Tips for Styling Bookcases

Styling bookcases can be tough, but try these easy tips to help you style your bookshelves like a pro!


Tips for styling bookshelves- Maison de Pax

My kids recently read a Fancy Nancy book that was all about backwards day.


Now we have my four-year-old telling his dad that playing with his friends was “terrible!” – followed by hysterical laughter, of course. And my two year old keeps asking if she can wear her clothes backwards. And my six year old justifies his hanging upside down off his bed while reading…

Commence lots of eye rolling by mom.

The funny thing, though, is that I think adults have a similar fascination. While I’ve received tons of sweet comments (thank you, by the way!) about our new built-in bookcases in our living room, almost everyone has commented in some way on the “backwards” books. Heck, I guess I have to claim responsibility, don’t I? 😉

But I digress… the point today is that styling bookshelves can be hard, and I’m here with a few tips that I think can you style any bookcase. Obviously everyone has different books, different decor, different sized shelves, etc., but these tips should be applicable no matter what you’ve got to work with.

Tips for Styling Bookcases

1. Vary your heights
This is one of those tips that works in just about any space! But a bookshelf definitely needs the variation.

2. Group some similar items
Again, this can apply to more than just bookcases. See the candlesticks on the mantel? For bookcases specifically, though, it can help to group some books by size (don’t overdo it, though).

Bookshelf Styling- Maison de Pax

3. Mix textures
Obviously in this bookcase, the old book pages bring oodles of texture, but notice the shiny metallics, the smooth glass, the burled wood, the woven basket, and the rope handles…

Shelf styling with old books- Maison de Pax

4. Stack vertically and horizontally
Obviously this is a tip for a bookcase that is actually holding books, not just decorative items. 😉

Shelf ideas- Maison de Pax

5. Create a few diagonal lines
But not too many! Notice the leaning books and the stacks where the edges stair step. This breaks up the square lines of the visual for a little more organic, relaxed feel.

Shelf style with antique books- Maison de Pax

6. Bring some green
Another one of those tips that applies to every space: add a little touch of life! And if you’re worried about having a black thumb, yes, faux is allowed.

Shelf ideas for old books- Maison de Pax

7. Keep the surrounding areas simple
We built these bookcases because we have… wait for it… BOOKS. And they needed somewhere to live. I realize that there are some times when bookcases can be styled with just one or two decorative items and you can call it good, in which case you don’t need to simplify the spaces around it as much. But most bookcases, even if they are styled fairly simply, create a pretty busy visual: rows of books, decorative accents, etc. The bookcase will stand out beautifully (and not feel overwhelming) if you keep the surrounding spaces fairly clear.

Shelf book styling

8. Add a touch of whimsy
Everything is more fun with a touch of whimsy, right? Bookcases are no exception. My moscow mule mug holding a succulent clipping or my backwards books could both fall into that category here.

Open shelving ideas- Maison de Pax

9. Get creative with bookends
In this case, I have a cloche sporting wood beads, a concrete and gold planter, and an old basket all acting as bookends… I’ve seen some awesome real bookends, but before you go buy a bunch, remember that anything sturdy will suffice!

Bookshelf Styling Tips- Maison de Pax

10. Go for balance, not symmetry
I realize that there are some people who live for symmetry. If that’s you, embrace it. But I think for most of us, beauty can be achieved asymmetrically (and no, I’m not going to get all philosophical on that one!). However, the eye tends to find balance more pleasing than chaos. So how do you create balance without symmetry? Let me just point out a few examples in this image:

Use greenery to style bookshelves- Maison de Pax

-the greenery in the cloche on the upper right and the greenery in the concrete planter mid left
-the brown basket lower left, the brown wood vase mid right, and the copper cup center near top
-the white space near the center of the bottom and the center of the top
-each shelf has something decorative, but one shelf even has two items
Perhaps the best example of what I mean is the pair of cloches. One is top right and the other sort of bottom left. Not perfectly symmetrical, but balancing each other out.

And that’s it for today. What do you think? Any other favorite shelf styling tips? I’d love to hear them!

Bookshelf styling ideas- Maison de Pax

Similar Posts


  1. Lovely vignette! Thanks for the tips! Reminds me of Magnolia Market displays – I was just there this past weekend! Pics on my blog if you want to check it out!

