Whenever we ask Peachy readers what home, entertaining, garden, style, or beauty tips you’d like to see, one request comes up time and time again: how to style a bookshelf.
We get it – bookcases that look effortlessly arranged are actually anything but – so to help answer your questions we asked nationally recognized interior designer and author Janie Molster to share her favorite bookshelf styling tips with us.
Here’s what she said:
Start with the Obvious
“My favorite accessory for bookshelves is simple,” says Janie. ”You guessed it: Books.
“Books have their own special way of adding a layer of personality. Book collections can reveal so much – whether you have a particular hobby or passion, if you are inclined to hop on the trending summer read, or quick to pick up the latest bestseller. And antique books are pure eye candy for bookshelves. The leather spines generally add soft, burnished colors and there’s nothing that lends history and personality more than a worn, well-loved book.
“But antique tomes are not the only option for successful bookcase styling. My clients often have a combination of the old and new and it’s fine to mix them together. I do encourage a little weeding out – save the books that have meaning to you – those you may actually open up again one day or pass on to a friend.”
Create Order + Structure
Janie suggests tossing paper jacket covers.
“Open shelving needs disciplined editing and book jackets can often clutter up the visual of a well-ordered library feeling,” she says.
“I like to add a bit of interest by changing the orientation of the books periodically – by breaking up the vertical rows with a horizontal stack. And yes, an occasional tchotchke on top of a horizontal stack is also a nice visual.”
No Books, No Problem
If you don’t have many books but do have lots of open shelving, Janie says one trick is to remove the shelves and hang a painting or a group of paintings.
You could also consider using shelves to display a favorite collection.
“Collections are always stronger when displayed together,” says Janie. If you collect plates or clocks or porcelain, create a mini-museum for your treasures and display them as their own installation.”
Edit, Then Build Slowly
Janie says the hardest trick of all is creating a mix – shelves stocked with combinations of disparate items, books, sculptures, picture frames, paper weights, candles, and more.
“Begin by editing out anything that isn’t meaningful or beautiful,” she says. “Separate the items that are special to you. And just like building a room, start with the bones – the building blocks.
“Typically we start with books and spread them around in liberal groupings as a sort of anchor. And if you work from left to right, try doing the opposite on a few shelves. It will help you achieve visual balance and remember to continually step back and assess balance.
“After books, begin to layer a few decorative pieces. Keep in mind that the last item you put on the shelf will typically get the most visual mileage, so save that special treasure for last.”
Keep Picture Frames Quiet
But what about picture frames?
Janie suggests using just a few.
“Use them here and there, but keep them fresh and updated,” she says. While your frames don’t need to match or be consistent, keep them quiet. You want the image in the photo to be stronger than the surrounding frame.
“And back to the earlier idea of art: We often hang a small painting on a shelf so it overlaps another shelf. It fills up extra space and adds another layer of interest.
Use Wallpaper to Enhance the View
“I am often asked about wallpapering the back of bookshelves,” says Janie. “Typically we use a textured paper for this – something like a nubby grasscloth. It needs to be a backdrop to enhance the items on the shelves, not clutter the view.”
Want more interior design tips from Janie Molster? Visit Janie Molster Designs or pre-order “House Dressing,” Janie’s thoughtfully curated new book comprising 9 rich chapters of whole-home deep dives and artfully articulated design concepts. It’s full of approachable tips, takeaways, and inspiration to create a beautiful home that’s “uniquely you.”