I never really gave much thought to bookshelf “styling” until I started to read a lot of home decorating and design blogs. I mean, “styling”? I can barely be bothered to style my hair most days, much less an entire bookshelf. However, once I got past that semi-pretentious term, I realized that I’ve been styling my bookshelves for a really long time (styling being just a fancy way of saying “putting stuff away,” after all) and many of the “tricks” that designers are bandying about are actually just a combination of common sense and a little bit of an eye for balance and composition.
Here are some of the basics of bookshelf styling:
1. Less is more—Don’t try to cram everything you own on one shelf. Instead, give your books, knick-knacks, and photos room to breathe. You and the people you invite into your home will notice more if they’re not overwhelmed with details.
2. Keep an eye out for symmetry and balance—You don’t want your shelves to look lopsided, but you also don’t want them to be too obviously coordinated. Use your judgment.
3. Mix it up—Bookshelves aren’t just for books and what books you do use can be placed in a variety of different orientations. Include baskets, plants, and photos in your shelves and try laying books on their backs, or even turning them around so the pages face out (not very functional, but sometimes very pretty).
4. Don’t be afraid to try new things!—Play around until you find something you like. If you don’t like what you’ve styled, step back and look it over. Think about exactly what you don’t like and learn from it.
Here is a bookshelf that I (in my not-so-expert opinion) think is well styled.
I like how the books are laid at interesting angles and without too much obvious symmetry. Also, I like that the stylist didn’t seem to worry too much about not all the books matching. Paperbacks and mismatched covers get a lot of crap from designers these days, but I think that the different splashes of color and type make for a more interesting bookshelf.
This stylist also used books as risers, which I think is a fabulous idea. It gives things that might not otherwise have the “right” height a little boost. See that iron jack on the books to the right? If not placed on a riser, it would probably have the wrong proportions and be less likely to fit in so smoothly with the rest of the items.
Speaking of non-book objects, I also appreciate how not all the objects necessarily go with one another. You can tell that these are items that have been collected over time and are of value to the owner of the bookshelf. Nothing bothers me more (and I mean it!) than a collection of too-obvious-matchy-matchy items. Like this:
You’ll never be able to convince me that an actual person lives in this house. I mean, look at all those urns! And those wreath-things on sticks! Get real.
Anyway, where I was going with this whole styling thing, is here:
Is it perfect? No. Is it even a bookshelf? Uh…no. But it does incorporate some of the basic fundamentals of styling and, really, what is a bookshelf but a bunch of smaller shelves lumped together? And what is a shelf but a long flat surface? See what I’m saying? You can use the basic “rules” to style pretty much any surface in your home.
For example, notice the orientation of the books. “Stand-ups” in the center with “lay-flats” on either end (those are my special terms—very technical, I know). Everything on this dresser/sideboard is a little off center, but the variety of sizes of the pieces and the general weightiness of each one gives it an overall balanced feel. Also, the whole style is composed of a variety of objects which go well together without being clones of each other.
Except, I did spot one little problem after a couple of days of living with it. Do you see it?
No, it isn't that our marriage license is a smudgy blur (that's done to protect our privacy a little bit). It's that the cover of that paperback on the right side kept sticking up, which really wasn’t all that cute. So what did I do to remedy the situation? Well, I added this little guy.
Not only did he cure my flyaway cover, but he also finished off the whole look by adding something small and sweet. The end result is something that I can live with…at least, until I get done unpacking the rest of our boxes. Then, who knows what will stay and what will go?
[And, just for the record, it's my opinion that function should always come before form where books are concerned. If you have the storage and the space to style your bookcase, more power to you. If you have more books than case to put them in, then, dammit, pack that puppy to your heart's content. Style will always be at the mercy of books in our house. Which anyone who saw the mountain of books on the floor of our last apartment can attest to. After all, books are art, and what could be better than a shelf overflowing with art? Answer: Pretty much nothing. Not even a well styled case.]