  2. Like your style and understand why you turn books backwards but it does not appeal to me. I like to have books accessible to being read and not merely displayed as props. Whoever came up with this fad must not have been a reader.

    1. Haha, I completely understand, Rhonda! Truth is, I am a HUGE book lover (former high school English lit teacher here ;), so I’ve refrained from doing this in the past… But these books are almost all antiques that we inherited from a wealthy family member. They are worth something and have sentimental value, so I don’t intend to get rid of them, but they aren’t regular reading material. Some aren’t even in English. I decided that if there were any books I could try this styling on, these would be the ones!

  3. Great arrangement of books, colors, and textures. Especially like the diagnoal arrangement of books on the 2nd shelf.
    On the bottom right, what are the books contained in?

    1. Thank you so much, Wendy! Those are actually some antique book boxes we inherited along with most of the books. They are the type you might slide a book into to protect its pages; only they aren’t sized for a particular book. Essentially, they are glorified cardboard boxes. 😉

  4. I (99%) never comment on people’s book shelves. They would hold books in my house. Some have a million doo-dads and 8 books. It’s their house, not mine.

    1. So true! Each person’s style and belongings is unique to him or herself… and I wouldn’t want it any other way. 🙂

  5. Love your arrangement of books and placement of each shelf. It made me look and mine and see i need to do some with my bookshelves. Thanks, pray your doing well.

  6. Rachel, by far the prettiest arrangement of vintage books I’ve ever seen. If I ever style a bookcase with some i’ll for sure copy your arrangement! I love seeing the worn pages too 😏 Love your blog BTW. congrats on pregnancy!

  7. your shelves look beautiful…we have some nice bookshelves but we use them often…i could never turn my books backwards….well, and I am a color person and love the different colors of our books. I do have a small bookcase that I will give your backwards a try. Thanks for the inspiration.

  8. While I am not sure about hiding he bindings of the books, I really like the way the colors of the pages and the round mirrir frame enhance each other. Styling bookshelves is tricky but you have given me a couple ideas to try and I definitely do like whimsey!

  9. I am a recent “convert” to your blog, and LOVE everything I see!

    I am glad to know someone else uses their book shelves for BOOKS!

    Most of ours have been read, also; or oldies from college days that we will never pick up again, so I think I might try turning the books around!! Thank you for the great suggestion of a new style! I have also been known to add a bit of whimsy or something other than books on the shelves, as well.

    Again, thanks for the decorator suggestion!

    Oh, and hope the pregnancy continues with you feeling well. I’d hate to miss out on some posts 🙂 Congrats to the whole family!

  10. Rachel, What fabulous, creative bookshelves you have designed! I like them so much, I’m inclined to print this page and do my bookshelves exactly the same as your’s. Would you be offended? I studied English in college and in no way do I think you have don nothing to diminish the importance of a single book on these shelves. Books are meant to be enjoyed, whether we are reading them or admiring them as art, the passion is the same. I have been at such a losss with what to do with my bookcases lately, I have just stopped paying attention to them and they show it. Thanks for the most helpful tips and beautiful pictures.

    1. Judy, you are a gem. Thank you for your sweet comment! I hope you have fun playing with your bookcases now. 🙂

  11. I think books sitting backward on a shelf would be like setting your chairs upside down or turning your back to someone you are conversing with. One should be able to see the spine of a book to appreciate it as being a book. This, to me, is like an anti-book case; something someone who doesn’t like books would arrange to discourage others from reading the books. Some day (soon, I hope) people will look back on this fad and have a chuckle.

  12. I think the bookshelf with the backwards books is visually stunning. Love it. I like to read but it’s not like I’m walking up to my shelf everyday looking for a specific book so I think this would be fun to try.

  13. Your tips were so helpful! I have a giant bookcase with tons of books and found items and I was feeling very overwhelmed about restyling. Your step by step instructions broke the process down in a manageable way and before I knew it I had a look that I love! I’m going to post on IG and FB and will tag you so you can see. Thanks for your help. Look forward to learning more from you. XO Donna

    1. Bookcases can be so tricky, right? I’m so glad that you found this helpful, Donna. I’d love to see your new look!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *