Make your shelves feel curated—not cluttered—with this expert guide.
If you’ve ever walked through a home on the Parade of Homes or watched a design show on HGTV, you’ve probably noticed a bookshelf or two where every handpicked item looks perfectly placed. When done correctly, a well-styled bookshelf is “like adding a wall of art,” says Kristina Leone, owner and lead designer of Minneapolis-based Lionheart Home Staging. “There shouldn’t be any area that the eye gets hooked on. It should always land on the focal point first, and then easily travel around. The feeling that you should walk away with is the feeling of calm.”
Here, she shares her step-by-step guide for creating a bookshelf that looks curated—not cluttered.
Step 1: Start fresh.
Before you begin designing your dream bookshelf, clear everything off and plan your color scheme. Décor in gray, cream, and silver hues pops against mahogany and walnut woods, while white shelving benefits from a medium or dark palette.
Step 2: Create a focal point.
Identify the middlemost section of the bookshelf and remove a couple of shelves. This creates space for a focal point, such as a piece of artwork, a mirror, or a clock. “It doesn’t have to be traditionally framed art,” Leone says. “It could be anything that acts as an art piece.”
Step 3: Don’t cut corners.
In each corner of a wall-to-wall bookshelf, remove one shelf and replace it with a smaller piece of décor, whether it’s a platter, a framed photo, or a metal sculpture. “What the four corners do is establish a frame of the bookshelf,” says Leone.
Step 4: Display your favorite books.
On the shelves above, below, and alongside the focal point, stack three to five books—some vertical, some horizontal. “Odd numbers are appealing in interior design,” Leone explains.
Step 5: Get personal.
Tell your family’s story by accessorizing the books with personal items, like that award you won in college, or the crafts your kids made in school. “It’s these other objects that really give the bookshelf personality and individuality,” says Leone. “If it’s in the right location, almost anything can be used in a stylish manner.”
Step 6: Add finishing touches.
Incorporating different textures creates visual interest. Place a small succulent to add a dose of freshness to the bookshelf, or a basket that offers fashion and function, concealing everyday necessities from sight. To avoid a cluttered look, “leave three to four finger widths around each grouping before you place another item,” Leone advises. “It’s that negative space in between objects that gives that breathability.”
Written by Taylor Hugo
Taylor Hugo (taylorhugo.com) is a freelance writer and editor who has experience creating content for regional and national magazines, small businesses and Fortune 500 companies, and everything in between. After spending most of her life in Minnesota, she recently relocated to Colorado, where you’ll find her hiking the Rocky Mountains and decorating her first home that she shares with her husband and dog.