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  • Writer's pictureAmanda Shields


Updated: Feb 6, 2020


A while back, I had a little segment on the Marc & Mandy Show (video below) where they asked me to share some of my tips and tricks for styling bookshelves - a task most people find super daunting. Honestly, it's one of my most requested services and I absolutely love doing it, BUT truth be told, I didn't always love it. I, like most people, used to struggled to pull it all together at times. It took a ton of trial and error to master shelf styling and now I can proudly say, I have a few tried and true tricks up my sleeve.


Phase 1: Planning

The planning phase involves some decision making. It's important to determine your colour palette and style ahead of time so you have a clear vision when you are shopping. When deciding on a colour palette, you want to take inventory of the rest of the room and tie in colours from your existing decor to keep it all looking cohesive. If you're really stuck, a safe bet is to use white as your base colour, add in one metal finish, one wood finish and 1 or 2 accent colours. This way, when you head into the shopping phase, you know exactly what to look for. Same goes for choosing the style, if your living room is already uber modern, then your shelf decor should be too.

Before you go shopping you're also going to want to measure the size of each shelf by height, width and depth. You want to plan to buy items that are varying heights to add interest and dimension. You don't want to buy things that are going to be too tall and won't fit but you also want to avoid buying too many small things. You want make sure you can fill some of the vertical shelf space - it will look weird if all of your decor only fills the bottom half of the shelves.


Phase 2: Shopping

Now that you have established your colour scheme, your style and taken all your measurements, you can hit the stores with a clear picture of what to look for. When you're shopping, always buy more than what you think you need, you're going to have to play around a bit when you are styling and this is where you will edit things, so its nice to have extra to play with. I'm going to list some of my staples below that I always use when styling shelves, a good practice is to buy at least 3 of each item below (ie. 3 plants, 3 frames, ect). I'll explain why in Phase 3.

1. Vases

I like a variety of vases in a range of different materials and finishes to add interest. Ceramic, glass, metal. It's nice to find matching sets in varying sizes too.

2. Decorative Boxes

These are great for stacking. Since they tend to be long and horizontal I find you can easily stack smaller objects on top to create height.

3. Frames

I love using framed photos in a bookshelf, this is where you can really bring it home and make things more personalized. I find converting any personal photos into black and white keeps things looking neat without straying from your colour scheme

4. Books

Books can be tricky because they tend to look messy if the spines are all different colours. I always remove sleeves off of my books and if the spines are not working with my colour scheme, I'll flip them around around so you only see the paper side. Books are a great filler but can get expensive. To save money, I sometimes purchase a bunch of old books from a thrift store and display them with the spine facing inwards.

5. Candles/Lanterns

There are all sorts of candles and candle holders out there. I tend to stay away from tapers and taller candle sticks because they are usually too big to fit in bookshelves. But lanterns and filled candles work great and can smell good too.

6. Sculptural Items

This is where your have to consider your style direction and choose sculptural objects that are aligned with that style. For example, if you are going for a coastal look, then coral and driftwood might be more what you are looking for.

7. Plants

Plants bring life to your shelves! I have a hard time not putting a plant on every level. Personally, I tend to lean towards artificial plants for bookshelves, but that is just me, either works. Although, make sure that if you are using real plants they have enough light to survive.



Phase 3: Styling

This is where you're going to have to put some time in, play around, and try different things until it feels right. An old design trick is to use the triangle method below where you create triangles using similar items. Visually, people prefer to see things in 3's, or at least odd numbers. The triangle method guides the viewer's eye, bouncing happily along the shelves. When you don't have that visual cohesiveness, the eye doesn't know where to go and it gets pissed off. Ok, maybe not pissed off but it's true that subconsciously the brain doesn't process visual stops and confusion as well as a cohesive flow pattern. The goal is to make people feel happy when they look at your shelves, not frustrated even if it is on a subconscious level.

I find a a good place to start is with your picture frames. And don't worry about putting photos in them until after you're done. Begin with 3 frames and place them in a triangle on the shelves. Then add 3 plants, and then 3 gold items (or whatever metal you choose). Once you have a variety of things in place, you can layer in the rest.

You're also going to want to cluster items in groups of 3 on each shelf, or at least an odd number. Again when you're making your clusters try to create another triangle here by using a variety of heights and mixing vertical and horizontal items - you never want to put two objects of the same height beside each other. You can also add more dimension by layering some things in deeper than others.

Finally, one thing I can't emphasis enough is trust your gut. I say this all. the. time. The rules are a great guide but if you happen to go against the rules, put an even number of items on one shelf and it feels balanced, then it probably is so don't sweat it.


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