Secrets of Styling a Bookcase

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I would be lost without bookcases. Literally. Because all of Dan’s books, enough to keep a small village reading for decades, would bury me. And figuratively. Because I have found that bookcases are one of the most essential pieces of furniture ever made. They are not only arresting to look at, adding much-needed bulk and beauty to a space, they are also amazing versatile. Bookcases can be used in just about every room in your home to add charm as they artfully collect all your stuff in one well-organized spot. (Quick note: July 15-August 15, our bookcases, and all other wood furniture, are 20% off at Nell Hill’s!). Struggling with how to make the bookcases in your home look their absolute best? Here are four questions to ask yourself as you style these ready-made stages:


Where is your bookcase located?

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This may sound like a strange question, but where you put your bookcase will have a big bearing on what you put inside your bookcase. My bathroom at the cottage is snug and doesn’t have cabinets or closets, so I had to figure out a way to store all my stuff. Bookcases came to the rescue, giving me a super-efficient way to not only house necessities, but to turn them into stunning little displays that add to the room’s personality.

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Don’t be fooled by the prefix “book”. Your bookcases don’t have to have one single tome on their shelves. In fact, I worked with a customer at Nell Hill’s who wanted to show off her collection of soup tureens. Instead of a traditional china hutch, we placed a bookcase in her dining room and filled the shelves with a dramatic display that showed off her collection.


How will your bookcase be used?

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My all-time favorite way to use bookcases is to see them as part library shelf, part display shelf. At Nell Hill’s, we like to mix accents with stacks of books. We went for a symmetrical display in this wonderful secretary, with matched urns and jars. Have a small piece of artwork you love? Prop it on a shelf.

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When picking interesting items to weave in and out of the books, think about creating a rotating display that highlights pieces from a collection. Whether you collect figurines or old cameras or vintage dishes, work in just a few pieces at a time so the display isn’t overwhelming.

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We love to help families and grandparents design fun and functional rooms for kiddos. An essential is a good bookcase that corrals toys, books and clothing. (Be sure to always anchor a bookcase to the wall for safety.)

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In my cottage, the bookcases are used for … books. And more books. I have a hard time squeezing in any kind of pretties because Dan has laid claim to the shelf space. Even if your bookcases are mostly books, you can try some of our favorite book-stacking techniques to give them more interest:

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Here’s a classic stack, a tower with the biggest books on bottom. Go monochromatic or mix book colors.

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A stack of books makes a perfect riser for a display. So turn some of your books on their side and top them with an accent.

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This sandwiching technique allows you to pack in a lot of books yet still get some variation in the look.


How can you put your personal stamp of your display?

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When I visit people’s homes, the bookcases I gravitate to are the ones that show the soul of the family that lives there. Include a variety of personal treasures, like snapshots, mementos and heirlooms, that help tell the story of your life.


To find interesting artifacts for your shelves, go through your cabinets and closets, opening boxes hidden away in their basements, and pull out things that are meaningful to you. To make it more fun, invite a friend to join you. Our friends sometimes are able to see our things with new eyes and show us just how cool they are.


What balance is right for you?


I’d love to pass on 3 tips or 4 steps for styling the perfect bookcase display, but I can’t. I don’t think great bookcase designs work that way. They should be individual and organic, reflecting your bliss, not a designer’s checklist. So, instead, I’ll share how I created the bookcase displays in the dining room of our cottage.

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Around the cookbooks and travel tomes on the shelves, I wanted to spotlight my dish collection, both because I love them with an everlasting love and, I had to. I don’t have much storage, so it was a necessity. I laid out everything I thought I wanted display in the alcoves between the books. Then I started tucking things in here and there, moving them about until I had a look I liked.

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Over the next few days, I assessed my work. I would sit with my morning coffee and move a few things here and there. In the evening, glass of wine in hand, I’d tweak it some more. In the months to come, I modified my displays a bit more, ensuring the items I used most often were accessible, like the pitcher I use to hold hydrangeas from my garden and the one I use when I entertain. Now I have the bookshelves styled just like I want them.

If you are looking for a lovely bookcase, I’m thrilled to tell you they are all 20% off July 15-August 15 at Nell Hill’s. During our Wood Furniture Sale, you’ll also save big on dining tables and chairs, coffee tables, beds, hutches – everything made of wood!

Next Week … Whether you are entertaining or just want to make an everyday meal feel special, it’s easy to make your food displays dramatic and beautiful. I’ll show you how.