Soffa Magazine

soffa magazine

12 Tips for Styling Shelves and Bookshelves

Shelves and Bookshelves: How to Style Without Cluttering.

Shelves and bookshelves are a great way to bring height, depth and visual interest to a room. Regardless of whether they cover an entire wall or are more discrete in the corner, there are certain things you can do to ensure your shelves look stylish, neat and clutter-free.

By following these 12 tips from our interior design experts, you’ll be able to breathe fresh life into your shelving space while also making sure it’s functional and on-trend.

#1. Start With a Clean Canvas.

Before you begin styling your bookshelf, it’s necessary to start afresh. Remove any objects you already have there and give all the surfaces a good clean (we all know how difficult bookshelves are to clean once everything is put on them)! This will ensure you see the space you’re working with, the proportions, and which object will work where well.

#2. Decide on What You Want the Function of Your Shelf to Be.

That might sound like an odd one but it’s really important to imagine how you’ll use your shelf. Is it purely for books? Primarily decorative? Or a bit of both? Working out how it’s going to be used will help you to group objects and ensure it’s still practical.

#3. Gather Items.

When collecting items to put on your shelves, consider size, colour, texture, and finish. Grouping them together helps you know what you’re working with and prevents you from forgetting anything!

#4. Start with the Biggest Items.

Place your largest items first, this helps you to ensure the shelves feel balanced and that there’s enough space around them so nothing gets cluttered. Large items could be vases, big books, bowls, clocks or sculptures. Be sure to play around with placing items off-centre and centrally to draw the eye to different areas of the wall.

#5. Leave Space!

When styling shelves, it can be really tempting to put objects all in a row to cover the entire area. This generally makes things look like a museum display and can easily become cluttered. Instead, try grouping items that work well together and leave blank spaces on the shelf too. Well-proportioned open space can help to keep objects ordered and draw focus.

Think about the size of the items you’re grouping together as well as the material they’re made from. Use taller items to create height, and don’t be afraid of letting bigger objects stand alone to create a focal point.

#6. Keep it personal.

Style your bookshelf with personal items and books that represent your style and taste. Don’t just add trinkets and books for display that mean nothing to you. Add your flair and style, and showcase personal items that hold memories.

#7. Use Bridging Objects.

When placing something tall next to something small, it’s best to use other objects to raise the small one up a bit. This helps to create a more natural staggered effect which makes the display more harmonious. Such items could be books (either with a neutral cover or turned around so the pages are showing), boxes, or stands

#8. Place Books Wisely.

If your bookshelf really is a bookshelf then you can still think about how you stack and place your books. Turning books to see the pages can help neutralise colours and the feel of the display but it’s not exactly useful when picking out a book to read. There are many ways you can stack books to make them look less cluttered. 

For example, play around with stacking books horizontally and vertically. You can even lean a couple of books against a vase and use other, more decorative objects, as bookends. Some people also like to group books based on the colour of their cover which can help the display to look organised. 

#9. Use Nature.

It’s easy for shelves to feel a bit cold and none varied. A great way to soften the space and add a bit of colour is with flowers and plants. Trailing plants, such as pothos or string of hearts, work really well on shelves. They can be placed higher up and draped over other shelves to soften the overall appearance. Likewise, fresh flowers in a vase or a small bowl of succulents work well too.

#10. Don’t Use Lots of Small Objects.

It can be tempting to collect and display small trinkets on a bookcase but this is a sure way for things to start looking cluttered. Rather than displaying them individually, place them in a bowl or tray to make them appear more organised. This makes them look like one object which can then be combined with others. The dusting will also be a nightmare with small objects. 

#11. Use Baskets and Folders.

If, for example, your bookshelf is in a study and you need it to be very functional, you can still add some details so it looks stylish and uncluttered. Decorative baskets and elegant folders are great for holding paperwork and stationary and keeping everything looking neat. Again, don’t overcrowd the space with lots of folders but leave some space empty.

#12. Gather Statement Objects.

Shelves and bookshelves are great for displaying unique items. These can be family photos, large vases, things you picked up in an antique store or unusual books. They’re wonderful conversation starters and can easily be adapted to the rest of the room’s interior design. Keep your style in mind when choosing what to display.

Styling Shelves and Bookshelves – Final Thoughts

The best way to style shelves and bookshelves so that they don’t become cluttered is to remember that less is more. Grouping items of different textures and colours creates an interesting focal point whilst not making the area look too busy. Working in threes works well and it’s best to combine large items with smaller ones. Just because you want the space to look stylish and chic doesn’t mean it can’t be practical. There are lots of storage ideas you can use to keep things looking neat and even books can be arranged to be clutter-free!

Scroll to Top