How To
Style A Bookshelf
A few simple steps toward a well-appointed bookshelf or mantletop.

A well-styled bookshelf is equal parts decorative and functional. While it’s the perfect place for extra storage, it’s also a great way to prominently display your most cherished possessions, and to create an eye-catching centerpiece for any room. Check out our seven suggestions for creating an interesting, well-balanced and multi-functional bookshelf display.

 Art Books & Media

Vertical Rows of Books

The first step in styling a bookshelf requires – you guessed it – books. For displaying vertically-oriented rows of books, first sort them into groupings based on height. If you don’t have enough books to fill the shelf from end-to-end, flank at least one side with a bookend (or something weighty enough to properly function as one). In this case, we used a solid concrete sculpture, and simply leaned the last book to keep them all upright.

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 Decorative Objects

Horizontal Stacks

For visual variety, alternate your book displays between vertical rows and horizontal stacks. The latter works especially well for larger, coffee table literature, like art books. A stack should usually require only 3-4 books, arranged by size from largest to smallest on top. Look for ones with thick spines and bold typography, and consider topping the stack with a small, decorative object (or two). We used a pair of complementary ceramic sculptures, but small planters or memorabilia work equally well.

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 Table Lamps


The bookshelf is actually a great place to display your favorite table lamps. A light fixture or two will illuminate your shelves in the evening, while adding another sculptural element to help balance the display. We chose an orb shaped lamp with a built-in dimmer – an eye-catching piece at all hours, and a source for subtle mood lighting once the sun sets.

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 Modular Stick Shelving System, $400-$2400
 Vessels & Vases

Vessels & Vases

A great way to break up the monotony of repeated rows of books is by assembling a varied collection of vessels and vases. A bookshelf is the perfect place to keep these prized possessions out of harm’s way, while offering new shapes and textures to the display. Select a few vessels of varied heights with the tallest placed toward the center. Feel free to mix-and-match across colors and mediums, or simply stick to a group that belong to the same collection.

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 Wall Art

Art & Photos

If you’re still unsure what to do with some of your smaller works of art, or old photos of family and friends, consider carving out a spot for them on your shelf. Pair a couple of framed works of varied sizes, arranging them with a slight overlap. We’ve styled the artworks alongside a brass pencil cup, but this could also be a perfect spot for a candle or a catch-all tray.

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 Home Audio


If the room isn’t fully-equipped with surround sound, you might be struggling with a good place to put your speaker. Often central in a room, the bookshelf could be the perfect spot to optimize its reach. Just be sure you have a speaker worthy of displaying, like this beauty by Vifa that has no problem standing on its own.

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 Smoked Oak Magazine Holder, $59


The bottom row of shelves will get the least number of looks, so we recommend using them for extra storage. We’ve piled on a bunch of old magazines, contained within a sleek set of oak holders. It’s also a good place to store extra blankets and throws, so long as you commit to regularly refolding them. If you’re less inclined to keep things tidy, spring for a set of lidded storage boxes to keep the clutter out of sight.

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 Modular Stick Shelving System, $400-$2400
  • DeaconMac

    This isn’t a bookshelf. It’s a display rack for doodads and stuff.

    First rule of bookshelving: Focus on the books! NEVER put things on top of books — that only makes it harder to pick up the book and read it. NEVER lean a book — that will, in time, warp the binding.

    If you have only 9 books (as shown on this shelf), you don’t need a bookshelf in the first place. You need a richer life, with LOTS more books, full of the wonder and wisdom books can offer. (You do get points for including a Frida Kahlo tome in your skimpy little collection though.)

  • Marc

    Ha ha ha thank you DeaconMac, I love the shelf but yes, books are an essential part of a book shelf. Though anyone with this cute little shelf is likely on instagram more than reading books.

    • Raph

      Agree!! This shelf belongs to a “poser”, no substance. I would need half a dozen of these shelves for my books!
      I do like the lamp!

  • Craig Freeman

    Excellent advice here! Though I really don’t think throw blankets go on a shelf. Nonetheless, I will definitely incorporate these tips.

  • Ethan Brooks

    I love this article! I know some people are disappointed by the fact that there aren’t more books on this shelf, but I think they’re missing the point. This shelf is about showing high-level concepts that can be applied to shelves of any sort. Mixing vertical and horizontal lines, breaking up the monotony with sculpture or lighting; These are ideas that anyone can use to make their place look better. Thanks for writing this. Looking forward to more.

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