Let’s face it: books — at least in the paper form — could soon go the way of the typewriter and rotary phone.

You know it, I know it, visitors to your home know it.

But you probably still have a ton of paper volumes filling your bookshelves, collecting dust while their pages go unturned.

Maybe you like the visual reminder of what you’ve read. Or perhaps you like to display the books to show off your interests.

Either way, it wouldn’t hurt to clean house.

An endless pile of books simply looks cluttered, and leaves your shelves begging for a decorative touch.

You don’t have to purge all of your books but I’d suggest being more selective, deciding which are worth keeping on display. If you can’t bear to part with the rest of them, maybe find a more discreet place to put them.

Once you do this, you will find you suddenly have a whole lot of shelf space to work with.

Create Visual Appeal

Time to add some of your favorite display pieces. Keep in mind that you want to give the eye a break by introducing a variety of objects, colors and shapes.

This is, of course, one of those “easier said than done” design projects. Most people find the prospect of filling five or six empty shelves with “stuff” a little overwhelming!

For that reason, I thought it might be helpful to share some of the tricks I use when decorating shelves for my clients. Feel free to borrow some or all of these ideas. And remember, you can always give me a call for more ideas or to handle the project for you!

  • Use books creatively: Books can still be your friend, but you’ll want to be choosy in how you display them. You’ll only want four or five titles in any given spot. Group them by topic, or by color. Consider ways to make them visually appealing — stack some vertically and others on their side, and maybe use a sculpture or candle as a creative bookend.

Play with height and depth:

One of the tricks to an uncluttered look is giving the eye places to travel. For example, you don’t want all of your accessories to be of the same height. If you have a tall pillar candle on one shelf, consider placing a shorter bowl or picture frame next to it, then using a taller sculpture at the opposite end of the shelf.

If your shelves are adjustable, consider playing with the distance between the shelves. There’s no rule that says they all have to be the same height! Use some of your stacks of books as platforms for your smaller accessories. Then create depth by resting some items against the back of the bookshelf and setting others closer to the front edge. Using different sized objects will do some of this work for you.


  • Pick a theme: Scan the rest of the room and decide what your “look” is. Pick a complementary theme for your bookshelf. For example, if you have a living room with vintage touches you may want to consider some worn thrift store finds or tattered books bound together with twine. Does your great room have a coastal vibe? Consider a large conch shell or anchor. You’ll find that it is easier to come up with ideas for objects once you have a theme in mind.



  • Follow the vignette rule: A rule of thumb with any vignette is to group items in odd numbers — three items here, five items there, etc. When using this trick for a bookshelf, repeat your numbered groupings a couple times over. This repetition will give your shelves harmony, even though you have a variety of items on display.



  • Be stern with yourself: DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT use your bookshelves as a dumping ground for each and every little tchotchke you own. If you tend to be a collector of “things,” and you want to make sure they all have a chance to be seen, consider rotating your shelves with new items every season. But if you try to display everything at once, without giving careful consideration to what actually works visually, you’ll end up with a real eyesore. My rule of thumb is to add the items you want to display, then remove one or two of them once you are “done.” This self-editing will keep your shelves looking sharp.

Still nervous about your ability to find bookshelf bliss? Here are some websites that have additional ideas worth trying: