Selecting a sofa and coffee-table combination or picking a lamp for a bedroom is no problem for many home decorators, but ask them to style a set of shelves and things could get tricky. Ask for advice and many designers will suggest keeping things casual and a little undone, but nailing that perfectly relaxed but polished vibe is no easy feat. If you’re finding yourself in such a situation, these tips from some of the biggest names in design will help you to arrange perfectly casual-chic shelves in no time.
“There are no secrets, except that as I am a voracious reader and actually read the books, I like to organize them by subject. I then always make sure that a shelf is not end-to-end books so it does not look too heavy. Another tip is to alternate books with a single collection of something, rather than too many diverse items. For instance, a blue-and-white porcelain collection, African masks, or Etruscan pottery." — Alessandra Branca,
Happiness Pots ($449 for three)
"You never want a bookshelf that looks too perfect! We work to mix textures and layer objects with varied finishes, such as brass, bronze, ceramic, and wood. The richness of all of this combined works to create a beautiful bookcase that feels as if it has been in the house for years." — David John Dick and Krista Schrock,
Vintage Scandinavian Pottery ($300)
“I like to organize my coffee-table books by subject: fashion, architecture, jewelry, etc. I’m constantly reaching for them for ideas and inspiration, so they need to be easy to find. Include framed photos and layer in textured details. Things like woven baskets, wooden boxes, and geodes will make your bookshelf feel interesting.” — Nate Berkus,
Nate Berkus Associates
Vintage Wood Jewelry Box ($135)
"When styling art and coffee-table books in bookshelves, I arrange them by color for maximum impact.” — Eddie Lee,
Eddie Lee Inc.
Grace: A Memoir by Grace Coddington ($13 and up)
“I like my bookcases very dense, with almost no space between shelf and books, which is why I tend to arrange by size rather than by category. Dewey decimal system be damned! The other trick to styling a bookcase is to bring the books to the front edge of the shelf, rather than push them back. And for a finishing layer, I will hang a picture on the face of the shelf, with the books acting as a wall behind them—it is one of my favorite elevations and brings both the books and art alive.” — Miles Redd,
Miles Redd, LLC.
Drawing 264 "Gesturing Man" ($20 and up)
“I am a collector of many things, one of which is books. So for me bookshelves are a chance to display several collections and art. When styling, think balance. Use pieces with a variety of heights like objects and books. Mix in some lower items to create some negative space and intersperse your books both vertically and horizontally. I try to make sure I have a casual styling that invites someone to look at what is on the shelf and feel free to pull out a book. This is my library in my home.” — Steve McKenzie,
Tall Ceramic Bird ($88)
“The trick with shelving is to make it look perfectly imperfect. If it looks too precise, if there's no variation or whimsy, it will feel sterile and impersonal. So when I style shelves, I'm always looking for that balance of beauty but still some intentional imperfection and variety. For example, I oftentimes arrange books in blocks of color to give some structure to the shelves (and a pretty pop of color), but I intentionally vary the heights and sizes of the books so they don't look too formal. Similarly, with horizontally laid books, I make sure the sizes get smaller as they go up, but never in perfect stair-step sizes. On most shelves, I'll mix some books horizontally and others vertically again for some variation and imperfection.” — Summer Thornton,
Summer Thornton Design
($45) 'The Big Book of Chic'
by The Big Book of Chic Miles Redd ($45)
“Bookshelves are a great opportunity to display collections accrued over time and show personality. It's all about the balance where items and books are broken down into little groupings. In order for your eyes to capture all the visual interest, things should be placed vertically and horizontally, and I like to start with taller, bigger items in the back and work my way forward and beside.” — Irene Lovett,
High Street Market
Brass Koi Fish ($49)
What are your best tips for decorating bookshelves? Share them with us in the comments!