3 Rules to Follow for Beautiful Bookshelf Styling


In and out of bookshelf style in minutes.

Decorated plants, vases and books on a wooden bookshelf with three open shelves

Styling a bookshelf can seem daunting. But there are some easy hacks that will make styling your shelves a lot easier. And fast too.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I spend hours decorating a bookshelf and still feel like it’s not quite right. But once I started following these 3 rules, I reduced the time I spent on styling by more than half.

In fact, the most recent styling job I did was for my mom living room makeover Took only 15 minutes.

Do I want to follow the 3 rules I’m following? Click for complete details…

The diagram shows how to style a bookshelf using the zigzag technique

3 Rules That Will Make Bookshelf Styling Easier

1. Make the base by zigzagging

For shelf styling, I almost always start by zig-zagging the larger items to the bottom, to establish a base from which to build.

However, sometimes, I will change one of the shelves to change the pattern. Therefore this does not seem to be a formula.

Books are another great item that I would put in the ‘big’ category. But I prefer to fold larger decorative pieces when they are already in place.

So for books, I might zig zag in the opposite direction.

Or just find 2-3 shelves for books and lay them out.

2. Different heights and lots of textures

From there, I vary the heights of items on each shelf and add as many different textures as possible, while sticking to one color palette.

In this case, my color palette is pretty neutral with pops of color at the top and bottom.

Tall wooden bookcase with plants, pottery, books and artwork on each shelf

Organic modern seating area, furnished with wooden bookshelves and cream furniture

3. The finishing touch is equally important

Plant a plant or two when possible. This helps bring the shelf to life and also adds some dimension that you can’t get from decorative items.

Layer in artwork.

I don’t think any shelf is complete without a little artwork. It can be as simple as your children’s latest drawing.

The baskets are great. Baskets are one of those things that many people don’t think about until they need storage.

But I think open shelving is also a great place for baskets – whether you need the storage or not.

They add nice natural texture and make spaces feel more homey, IMO.

Are you looking for more styling inspiration?

  • For even more tips on styling open shelving, check out this: 11 Tips for Styling Bookshelves Like a Pro.
  • If you’re ready for a DIY project, I have a tutorial for a built-in bookshelf.
  • And open shelving inspo from a recent closet makeover I did.

Roundup of wooden bookshelves in different styles

Right now I’m loving bookcases and open shelving

Now that I’ve covered my bases on how to style open shelves, here are some bookcases and open shelving options I’m gravitating towards right now.

  1. otto bookshelf $799 from West Elm
  2. elena bookshelf $249.95 from Urban Outfitters (on sale from $699).
  3. nathan james theo shelf $133 on Amazon
  4. Mid-Century Modular Bookshelf $669 from West Elm
  5. index wall shelf $399 and up
  6. BHG Springwood 5 Shelf Bookcase $227 from Walmart

My Top Picks for Bookcases

I really love that West Elm Otto bookshelf! But my top picks would have to be the two shelves I have used before and, as a result, know best.

So, I can tell you that Nathan James bookshelves are great! I especially love using these in homes that have baseboards because these shelves are attached to the wall and only have legs on the front. Therefore, they can go up to the wall. No annoying gaps that you usually get with furniture if there is a baseboard. We have two matte white 6-shelf bookcases in our guest bedroom – they are used for our wardrobe makeover there.

And the BHG bookcase from Walmart is also good quality – especially for the price. It’s sturdy, has clean lines (but not too modern), and has a great height. Styling these shelves was very easy. And this is the bookcase in all the styled photos in this post. i used it for a room makeover I did it recently at my mom’s house.

Closeup of wooden bookshelf with plants, books and artwork styled on each shelf


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