How To Style Built In Bookcases

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We have a set of tall builtins in this little nook in our hall. They sit at the top of the stairs, and across from more stairs leading up to our playroom. They’re part of the charm of our house, and I wanted to give them the attention they deserved!

a girl standing in front of shelves showing how to style built in bookcases

You can catch a glimpse of the built ins from our entry, so they needed to be styled nicely- but they are also outside our kids’ rooms so I had to let go of perfection. I also wanted the kids to have a few shelves with their things on them since they love to touch these shelves.

A How To Style Built In Bookshelves Tutorial

When we moved into the house last winter, I unpacked a box of books and frames, stuck them all on the shelves and left it for another day. My mother commented recently that greenery might help perk the space up, and it totally inspired me to revamp the bookcases!

styled built in bookcases in a hall 

A Step by Step On How To Style Built In Bookcases 

1. Take everything off your built ins

Start empty. Don’t try to rearrange. Let’s go with a blank slate here!

2. Yes – you can actually use books on your built ins!

Obviously you aren’t going to line the shelves with alllll the books- if you wanted to do that you wouldn’t be googling how to style built in bookcases. 

Instead, put your books in small stacks. A stack of 3, 5 or 7 (odd numbers) horizontally – or line them up vertically but color coordinate them for fun and visual interest!

Remove jackets on books to see if the spine is prettier underneath. If you have a lot of books with black spines and you feel like it’s throwing your built in bookcases off, turn a few of them around so the pages show but not the spines. This is about form and function!

styled built in bookcases with a little girl on the floor

Try a stack of 5 books, a picture frame touching them on one side, and 3 books leaning against the other side of the frame. This is a good combo that always looks good! Put a few other books in between book holders. And, a stack of books always look great with an interesting object on top.

Regardless, if one shelf has a lot of books, don’t line the shelf underneath it with more again. Remember this is a balance game, so try some books on the other side now or skip 2 shelves down. 

a little girl showing how she styles built In bookcases

2. Leave The Itty Bitty Objects Off Your Built In Bookcases

Tiny objects look like clutter. When shopping your house for pieces, leave the little stuff off. Especially if its a grouping of several knick knacks – that’s a hard no! Trust me on this one – one large object look a thousand times better than several little pieces grouped together.

styled built in bookcases

3. Group Objects Together

One single large object sitting alone on a shelf is okay. One medium or smaller sized object sitting along – not so much. Group everything together. Groups of 3 items or 5 are enough (a stack of books can count as 1 item).

Note the height of objects, because varied height looks best. A picture frame always looks good slid behind 1 or 2 objects. That’s an easy win.

Shop the house for sentimental objects, your favorite photos or art in frames, and pick up a new find or 2 if you like!

See: My 14 Favorite Finds On Amazon

stacks of books that are amazon home decor on a coffee table

4. Negative Space Is Your Friend

I could not in good faith give a how to style your built in bookcases tutorial without telling you that less is more, right? It is so, so true. Actually, looking at these photos, I feel like my shelves could have done with a few things taken away.

So after you’ve decorated, take a few things off and see how you like it. An object in the center of the shelf with nothing else on it is okay! 

a little girl showing how to style built in bookcases

5. If You Live With Kids – Give Them a Shelf!

These are in no way perfect. We live here with a 4 kids, two of whom are toddlers. Baskets are your friend. They look nice on the shelf, but you can just scoop their crap up and drop it in.

Forget perfection – just go for good enough on their shelves. The kids’ books could look so cute in little vertical piles, but my children are forever sitting in the hall, reading 3 or 4 books and then walking away leaving 25 books all spread out for us to find.  

I am so much happier every time I walk by these shelves! 

I hope thesse tricks help you style your built-in bookcases you love! Don’t be afraid to style and restyle – I am always mixing it up. These isn’t just one right way – just guidelines and tips to help you stand back and love what you see. Happy styling!

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