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6 Ways to Style a Bookshelf for the Perfect Shelfie

Are you envious of all the beautifully styled bookshelves you see on Instagram and Pinterest? This year I restyled my own bookshelves in my family room so I thought I would walk you through the process. Here are 6 ways to style a bookshelf for the perfect shelfie. 

Thank you so much for everyone who entered my 12th Blogiversary giveaway of a set of my large painted colour boards. I so appreciate reading the comments you posted along with your entries! I’m feeling very grateful for each and every one of you! 

The winner is: 

Gale Abello

colour board winner 2020

6 Ways to Style a Bookshelf

When I first moved into this house, I styled the family room bookshelf in a very simple way – just books and magazines stacked neatly, alternating with white and yellow magazines. And I kept it like this for years. 

This is because you can see the right side of this bookshelf from the garage entrance of the house (which is the laundry room) and straight through the kitchen. I thought it might look too busy if it was over-styled.

Read more: The Easiest Way to Style a Mantel

But this past January, when I took down the Christmas decor, I decided it was time to change up my bookshelves.

And here’s the after:

bookshelf style books and decor

1. Layer in books or magazines to use as a pedestal for your decor objects

As a good starting point, neatly stacked magazines and books is an easy way to fill your bookshelf as well. If you don’t have the right tchotchkes or decor lined up, you could leave it like this and add in little decor when you find it. 

Stacks of magazines and books add height (and even colour) to your decor objects. Plus they are super easy and flexible to work with.

how to style books on shelf

And, if you already have a bookshelf filled with “stuff” the best way to make it look less like knick knacks and more like accessories is to fill in with books and magazines just like this:

Eames Chair Bookshelf Styling

2. Add bookends or even a pair of brass Aladdin lamps (like I did on the second shelf)

Bookends help divide and organize your books into sections, especially if you have varying sizes of books. But you don’t have to purchase actual bookends. Smaller decor like these Aladdin lamps works too.

brass aladdin lamp bookshelf

3. Accessorize! Buy similar objects in groups of three

I have curated so many vases and accessories over the years. So, when I restyled my bookshelf they all got to come out of storage. If you have decorative boxes and pretty bowls around your house, this is where you should add them.

4. Organize your books by colour

See how I grouped and coordinated my books and magazines by colour? Lucky for me I have a gazillion coffee table books. And, ever since I became obsessed with colour, I buy every book about colour when I see it. I also love using books for my vignettes and you can often find beautiful coffee table books at thrift shops or on clearance at Homesense.

Organizing your books by colour instantly amplifies your bookshelf style and looks like a designer has been there.

5. Change the colour of your books by covering them with white paper or even wallpaper!

I once styled a bookshelf for two dentists with their textbooks that were bright red and blue. Since those colours did not fit into their colour scheme, I simply turned them around! If you don’t have a bunch of coffee table books like I do, just grab any of your paperbacks or hardcover books around the house and cover them with pretty paper. 

6. Add in your board games and puzzles

Since this is the family room, I also added the games we often play and mixed them in with the books based on colour. I think it also adds a playful vibe to your bookshelf.


Here’s the other side of my family room styled with a few fabric and mercury pumpkins for fall. Notice how I am using a few books over here as well to create pedestals for my decor objects. And, of course, my family room is filled with lamps

As soon as I get home from the island, I will be transforming the house into Christmas! Who is decorating the house for Christmas earlier than ever this year?

There’s never been a better time to bring the spirit of Christmas to our homes early!

Related posts:

10 Best Designer Secrets From the Experts

10 Styling Necessities to Transform your Home ASAP

How Important is Pretty?

625 pins


  • A-L says:

    The shelves look beautiful, but it feels like this is a “shelfie” whereby the shelves are arranged for pictures rather than for living. I either organize my books by topic (nonfiction) or by author (fiction), and I wouldn’t have the foggiest idea what color the spine would happen to be if I tried to organize my books by color. And in my house, bookshelf space is at a premium; too many books to leave so much empty space!

    But I appreciate the pictures and may try to incorporate what I can. But any recommendations for bookaholics, or those who have other things on their shelves (like electronics), or storage for keys, etc. are certainly welcome!

