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How To Style Built-In Bookshelves

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How to style built-in bookshelves – tried and true tips to get your built-ins and bookcases looking great with a few easy ideas!

When I first toured our new home, there was a lot to love about it. The open floor plan, white kitchen cabinets, screened in porch, etc. But there were a few things I didn’t love. One of those things were the built-in bookshelves. I know, it sounds crazy! But I was worried that I wouldn’t have as much flexibility with the space. And if you read my post from last week about the living room, you’ll also know I am not a fan of the TV being exposed (though that issue is now fixed). However, I love styling shelves and it was literally the first thing I decorated in our new home. I wanted to share my tips with you on how to style built-in bookshelves, or really any shelves you have in your home. 

1. Start with a blank slate

Living room in new home

Obviously when we moved in, there was nothing on the shelves, but if you are wanting to re-style your built-ins I recommend removing all of the items. This will make things so much easier instead of trying to leave a few decor items to work around. I plan to change things around for the seasons and you can bet that I will take everything off the shelves to start fresh. 

2. Lay out all of the home decor items you think you want to use 

You definitely want to lay out all of your elements in one space. This way you can see everything you’re working with instead of grabbing things here and there. You may not use all of the home decor, or you may realize you need a few more things, but it’s great to have it all together. It can also help spark more creativity to go ahead and see what of your decor is working together and what is not. 

3. Mix & Match

Styling built-in bookshelves

You will want to use a combination of home decor elements when styling your built-in bookshelves. We like to use art, photographs, books, natural elements, and colored glass. The different textures of the items create various focal points and keep the shelves interesting. This also allows you to have fun when styling your shelves. Add that quirky piece of artwork or knickknack! This is the place to do it. 

One side tip about decorating with books, you can either group books that have similar colors like we did here. Or, if you want a more neutral look you can turn the books around and have the pages exposed instead. 

4. Shop your home

how to style built-ins


I did not buy anything new for the shelves except for this plant from a local store to add a little greenery. Some of these items came from the living room of my old house, but some things were also in a box in a closet. It’s amazing what you can do with what you already have. 

5. Create Height

Styling bookcases

You don’t want your built-ins to feel flat and all one note. Using moss balls, I was able to add greenery, as well as create height with this dough bowl. Filling in some of the neutral spaces will make the bookshelves more pleasing to the eye. This is also a great way to use books to create more height like we did here. Another option is to stack the books vertically.

6. Create some symmetry 

living room mantel

The built-in bookshelves don’t have to mirror each other exactly, but it is nice when there is some balance. For example, we have matching prints that are on the top shelves, as well as lanterns that mirror each other. Then the other decor items we used aren’t 100% the same, but are similar, such as the colored glass, books, wooden bowls, etc. We are all about the balance! 

7. Have fun

7 steps for styling built-ins

Have fun with styling your built-in bookshelves! You don’t need to rush the process. Don’t be afraid to add some things to the shelves and move the around or completely take them down if need be. It’s doesn’t need to be perfect in a day. Sit with the way you’ve styled the shelves and if something isn’t working, change it up. Trust your gut and we promise your shelves will turn out great! 

Do you like to re-style your built-in shelves and bookcases? If so, what are your tried and true tips? We’d love to hear them!

styling built-ins

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