8 Steps To Style the Perfect Bookshelf

Back in December I was lucky enough to participate in an article in the Washington Post on how to style the perfect bookshelf.  Three other designers and I offered up a few good ideas.  Now that my renovation is done and I’ve started the process of making my own shelves look pretty, I thought I’d share a few more tips with you.

Photo Rashmi Pappu

1. Start with a blank slate. When you don’t have any preconceived notions about where things “have” to go, then the world is your oyster.  This is my bookshelf before the renovation.  It took me an hour to do this from scratch.  Don’t rush and don’t get frustrated with the process.  It’s supposed to be a fun and creative outlet.


2. Consider a bright pop of color or a fun pattern in the back of your shelves. We worked with one client on a coastal-inspired living room and we suggested she paint the backs of her built-in shelf coral pink.  It worked beautifully!  While the above isn’t a pop of color, it is still bold and visually stunning.



3. Add in the books by stacking them horizontally as well as vertically. This gives visual interest and oftentimes creates a platform upon which you can place treasures.



4. How you organize your books is up to you. Some people like to color code, others like to organize by subject, and yet others like to organize by size.  There is no wrong answer as long as you stay consistent with your theme.



5. Keep in mind the proper scale. This is really important.  DO NOT have too many tiny things.  Your shelves will look cluttered and you won’t be able to see anything from far away.  Now that doesn’t mean you can’t have a few small items.  Just be sure to vary the sizes to keep the shelves visually interesting.


6. It’s important to vary the heights of the objects as well. I like to work in pyramids, moving from low to high and back down again.  Also think in threes or fives.  Tall, medium, and short items group together nicely.


7. Bookshelves are a great place to display collections. Sprinkle them in or clump them all together, it’s up to you.  You can see from my new shelves above that I did a little of both – mason jars all together on top and crocks in a checkerboard pattern on the shelves underneath.



8. Use art to add height in your shelves by leaning or hanging them in the back. This also adds another layer of dimension.  You can also hang the art in front of the shelves like the pictures above.  That adds another kind of dimension and interest.

Like I said earlier, this should be fun.  If it becomes too much, then walk away or sleep on it.  When you come back, I promise inspiration will strike.  Enjoy!


  • The latest from Amy
Owner Amy Rutherford started Red Barn because she wanted to deliver a service — to provide both old and new in one place. No longer will busy shoppers be limited to reproductions or forced to shop multiple flea markets for the look or gifts they want. The trick in blending old and new, vintage and modern, classic and quirky, is balance. And Amy’s knack for mixing rustic antiques with urban chic has created a look that is both fresh and familiar.

Red Barn Mercantile opened its doors in September 2007 with a single vision in mind: providing old and new to offer our customers signature whole-room designs at great prices.

We’re more than a furniture boutique and provide more personalized service than a big box retailer. We work hard to bring you the highest quality furniture and gifts, the most unique conversation starters, wall hangings and accent pieces, whether they come from off-the-beaten-track flea markets, or the latest designers.


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Alexandria, VA 22314


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