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Six Tips For Great Bookshelf Design

Curating a bookshelf can be tricky. You have to balance functionality, beauty and meaning with the perfect amount of negative space. Shelf design is an art for sure!

I’m no shelf design expert, but I love using my art sensibilities to create beauty in every corner of our home. I have many helpful tips that I’ve learned on my shelf design journey. Here are six of them.

1. Create groupings

Create groupings of items that stack or overlap on your shelves. Clustering items together helps break up the space into more creative shapes instead of having everything equidistant and predictable. This is one of the first things you can do as you start designing your shelf. Group items together that have harmony. Stacking books is a perfect way to achieve this because it’s functional, it can be a base for putting an item on top of or it can be a block of bold color or texture.

Layer larger items behind smaller items such as frames. Use your favorite decor items as “book holders” to keep your vertical stacks from falling. Once you have your small groupings or clusters you’ll want to see my next tip.

2. Negative Space is everything

Truly, the air between your objects is just as important as the objects themselves. Clutter puts out stressful vibes no matter how pretty your books and decor are.

I like to keep our shelves about 50-60% filled leaving “breathing room” between my small groupings. Empty spots on the shelf are a really good thing.

3. Meaningful objects connect you to your space.

Adding a few items that mean something to you will connect you to your design and save you from spending money on new decor. Here’s a few examples.

Frame a few small old photos of you or your family. Blurry vintage photos or crisp black and whites are so cool. It’s easy to make any photo of you and your favorite person artsy just by changing it to black and white, putting it in a frame and setting it on top of a stack of books.

Add an object that represents what you do, what you enjoy or people that you love. I found this vintage painters brush at an antique shop and it reminded me of my love for art and how I’m the daughter and granddaughter of painters. It makes me smile whenever I see it. Justin’s mom gave him a small anvil which he loves because it reminds him of how his grandfather was a blacksmith. You could also frame a piece of your kids art from school.

4. Books are Art

A book shelf is supposed to store books, obviously. But I had to learn that I needed to be more intentional about what books I put on shelves if I want them to be beautiful. I had to thin our books out, store unattractive books elsewhere and choose the beautiful ones to display.

I collected colorful vintage books and put them into complementary stacks so they became art. This helps you curate the colors to go with the color scheme in that room. You can repeat the color of pillows or throws with colored books. Another way to store unattractive books on your shelf is to turn them around so the pages show and not the spines. This add amazing texture and a neutral color that goes with almost anything.

5. Cover the Electronics

Nothing says chaotic like a tangle of cords and internet boxes does. Cover that stuff with decor items, plants or a diy book facade like what we made. Hiding the ugly stuff adds so much simplicity and peace to our shelf design.

6. Plants add life

Plants add life to your shelves. We’ve never appreciated indoor plants as much as we do now. I’ve realized how good they are at giving a sense of movement and life. A plants shape is solid and transparent at the same time which can cover a large area and give height. We’re not partial to live vs. fake plants. Both kinds add so much and I love the way the look


We stopped seeing our bookshelves as just a storage spot and began to them as a blank canvas ready to become a work of art. This perspective has totally transformed our living room and we absolutely love it!

We hope these tips help you design your bookshelf so you can add beauty, simplicity, functionality and personality to your space. Have fun creating a work of art on your shelves!

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