Wednesday 19 October 2011

Styling Bookcases

When an addition was built onto my home, I turned the tiny front living room into a library.  Sure, it still looked a lot like a living room but one whole wall was built into bookcases.  The important thing is that I  called it a library.  I insisted everyone else call it a library.

Even though it has functioned as my office for several years and is often cluttered with bolts of fabric, wallpaper books and thrift shop finds waiting for transformation, those bookshelves are off limits for business. Otherwise, I wouldn't have a library.

I love books and these shelves are constantly in use.  They become a jumbled mess in a short time and need to be restyled regularly.

Many of our clients ask to have their bookshelves styled and we teach them the tricks for achieving order and interest, form and function.  By popular request on this blog (can three people asking constitute popular request?) I'm sharing some of those ideas with you.

After emptying the shelves, choose a decorative item or items for a focal point.  I've started with a theme built around a pair of white Foo Dogs.  The symbolism of the ancient dogs guarding the Buddhist temples remains important in Feng Shui design as protectors from harm.  Since it is bad luck to place only one, I wanted to maintain a sense of symmetry by adding other sets of two on the shelves.

I started picturing these shelves as belonging to an archaeologist during the heyday of that field, when tombs were being opened and ancient wonders were discovered regularly.  Now, I'm getting a little global with it.  I add a vase my dad made and we kids all snickered about for years because it had barenaked ladies on it.  It's Grecian in style.  The next shelf gets a pair of Roman style urns.  A clock is flanked by two Egyptian looking cats that I picked up in an antique store for $5.  Another shelf holds a piece of pottery in an Aztec style and an old postcard.

Some Native American arrowheads, a stone axe, a soapstone carving and an old bottle with Buddhist beads keeps the theme going.

The next two shelves are kept simple to give the eye a rest.  That's my mom, at seventeen, in the pic.

The next two shelves hold a seagrass basket for stowing magazines and a vintage suitcase that stores family documents.

The bottom shelves always hold kids colouring supplies and books too large to fit on the other shelves.

The key elements are using objects that somehow relate to each other in style, use, colour, etc., colour blocking and breaking up the layout.  The first is self explanatory.  Colour blocking is a retail technique where you place a lot of objects of the same colour together for impact.  I've done all red books on the top shelf, black on the next shelf and so on.  Breaking up the layout is done by laying some books on their side and is a great way to draw attention to a small, decorative object placed on top of the stack.

I often do a more casual, random placement of objects instead of the symmetrical pattern of breaking things up in the centre.  Then, I'll have a stack of books or decorative objects off to one side on one shelf and maybe in the centre of the shelf below.

Here's the final display ~

I have wallpapered the back of the shelves in a ticking pattern.  I'm also a lousy photographer and have no idea how to get a pic without the stripes blurring.  Help!

I hope that gives you some ideas for when you tackle your bookcases.

That's only half the bookcases in this room.  On to the next!


  1. Love the bookcases - sorry LIBRARY. Thanks for the tips.

  2. I love the bookcases! I am trying to convince Mr. B to do some sort of "theme" with the bookcases in his office. I will be showing him this post in hopes of inspiring him. Speaking of inspiring, I’ve awarded you the Versatile Blogger Award because you are so inspiring to me! Go check out the details after 4:00pm Mountain time today at

  3. That looks great but now can you show me how to personalize a computer desk? Regrettably, the books are in boxes and the electronics have taken over!

  4. Stay tuned for desk personalizing next week! I'll have to clear mine off first!

  5. Janet@Ozarks Livin'20 October 2011 at 18:41

    Love the color blocking. I need to get to work on my bookcase. Thanks for the inspiration.

  6. Congrats on your Versatile Blogger award Maureen! You go girl!