Building Your Bookshelf

Designing the Perfect Bookshelf For Your Home with Nell Hill’s

Bookshelves are a versatile and functional piece of furniture that can enhance the look of any space in your home. While, for many, they primarily serve the practical purpose of storing books, they can also be a great way to showcase your personality and style (with or without books). A well-styled bookshelf can add character and depth to a room, making it feel more inviting and lived-in. But with so many options to choose from, it can be overwhelming to know where to start.

In this post, I aim to provide you with some practical tips and creative ideas to help you style your bookshelf in a way that reflects your personal taste and elevates the overall aesthetic of your space.

cabinet with cabbageware

Starting with a theme is one way to create a stunning display, like this cabinet full of some of our favorite cabbageware pieces

Start with a Plan

When deciding to make over my shelves, I find it important to start with a purpose and a plan. I first determine my goal – am I seeking to incorporate my latest round of design book purchases, display a growing collection of blue and white ceramics, or pull in new colors from a freshly redecorated room? Then it’s time to clear the slate – I like to empty the shelving entirely before placing new items, or the same items in new places.

Gathering up my collection of books and accessories to see how they work together before placing them gives me a feel for whether or not I have the cohesiveness and flow that I want – do I have too much of a certain color? Do I have enough variety of shapes, sizes, and textures? Will pieces actually fit (always measure your shelving before shopping)?!

new traditional cabinet display

Well-styled bookcases are the backdrop to this colorful New Traditional display

When I’m ready to place my items, I find it helpful to start with my largest items or statement pieces first. Carlie, our Design Manager, suggests beginning with the items that you really love and placing them in spots where they will shine the most. Then build around them, distributing items so you have a nice flow that draws your eye around the space. If you’re having trouble getting started, try placing your first few large or statement pieces in a rough triangle on your shelves – one piece towards the top center, another roughly on the middle left, and another on the lower right. Don’t worry about making it perfect – in fact, the more organic looking, the better!

These same styling processes works for styling floating shelves, a curio or bookcase, the top of a buffet or honestly any area where you’d like to create a vignette in your home!

living room shelf display

Vignettes are created with like items in reds, blues, and greens in this living room display

Look for Creative Solutions to Your Challenges

We love to help our customers tackle the variety of design challenges they encounter, and styling a bookcase is no exception. Recently, Nell Hill’s designer, Liz, helped a customer accessorize some built-ins in her living room and design around some tricky spots.

cabinet with doors

Cabinets with doors are the perfect place to highlight those pieces you want seen but not touched

This particular customer was looking for a springy natural look for her built-in bookshelves so we got to work gathering like items for her to browse. We ended up incorporating woven materials for texture, added in soft pinks and neutrals to coordinate with the existing colors in her space, and found some fresh, crisp ceramics to keep the room feeling the right amount of formal. Don’t think that you need to do a full shelf overhaul with all brand new items – we always think it’s a great idea to use what you have! The homeowner also already had some great pieces – sweet photos of her family, a sophisticated stack of boxes, and a perfectly pink ginger gar that were absolutely worked into the decor.

The goal wasn’t to only beautify her shelves, but also hide all of the pesky TV “stuff” that’s necessary but definitely not beautiful to look at. Our solution? We found two wicker boxes, one to place the receiver and remotes inside, and the other to style with throws. Now electronics are no longer on display, and she has beautifully styled blankets ready to grab when needed. By using two baskets we created symmetry in the design and solved two problems in one!

repurposed curio

A curio finds new life repurposed as a bar and stunning display

Finding Your Spacing

One of the most challenging elements to get right during the design process is the use of negative space. Empty or “negative” space is your friend, use it in between or on the edges of a shelf to space out smaller vignettes or groupings of items. When designing, I tend to like to create groupings of items in odd numbers like three or five, the caveat being that you can use two things to create symmetry in an arrangement.

You can create contrast between shelves by decorating each level slightly differently than the one before it. If the top shelf has one large centered vignette, style two smaller groupings of items on the shelf below. Using the negative space on the sides and middle of these groupings help to carry your eye throughout the piece.

coordinated shelf

A coordinated color palatte and proper spacing make this swoonworthy shelf possible

Making It Unique

Styling a bookshelf is a fun and rewarding way to add a personal touch to your home decor. Whether you’re aiming for a minimalist look or a maximalist one, the key is to strike a balance between form and function.

There are lots of little things that you can do to turn your bookshelf into a space that truly reflects you. For instance, I love placing small lamps on shelves for mood lighting to soften a space. It’s one touch that I think adds elegance and allows us to use overhead lights less, which is great for when we are winding down in the evenings. Although, this trick may require you to drill a hole in the back of your furniture piece depending on its location in the room so if you are one that likes to rotate shelf designs often, the permanence of this solution might not work for you (and that’s okay)!

black shelf with doors

By using the entire depth of the shelf, you can create a full-bodied design

Don’t forget to use the full depth of your shelves for a full-bodied design. Certain items can go behind others (like art or your favorite platter) and create visual interest for the pieces in front. This can be especially helpful if you have a dark, heavy furniture piece that you want to brighten up.

Remember to keep experimenting, rearranging, and adding new items over time to keep your bookshelf fresh, interesting, and a reflection of you. With a little bit of creativity and effort, you can turn your bookshelf into a stunning focal point in any room of your home.

styled bookcase

Bookcases aren’t just for books! You can highlight any of your favorite pieces for a style that is unique to you!

Styling a bookshelf can be a fun and creative process that can absolutely transform the look and feel of a room. As we always say at the shop, what you love is always in style – there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to bookshelf styling. The key is to find a balance between functionality and aesthetics, and to let your personality shine through. By following the tips and ideas we’ve shared in this blog post, you can create a beautiful and stylish bookshelf that reflects your unique taste and style. With a little bit of imagination and effort, your bookshelf can become a focal point in your room that not only showcases your favorite books but also adds a touch of personality and charm to your space. Until next time – happy decorating!