  • Mary says:

    I totally agree with A-L. When I enter a house that has books arranged by color, I know the owner is not a reader.

  • Scoti Domeij says:

    As a writer and book lover, I arranged one section of my library shelves by color. However, since it’s not by topic, the books are harder to find when I need a resource for researching or writing. However, I built book shelves near the ceiling in all my bedrooms, the family room, and kitchen. This post inspired me to redo the shelves in my bedrooms, family room, and kitchen.

  • June says:

    I like the changes in your shelves. The colors are bright and upbeat. My bedroom looks more like a LIBRARY! The room was meant to be a family room, but we use it as a large bedroom. The long wall is 20 feet long (with door to bathroom in the middle) I, too, arrange my bookshelf by topic or I wouldn’t be able to put my fingers on a specific book! I did “unify” it (to my mind anyway) by repeating one color in accessories and especially by painting the BACK WALL of the white shelves Behr’s “Starless night,” a very dark NAVY. The bookshelves have lights (my husband is an electrician!) and I love the result.

  • denise says:

    Hi Maria
    Great post.
    2 things I learned in Design school many years ago:
    – Paint the interior walls of the bookshelves either the wall colour or an accent color, different than the mouldings
    – When placing the books, starting from the top, place a stack of books Vertically on one side and a stack of horizontal. on the other side. On the next shelf, reverse horizontal and vertical, until the bottom.. Add interest by placing books in the center of some of the shelves horizontally. Add accessories as you said. This can be very pleasing yet subtle to the eyes…

    • Julie says:

      Hi Maria: first, I want to say thank you for a fun opportunity to win some color boards. I read almost every one of those comments and it was really wonderful to hear from this community, many who have been with you for a long time. A big shout out and hooray to Gale Abello for the win! Ms. Gale, we are going to have to see how you use your boards, hint hint, wink wink😊. Oh Maria, maybe you could do a post with reader submissions on how they have used your products. Inquiring minds want to know, lol. Love the filled out and freshened bookcases. Great ideas with the groupings of three. So very pretty and stylish. Most of my books are now on Kindle, but I do have a few coffee table books and some special books I won’t part with (the Harry Potter set that I spent years reading to my son or us reading together). I love my big bookcase that holds special momentos, shells from Outer Banks, pottery from living in Europe and Family photos. I squeeze a few pretty and special books in there somehow. The library and school was happy to have my books as I downsized. Have a great day!

  • Nancy Markon says:

    Your room has waked up with the addition of blue on both shelves and accent pillows. Absolutely love the update. There’s a wonderful flow and energy coming from the intermingled books, art, and accessories. While I agree that organizing books by color doesn’t work for everyone (myself included), it looks amazing and apparently works for you. And that’s what matters!

    Please consider adding height to the right of the grouping over the mantle — maybe a bit of color on the lampshade for contrast with the background or something tall, dark, and linear to the left of the lamp. You have many lovely and interesting things on hand to choose from, so I’m sure you’ll find exactly what’s needed if you decide to go for this little tweak.

    Can’t wait to see the Christmas makeover. Happy island hopping and happy holidays, too!

  • jenny says:


    I LOVE the artwork with the flowers in a vase above your console table in the last image on this post. Do you know if this is still available? Thanks so much! Jenny

  • Christine Kwasny says:

    Your shelves look lovely, but why not remove them and add art or something more meaningful on either side of the fireplace. This would be pretty cheap and easy, no? If you don’t have books or other meaningful collections, this seems like just a bunch of “stuff” filling space.

  • Jennifer Shoemaker says:

    Could you do a post on bookshelves for readers? Your shelves look beautiful but I’d go crazy trying to find the book I want.

    • Janet R says:

      How I do it: By author, in the order they should be read,where you can get them to fit the best. Not that pretty, but functional as can be. Personally, I really like the look of full book shelves. I do sometimes stack vertically if that makes it so I can squeeze in a few more. As much as I can be obsessive about color and enjoying putting things in rainbow order (m &ms, colored pencils and markers, etc.) never with books, I’d never be able to find anything!

