top of page

Intro To Bookshelf Styling

We're at the beginning of the coziest season of the year, which means we find ourselves leaning into our favorite chair more and more, and reaching for a warm mug of something, a soft blanket, and an inviting book.

Whether you have a small nook for your books, or a vast fairytale library, there is value in turning a little attention to your book space and making it look and feel right.

If you're starting from scratch, it can be particularly helpful to scan pinterest, or your favorite home decor magazine in order to gather inspiration. Pay special attention to the colors, the mood, and the accessories as you collect images. We also put together a few possibilities below to get you started.

Before you begin:

  • Duster or dusting cloth for cleaning as you work

  • Box for donations (if you see any titles you want to part with, place them in the box and save yourself from styling a book you ultimately don't want in your home)

  • Any decorative elements you know you want to incorporate. Sometimes starting with an important or beautiful object will drive the style you want to achieve, rather than the other way around.

  • Tip: consult those in your home before beginning so that you're aware of any strong book-organization opinions. People often feel passionately about how books are arranged!

Styling notes from The Mill:

The Basic Bookshelf / Don't be deterred by how boring it sounds. It is the ultimate streamlined, purist outfit of the bunch, so if you're looking to make an impact without the fuss of accessories, this is your vibe. What do you need? Just books. Staggered books, stacked books, scattered books, Leaning Tower of Pisa books. Cram them in, and layer them up for the ultimate fresh and unassuming take on book styling. Although this sounds simple, it can ultimately be tricky to achieve a cohesive shelf that honors your organization preferences and your style preferences. As you sort your books into the categories you've chosen (i.e. author, title, genre, etc.), find common threads in color, texture, or size. The beauty of books is easily lost when they're on the shelf, so consider a few ways in which you can draw the eye towards different spots. Pay attention to color. Maybe this simply means pairing warmer books side-by-side, like reds and yellows and browns. When you pair colors that meld together, you give the eye a resting place. Our family has a large German-English dictionary that we set on it's side, making it more readable and more like a decorative object. Consider doing this with some titles that are especially meaningful for you. The last thing to consider is the movement the line of your books creates. If all of your books are lined up perfectly at the top, you will have a very static looking bookshelf. This is fine if it's the look you want. However, if you want it to look more organic, pay attention to the lines you're creating as you stack, and identify potential for depth.

Modern + Fresh / If you're a little boho and into abstract watercolors, calligraphy on your favorite mug, and get a thrill out of the latest Target collection and the arrival of the seasonal PSL at Starbucks, we have the shelf style to suit your gem-loving, plant-enthusiast self. You want your home to feel inviting, carefree, and non-judgmental. We get it! You'll definitely want some accessories to get you started. As tempting as it will be to start by shopping, first shop your house for elements you already have. It can feel really rewarding to move a favorite object to a new spot, and renew your appreciation for it. Pay special attention to any geometric elements you can incorporate. Plants also work really well for you. If your bookshelf is in a dark space away from natural light, you'll want to find a realistic looking artificial plant or two. Get something spiky like a succulent, and something that drapes or vines. Variation is key to getting everything to flow well together and move your eye.

As you collect your items and begin arranging them on your shelf, remember to layer. You'll want items further back on your shelf and other items pushed forward. You'll also want to overlap some things. If you're working with metals or any specific colors, try to create movement by placing those things off-set from each other. This could mean your gold clock is off to one side on your lower shelf, while you're gold planter is on the upper shelf off to the opposite side. This will create visual balance. One of the most tempting things to do when styling a shelf is to overcrowd the space. Avoid this by creating groupings. This gives your shelves areas of visual interest, balanced with some necessary empty space. Remember, it's easy to add, but more difficult to take away.

Tip: arranging some or all of your books according to color might be right up your design alley. Give it a try and see what you think. We love the idea of gathering books of one color you want to emphasize, and leaving the rest interspersed.

Old bookstore / Are you drawn to the rich and moody colors and feel of an old used bookstore, or dream of getting lost in the Hogwarts library? For many of us, the mood that our books evoke and the atmosphere of reading that they provide is the beginning and end of the purpose we want them to serve in our homes. Reading is a tremendously rewarding activity, and something we are tempted to do far too little of in our age of technology. Consider how the way we style our books can set the stage for a renewed interest in reading, and transport you to a different world. As humans, one of our favorite scenes for a story has long been a library or book shop. And Autumn is simply the best season to channel a cozy, bookish atmosphere.

I think we've set the stage well enough, so let's jump in to how we can create this atmosphere. A lot can be done with a bookshelf alone, but if you're really going for an impactful library feel, consider how you can incorporate the rest of the room or the corner nearest your shelves. A wingback chair, an antique side table, a reading lamp, and a cozy rug and blanket will do just the trick. For your shelves, consider collecting vintage copies of your favorite books. These lend an air of mystery and interest. Often, the faded and worn covers (hard back binding feels the most authentic here) take the feel far closer to the cozy bookstore of our dreams than we could ever do with anything new. In fact, we're going to steer clear of anything new, period. Vintage objects, or pieces from your travels that remind you of far off places can become the perfect items to lend a little romance to your shelves. We're also going to lean and stack our books to give visual interest and the feel of life and activity. If you're feeling a little stuck when it comes to the actual activity of arranging your books, reference The Basic Bookshelf notes at the top of this post for some guideposts.

Books are first elements that we interact with, and only secondly decorative items. It's important to keep this in mind. Any arrangement or styling that discourages actual reading, is simply not worth the perceived benefits. Also consider your audience. If you're arranging a bookshelf for a nursery, avoid making it too complicated, especially if young children will be reaching these shelves on their own. Perhaps your decorative items are reserved for the higher shelves. Each home and the inhabitants therein require different things from a reading nook, and with these tools, we know you will create something beautiful, functional, and inviting.

Happy styling and reading!

Pssst! We love this list of Books about Books and Bookstores.


bottom of page