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Advice for HomeownersBefore and AfterDecorating Advice

How to Style a Bookshelf without Spending a Fortune

By 11/06/2009November 2nd, 202026 Comments

Styling a bookshelf doesn’t have to be expensive.

This is a sneak peak of a beautiful home I’m decorating in Morgan Creek.

This clients request; we want it to look like a show home!


Because the millwork was already dark I chose silver as the overall theme. The gorgeous vases that look like lamps because I positioned them directly underneath the lights were $40 each. The large ornate silver frames (which still need photos), $13, the bookends, $20, the Zebra $40, the silver apple and pear $10/each, the cylinder vases $10 and $13 and the Ginko leaf $13.

My clients are dentists, so their textbooks (which were bright red and blue) were reversed to keep this vignette sophisticated! Total cost $232.00. All from Homesense.


Unless your shelving is specifically designed to show trophies or art, books are a must. And if your books aren’t attractive—like the textbooks in the above example—this is a great way to still use them and have them be totally decorative!

My client has lots of books (which will go into the library) but we wanted these shelves to be more decorative since they are right next to the kitchen dining area.

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Related posts:

Happiness is. . . a Styled Bookshelf

How to Create a Vignette or Tablescape (Washington Post Blog Watch)

When should you buy a book for its cover?

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  • Kathy @ Creative Home Expressions says:

    Those vases do like like lamps! Very clever, Maria! I've been pulling books out of the donate box to raise some things up and I'm covering them in scrap book papers that coordinate.

  • It looks so nice. I'm excited because my Dad is going to build me a bookcase in my LR.

  • Tracy @ Comfort and Luxury says:

    Very pretty, Maria. So clever of you to position those vases so that they glow so beautifully. And I think your sculpture might be a gingko leaf.

  • The Blasphemous Fiendess says:

    Very pretty and very clever to put the books backwards. I always admire styled bookshelves but to me bookshelves are for books and I never have enough shelves for the books in my house. That would be my own fault since I love books even more than shoes. My point, obviously, is that you won't find any styled bookshelves at my place.

  • CRICKET says:

    I love the idea of the backwards book too.

  • DesignTies says:

    Looks fantastic, Maria… thanks for sharing!! Looking forward to seeing how you pull together the library's bookshelves 😉

  • Chic 'n Cheap Living says:

    Love the play of light on the vases!

  • VictoriaArt says:

    Love the balance of things, and those vases and pretty objects, so cool!

    By the way, the leaf looks like a GINKO leaf (Ginko biloba)to me….
    These trees line many streets in New York!

  • DesignTies says:

    I have that zebra — he's so cute 🙂 And I've seen the Book Lover bookends at HS too — I would have bought them for my office if I didn't already have bookends 🙂

    Great way to showcase the vases by placing them directly under the lights. They look great!!


  • Charlotte's Color Specialist says:

    What a great idea to reverse the books.
    Very clever!

  • Design Junkie says:

    Looks great–I especially love the silver leaf. As a book lover, I'm always amazed when I go to style a client's bookcase, and when I ask "okay where are the books?" all they can come up with are a couple of recent bestsellers, a yearbook or two, and a battered textbook. But I do envy people without a book addiction who can maintain impeccably styled shelves instead of the crammed ones of my own bookcases. I weed my book collection ruthlessly twice a year or so and they are always overflowing again in a couple of months.

  • funcolors says:

    MK, it looks fantastic! Love the affect with the vases — too cool.

  • Karena says:

    Wow, beautiful Maria! Very sophisticated, and The lighting is key, I would love some in my bookshelves. I would never have thought of turning the books around!

  • Jane says:

    Hi Maria
    I particularly like the idea of turning the books backwards. Very clever.

    I was once challenged to fill a wall of shelves in the dining room…with a very small budget (none. A wise woman suggested that I pull out everything I had in storage…all those wedding/birthday gifts that were never used…and use them on the shelves. It worked, beautifully! Now that I have flipped the dining room and living room, I have added books, artwork, and even simple florals. The effect is interesting…and ever-changing.
    Jane (Artfully Graced)

  • Ivy Lane says:

    Looks easy! It makes me feel like "I could do that"!!! I really like the way the vases look like little lamps or as if votives are inside…clever!

  • home before dark says:

    I am with TBF and DJ above that with our passion, addiction for book, Having open shelves like these is pure book rush. I don't understand why anyone would want their home to look like a sanitized show house. The irony in this bookcase: book ends of "book lover" with the paltry books cased here turned backwards. My greatest hope about my bookcases is that I can find the book I am looking for.

    Off topic: thank you for sending Janice Lindsay's book to my attention. All About Color has become one of my favorites. Her writing style is amazing. And like a true book lover, her autodidact style appeals to me. Charming, intelligent, funny, wise. Thanks for the heads up for another book on my shelf!

  • Lovely Laura says:

    Wow! Just to reply to many of the comments above. We ARE big readers, and that is why we are turning one of our rooms into a reading room/library that Maria was talking about. This bookshelf is in a highly visible area close to the kitchen. It just would not make sense to have books that you refer to often in this particular bookshelf. Maria, you've done a fabulous job and I look forward to seeing the rest of the transformation.

  • Lauren says:

    the vases are stunning under the lights like that!!! love it all!! the reversed textbooks are perfect!


  • Velvet and Linen says:

    I always love seeing your bookshelves Maria.
    The silver really pops against the dark cabinetry.
    It was a great idea to reverse textbooks. I've also covered books with white paper in order to have a cleaner look.

    Great job.


  • Carol Ann says:

    My pearl necklaces are from the shopping channel…I love the Jackie Kennedy Collection because they are copies of her mothers chanel pearls from the 20's. I just checked and there is one set left @ #569-578 3 strand faux pearl with crystal clasp (chanel pearls were always faux!)
    These are cool, you can chanel them…Next time they are on will be Feb 2010 I think, I will keep you upto date if you want…
    Regards, Carol Ann

  • Mary says:

    Very pretty! I also like to add fun plates propped up on a small easel.

  • Maria Killam says:

    Hi Home Before Dark,
    My cient has 3 more very tall bookcases that will be filled up with all her books when we get to her library. This one is in her dining room so we wanted it to be more decorative. Thanks for your opinion!

  • Cote de Texas says:

    well 200 for three small shelves is not exactly cheap – imagine you had 20 shelves to fill. i stand by what i said – filling shelves is expensive. it always amazes me how much stuff it takes to fill a number of shelves and that stuff starts to add up. but i must say = your shelves look wonderful. those vases are amazing. they DO look like lamps. can't wait to see the rest of the room.

  • Southern Aspirations says:

    oh VERY helpful. Thank you so much!!

  • Marlo says:

    It's stunning! I love how you styled it and I can't believe you found all these items at HomeSense.
    I spend hours at HomeSense looking for accessories and I'm lucky if I find one item that I like. How do you do it? 🙂

    The reversed books look great too and I'd prefer to do that than to cover them with decorative paper.

    Nice work Maria – your clients must be thrilled.

  • Passionate Blogger says:

    I can't do this at my home. There's not enough space even for the books! I am curious as to why people have bookshelves when they don't have many books? Shouldn't they just have display cabinets for the fancy stuffs?

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