanks for sharing your tips!! 🙂

  19. Personally, I love the before pic much more! I’m a big fan of using bookshelves for actual books. Especially when you have so many.

  20. Good, helpful principals. The note to tie things together with a color/subject theme was particularly helpful. That’s a rule for making a good painting, too. When you add a color to a painting, you want to put it in at least one other place in the painting. Our brains will automatically search for something new (color, shape, etc) to appear elsewhere in the view.

    Good post!

  21. Totally love the new look but just haven’t got it in me to purge so many books … but you have got me thinking that if I purge all sorts of other stuff in storage I could store books and rotate.

  22. Thank you for this! I am staging our house for a (god willing) quick sale and have always struggled with my built-ins. And…the funny thing is they are part of what I fell in love when we bought this place 10 years ago!! Am about to take your pictures as inspiration as I tackle them one last time. Thankfully, our new home has them too!!!

  23. These bookcases are lovely, however I find your post only helpful in decorating and displaying non book items. I have loads of books and to actually store them all as pictured here would mean not to really have books on my shelf. I agree that the your redo is more attractive….but where did you put the books?

  24. Holy cow! Your bookshelves are gorgeous and I really love your tips. I’ve gotten rid of so many books this year, but I could purge way more. I really like your tip to not put ALL the books in the shelves. Pinning this and following you there! Stopping by from The Scoop.

    1. By the way, I saw your new book in our library a couple weeks ago. How cool is that? Who would have thought I would actually stumble onto your blog. The book is great!

  25. As lovely as your bookcase looks now, I think I would like it even more if there were more books on it. I do like the layered look your have achieved and all the family mementos but, books speak volumes about their owners…pardon the pun.

  26. Very helpful ideas. I can’t wait to start styling. I think the theme needs to carry as well. Great photo’s, your living room is beautiful.

  27. Interesting but you did not style a BOOKCASE you styled some shelves, the books have mostly disappeared. Nice, but NOT books. As someone with a library of over 2000 first editions, books come first. What you have done is pretty but of no use to me. Just saying.

  28. Just stumbled onto this post via Pinterest. Love your bookshelves, but what really caught my eye was the brown chair in front of them. I am building a new home and am in need of new chairs..the exact style you have. Could you share the company name of them?

  29. I’m glad you enjoy the changes you made in your space. As we each have different tastes, I hope you won’t be offended if I say I liked the before better. First, I like bookcases that are predominately books. Second, I think the stacks of books “read” to the eye like one object, so you’re before version looked less cluttered. That being said, if I was there in person, I would be spending a long time looking at all your beautiful and intriguing items.

  30. You turned bookshelves into display shelves. What did you do with the books? I would have thought they were they were the whole point.

  31. I don’t care for the ‘After’. It looks staged and lacks cohesiveness. When you glance at it notice how your eyes go all over the place. There is no resting place. Clutter central.