  • Maria Killam says:

    Hi Everyone,
    Many comments suggest that I buy books strictly for colour. That is true when I’m styling a coffee table for a client for example, but I’m a designer and a colour expert. That is why I own many colourful books because as I said when I wrote this post, if I see a book about colour that I don’t already have, I buy it.
    Saying that someone who has their books organized by colour doesn’t read would be the same as suggesting that someone who has their closet organized by colour, doesn’t wear those clothes?
    Hope that clears things up here!

    • Norma Fournier says:

      Hilariously true Maria! My closet is arranged by color and I absolutely wear clothes!! 😂😂

    • Jeannine520 says:

      That’s very true Maria. When I see crammed bookshelves I don’t right away think the person is a “reader”, I think they’re a hoarder of books they’ll most likely not ever open again. I used to save books, too until I read a tip to put an index card inside the front cover of each book. Every time you refer to it or reread it, put the date in there. I bet most people will be surprised how few they actually need to keep around. I made a list of the books I was discarding so in the chance I needed to read it again I could easily know which one to buy. It felt great to get rid of those looming cases of books and keep only those that I knew were useful.

      • Liz in Oregon says:

        You make a good point. My father hoarded books and even kept books he had checked out of a college library as I discovered after he died. I returned them and they didn’t fine me! 🙂 I’m sure he read them once and that was it. But he truly was a voracious reader and his bookshelves reflected that.

        I love books, but I have weeded them out over the years to include only ones that I refer to or that are meaningful to me in some way. Being surrounded by crowded bookcases would make me feel claustrophobic in my own home, but I know others are comforted by them.

        I love your index card and list ideas!

      • Janine says:

        Exactly. I was a huge book lover but now my collection is very small. I do not miss all those shelves full of books and my house looks and smells better.

    • Liz in Oregon says:

      Your bookshelves are lovely, Maria. I miss the beautiful painting that’s been replaced by a round mirror though. Where did it go? Covet, covet. 😀

      Regarding the clothing vs book arrangement analogy…to me it makes perfect sense to group clothing by color since that’s how we decide what to wear and they would be easy to find, assuming one has that many clothes! But I guess I’m a traditionalist with my books, and believe that books that are actually read need to be arranged by subject rather than color so they can be found easily. For example, my books of poetry are all together despite their colors. I would agree with those saying that covering books to match decor or grouping them that way without regard to subject would tend to indicate that the books aren’t used and that they are like tchotchkes. No judgement. Just an opinion that may not apply to everyone. And of course, the way you have your books arranged they are easy to find because they are mainly colorful coffee table books. And I totally get that it would be jarring to your trained eye for book colors to be random.

      But I love to see the bookshelves experts often sit in front of when they are interviewed on zoom by the news. They are usually crammed full of vertical and horizontal books of random colors and sizes with very little, if any, styling and they look organized, well used and well loved.

      But thank you, as always, for bringing the beauty of color and styling even to your bookcases. 🙂

  • Sandra says:

    I pulled out some things today to get started decorating for Christmas. This is the earliest I’ve ever done it. Can’t wait to see yours.

  • Lauren Tyson says:

    Pretty. So fresh and happy looking. I, too, love that picture of the roses ! You’ve inspired me to add bookshelves on either side of my fireplace. My fireplace is stone and flanked by knotty pine walls on both sides. Nothing is hanging or sitting against those walls, so I think bookshelves might do the trick and enable me to repeat my theme colors. Thank you!

  • celestial says:

    Your bookshelves look beautiful. The books are all colorful and interesting looking. My problem is that I have many many books and none of them are particularly pretty, coordinated, or colorful. I have a dictionary next to a thesaurus next to a Bible next to a plant identification guide next to a book about native grasses next to my kid’s yearbooks next to …you get the picture. I have a wide variety of interests and no coffee table books, ever. I’m stuck. Zippo on the tchotchkes as well.

  • Rebecca says:

    Hello from Lynnwood, WA, not too far from you. I just ran across Ingrid Ferrell Lee’s book Joyful about incorporating joy into your rooms. I didn’t know about you, Maria, when I first read her book. Now I see that this is really why I find your style so appealing. So much joy in all of the little things.

  • Debra Landy says:

    Yes. Christmas early for sure! The grandkids get matching Christmas PJ’s at Thanksgiving so we’ll take lots of photos.

