Five simple tips for decorating bookcases

I’m DONE with the basement entertainment center build and I can’t wait to show you (next week)! Now it’s time to decorate the shelves — which is the most fun but also the hardest. Fun but difficult — is that a thing? Ha! I can build all day and I love it…but I sometimes struggle with the decor part.

It will take me a few hours to get it right, and once I do it will stay the same for years. The thought of rearranging things that already look good seriously stresses me out. 😆

I have a few tried and true tips for decorating bookcases and shelves that always help! They’re easy to follow and make for decor that is really pleasing to the eye. 

Tip #1: Decorate in odd numbers

It’s often said that things in threes are most appealing to our eyes. Actually, odd numbers in general are more pleasing. I add plenty of even numbers, but the “rule of threes” always seems to work even better: 

Green bookcases cherry blossom wallpaper
If you have a lot of space you can group things in threes as a little vignette and then add a singular item next to it. Mix and match — the groupings don’t have to be the same item!
Tip #2: Give your eye a place to “rest” 
My style has changed over the years and is much simpler and less cluttered (you’ll see that later in this post), so I’ve learned that singular items can be just as lovely. On bigger bookcases, I like to balance out the odd numbered groupings with a few that just have one statement. 
Not every shelf needs to be completely filled!:
Simple wide bookcases by fireplace
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Cyberspace blue by Sherwin Williams
Using a longer or bigger item by itself allows the eye to rest — especially on a large wall of bookshelves or in a room that already has a lot going on visually. 

Tip #3: Flip flop and repeat like items

I like to flip flop things of the same color or texture when I can. So if I’m using plants, I’ll place one on the left, then put another plant on the opposite side on a shelf or two down.
When you’re using a lot of individual items, this trick subtly ties everything together!: 

Half wall turned bookcase
This also goes for shapes — I like to flip and repeat round and square items. 

Tip #4: Mix decor of different heights

This is a big one! It’s so key to a beautifully decorated shelf. Everything at one height can get a little boring. Mixing taller and shorter items allows your eye to travel up and down. 
This also allows for layering of items: 
Wood floating shelves above toilet
Our pretty DIY floating shelves in the bathroom incorporate all of these tips in one spot! The flip flop, the threes, the different heights are all happening. 🙂
Tip #5: Use books! 
You’d be surprised at how upset people get when you don’t fill bookcases with…books. 😉 People are passionate about them! 
In our last house I used a LOT of books on the bookcases initially:
Sitting room library with bookcases

 I later toned it down just a bit — it was feeling busy. I pared down the decor and the books: 

White DIY bookcases with smokey blue backs
If you have a bunch of books and want to display them, do it! When I see pictures of shelves full of books it gives me a warm fuzzy feeling. In our home I prefer a little less. 
I like to take the covers off of our hardcover books — I love the pretty spines and beautiful title fonts. But books are a very personal thing! You may not want some books on display for whatever reason. So I also turn some books around so you just see the pages. 
That’s the beauty of decorating your home — you get to make it work for YOUR home. If it makes you happy — do it! 

I shared some of these tips years ago when I first decorated those dining room turned library bookcases I built. These incorporate some of what I’ve talked about! 

I repeated many items — this one points out metal accessories I repeated throughout:

decorating bookcases

I repeated the green items too:

DIY bookcases made with cabinets

I even thought about which way to go with the books. I tried to switch back and forth — starting on the right, then left, right, etc.:

tips on how to decorate bookshelves

Otherwise parts of the bookcases started to look “heavier” than others.

And I also thought about what to center on the shelves and what not to:

White bookcases with blue background

The top and bottom items are all centered, and two of the shorter shelves in the middle are as well, on each end.

Sometimes accessorizing falls right in to place, sometimes it’s agonizing. 🙂 If decorating shelves feels like the latter for you, use these tips as your guide. 

I gathered some of my favorite decor items I’ve used on bookcases around our house here! You can click on each photo to get to the product online:


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