How to Style a Bookcase - Part 1

Most homes have at least one bookcase or TV unit that needs to be strategically styled and accessorized so I thought it would be helpful to provide some tips on the matter. There are a few steps in the process and I have lots to say about each one, so it'll take more than one post. I'll use this example that I digitally styled to walk through the process...

*I don't typically post about client projects since they pay for my services and it seems wrong to share that work with everyone, but I can talk about this example because I did this for my cousin...and she's not an official client :)

To give you an idea of the starting point, here is the before shot:

To begin, let's talk about an important step: accumulating and organizing the books. You'll notice that there are well over a hundred books in the image at the top. The biggest challenge for most of my clients is that they don't have enough books...or they have a high percentage of tattered paperbacks.

Hardcover books are key to achieving a sharp looking display. If your stock is low, I'm a HUGE fan of Coralie Bickford-Smith's hardback classics sets. They are a terrific investment...not only for their beauty but also for their content. The clothbound ones sell for about $12 per book on Amazon and the F. Scott Fitzgerald ones are just a bit more.

If going on a book-buying spree isn't in the budget, hardcover books can be bought in lots on Ebay, at estate sales, or from book resellers like Half-Price Books. As a book-lover, I hate that it's a shallow, quick-n-dirty way of "collecting" books, but hey, it takes years (and money) to build up a solid library and an empty bookcase looks pretty sad!

Once you have a whole lotta books, sort them. Aside from the sets (like above), I usually sort by color because it's visually pleasing. A bookcase is a great place for color, however, you might not want every color of the rainbow represented in your shelves.

Say you have a whole bunch of burgundy books (which is pretty common) and you would rather not have blocks of burgundy in the case. My advice is to cover those ugly books with some fabulous paper that coordinates with your desired color scheme. Wallpaper remnants are great to use or you can shop the fine paper section at Paper Source. Here are some of the ones I like, including the neutral cherry blossom one that I put in the design above to tie in with their grey walls...

Covered books can be labeled on the spines with pretty handwriting or if your penmanship isn't display-worthy, print out book titles on labels like these ones with notched corners. Etsy seller Neapolitan created these gorgeous covers with marbleized paper and stunning calligraphy...

This part of the process can definitely take time, so start tackling it immediately if you want your bookcase to look pretty sooner rather than later!

So, what is your book collection like? Do you own lots of hardback books? I only buy hardcovers now because I had the too-many-paperbacks dilemma. Luckily my parents read constantly and have way more books than they could ever display so I get their hand-me-downs too. 

If you don't have enough hardbacks, would you ever buy a big lot of them? And would you try to recover books to make them more suitable for display?


  1. Those books are beautiful! Love the paper and YES I would spend the time to cover my books - in fact I may just have to now!! thanks

  2. Although I love the look of beautifully styled bookcases, if the person in question isn't a reader, then I'd prefer to see if styled completely with accessories (despite the fact I like books on shelves!). Such a dilemma.

    I am an avid reader so I guess it doesn't feel honest buying book that aren't going to be read - they should be loved!

    Having said that I've been buying the Coralie Bickford-Smith books slowly - but every one of them gets read before it gets added to a shelf! :)

  3. I love the Coralie Bickford-Smith covers and am slowly adding to my collection. My husband is a book addict, and I think I should get started on covering the ones that don't look so great with pretty paper!

    My main set of bookshelves are organized by color and I love it! Most of our books are black, white or tan though and have been relegated to the guest room.

    Can't wait for the next part!


  4. Totally agree that it does take some trickery to get a bookcase to look so good! I'm covering a bunch of my books in nautical charts....they look so pretty against the crisp white of my built-ins!

  5. I love this, Kyle! Thanks for mentioning Half Price Books! (we also offer a Books by the Yard program, too, just FYI: http://hpb.com/bbty/)

  6. I am a book lover as well . My father and I have both love to read . So I have many books that were passed down . My daughter on the other hand loves her kindle and her nook . So not many books to decorate with . My solution was , the thrift stores and dollar tree . Yes they do sale hard back books for 1$ . I wrapped some in pretty metallic animal print wrapping paper and placed them on her coffee table . She's 24 , and loves it .