  • Sheree L says:

    Maria, your bookcases are styled so beautifully! I do not have the “styler gene”! But I have been practicing and making some improvements. Some friends of mine can do it so effortlessly – it always amazes me. I’m trying to add more layers and textures while keeping things looking cohesive and not just a mishmash. Unfortunately, I have 4 areas in my home that have long, built-in counters (with drawers and cabinets underneath & cabinets overhead) that are not in my kitchen, and they are so hard for me to style. I like using books as little pedestals and grouping like items in threes, so at least I’m doing that right 🙂 Thanks for the tips. And I think an early Christmas decorating sounds like a grand idea!

  • Lucy says:

    Your shelves look fantastic! I have noticed that some designers do not even use books anymore. They have just become display cases for tchotchkes. My husband use to say “why did we build bookcases?”

  • martha says:

    You are so wonderful with great advise. As to the non believers of color coordinated books, I read and I have collected books on art, fashion, color, interior designers and biographies for 7 decades. One night/morning about 3 AM I realized why my book case looked messy and in such disarray. I got up and redid the main bookcase by color. I reorganize as I purchase new books. And as I purchase some non-reference books I donate to a local charity. I share this wonderful information as books should be read and enjoyed

  • Diane says:

    In response to your question about decorating for Christmas – I won’t do it until Dec 1, per usual for me. Partly because as much as I love Christmas decor, if it’s up too long it gets stale, and if I put it up in November it will definitely looked tired by Christmas Day. Also, I’m in the US and think our Thanksgiving deserves to be its own holiday, not just a launching day for Christmas. But I know I’m probably in the minority.

    • Nancy Markon says:

      Amen to your comment about Thanksgiving! And consider this . . . with a shift to observing the 12 days of Christmas, we could still have a long Christmas season and give Thanksgiving the focus it deserves, too! Don’t know about you, but I think extending Christmas celebrations into January would help mitigate the post-holiday winter blues.

    • Valerie says:

      Believe it or not, it used to be a tradition in some families to not put up or decorate the tree until Christmas Eve! It would stay up for the 12 days of Christmas.
      Queen Elizabeth follows the medieval and Tudor English tradition of leaving hers up until the eve of Candlemas, on February 2nd! There’s even a 17th-century poem, “Ceremony Upon Candlemas Eve” about getting rid of the holly, etc. by Robert Herrick. So if you want the holly & ivy up through the winter, you’ll be in good company!

  • Jan says:

    Congrats to the winner of the set of boards. Lucky girl!! You are right about your hints. It’s good to give your clients their own personal touches, too. I always try to mix in something personal for them. I once decorated her lighted shelving in the dining room of all places with a client’s very fancy collection of Mary Frances purses. They’re works of art! Who needs plates?

  • Michelle says:

    Books can be a burden to some and a treasure to others. Even in this day of cloud storage for photos and files, I like to see a book shelf in a home. However, I’m a community health nurse in my day job, and I can’t tell you the number of homes I have the privilege of visiting who have an older owner with so many books it’s actually a bit of a hazard, both for cleanliness and floor space. Maria, I’m overjoyed to see the way you’ve decorated with books, and it gives me some ideas to help families who are facing downsizing a parent’s home or making space for a wheelchair or walker. Donating books is a little hit and miss right now, with many thrifts stores in our area no longer taking books and magazines. Even most of our local libraries have halted book donations for the time being. I hope this changes soon. It pains me to be told “just throw them in your paper recycle container”, but I guess that’s better than sending them to the landfill. I would like to be able to tell my clients their books can find a second life, and be reused for decorating a styled shelf. I’ll be happy to show them this post!

  • Trudy says:

    Love those ‘cute faces’ on your shelves and your “Joy” clock contributes to the whimsy. Another terrific post!

  • Mary Kay says:

    Maria’s restyled bookshelves are gorgeous and brilliant.

    Earlier in the pandemic, I rearranged our living-room bookshelves (which had just been filled haphazardly with books) adding decorative objects, and organized the books by topic. It turned out well. Maria’s principles of balance and rhythm, and using horizontal stacks as pedestals, all still apply with books arranged by topic.

  • Patty Kennedy says:

    Someday I would love to see an article on styling a mantle!

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