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How to Style Your Bookshelves

As much as it pains me, I must acknowledge the fact that a shelf crammed with books can look cluttered and messy. It took me YEARS to realize that I can stuff as many of my beloved books as I like onto the shelves in my bedroom, where no one can see them but me, but the shelves in my living areas need to be carefully edited so my house doesn't look like a hoarder lives here.


When we first moved to our house, I fell into the trap of the Built In Black Hole. In other words, I took one look at these pretty built-in shelves and thought, "Wow, I have so much room for my books!" As you can see, I piled up a motley arrangement of random books, dishes and photos. There's nothing WRONG with books, dishes and photos, in general, but when I'd stand back and look at my wall, it just felt OFF. My things just didn't look as well as they could have when I displayed them this way.

I tried fussing with the layout of the books, tilting some on their sides and adding little accents like this teacup. But neither strategy did anything to improve that "messy" feeling the shelves were giving me.

"Maybe I just need a more homogenous look!" I thought naively, and off I went to swap out my modern novels for vintage books.

When my old favorites still didn't give me the look I was going for, I tried turning the spines to the back. Close, but no cigar.

If this was an art installation and there was nothing else around it, like an empty museum or gallery room, it would be lovely. But when I filled an entire wall like this, and all of my furniture surrounded it, the whole effect was still cluttered.

Finally I realized that what I was missing was WHITE SPACE. As much as I love to be surrounded by books, this particular wall was giving me anxiety, and what it really needed was some peaceful space around just a few lovely items.


I took everything down from all the shelves and started again. First I pulled out one of the shelves above the TV and reset the top shelf so it lined up with the top shelves on either side of it. Then I sorted out all of my books and kept only books in shades of blue, white and grey. I hunted around the house for accessories in blue, white and silver, then with everything spread out on the floor, I tried all sorts of combinations until I was happy with the results.