3 Rules to Follow for Beautiful Bookshelf Styling

The ins and outs of bookshelf styling in minutes.

Plants, vases, and books styling on wooden bookshelf with three open shelves

Bookshelf styling can feel tricky. But there are a few easy hacks that will make styling your shelves WAY easier. And faster too. 

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

In fact, the most recent styling job I did for my mom’s sitting area makeover only took 15 minutes.

Wanna those 3 rules I’ve following? Click through for the full breakdown…

Diagram showing how to style a bookshelf using a zigzag technique

3 Rules that will make Bookshelf Styling Easy

1. Create a base by zig zagging

For shelf styling, I almost always start by zig zagging big items all the way down, to establish a base to build off of.

Sometimes though, I’ll switch up one of the shelves to stop the pattern. So it doesn’t look like a formula. 

Books are another great item that I would classify as ‘big’. But I like to fold those in once the big decorative pieces are already in.

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

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

2. Varying height and lots of textures

From there, I vary the heights of objects on each shelf and add as many different textures as I can, while sticking to a color palette.

In this case, my color palette is pretty neutral with a pop of color toward the top and bottom.

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

Organic modern sitting area, styled with wooden bookshelf and cream furniture

3. Finishing touches are just as important

Add a plant or two, when possible. It helps bring shelving to life and also brings some dimension that you can’t get with decorative objects.

Layer in artwork.

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

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

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

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

Looking for more styling inspiration?

  • For even more tips on styling open shelving, check this out: 11 tips for bookshelf styling like a pro.
  • I have a tutorial for built in bookshelves, if you’re up for a DIY project.
  • And open shelving inspo from a recent closet makeover I did.

Roundup of wooden bookshelves in various styles

Bookcases and Open Shelving I’m Loving Right Now

Now that I’ve covered my bases, with how to style open shelves, here are some bookcases and open shelving options that I’m drawn to at the moment.

  1. Otto Bookshelf from West Elm $799
  2. Elena Bookshelf $249.95 (on sale rn from $699) from Urban Outfitters
  3. Nathan James Theo Shelf $133 on Amazon
  4. Mid-Century Modular Bookshelf from West Elm $669
  5. Index Wall Shelf $399 and up from Burrow
  6. BHG Springwood 5 Shelf Bookcase from Walmart $227

My Top Picks for Bookcases 

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

So, I can tell you that the Nathan James bookshelves are great! I especially love using these in homes that have baseboards because these shelves attach to the wall and only have front legs. SO, they can go all the way to the wall. No annoying gaps, that you typically get with furniture when you have baseboards. We have two matte white 6-shelf bookcases in our guest bedroom – used them for our closet makeover in there.

And the BHG bookcase from Walmart is great quality as well – especially for the price. It’s sturdy, has clean lines (but not too modern), and has great height. These shelves were very easy to style. And it’s the bookcase in all of the styled photos in this post. I used it for a room makeover I did at my mom’s house recently. 

Wooden bookshelf closeup with plants, books, and artwork styling on each shelf


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