How to Decorate a Bookshelf

Four Methods:Arranging Non-Book ItemsArranging BooksAdding Designs and DetailsPainting a Bookshelf

Bookshelves are not just a place to store books; they can also be used to display artwork and trinkets. They also have endless possibilities for customization. This article will not only give you some tips on how to arrange items on your bookshelf to make it visually interesting, but also how to customize it.

Method 1
Arranging Non-Book Items

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    Give your shelf a personal touch with non-book items. Shelves don't have to be just for books. Consider leaving large gaps on each shelve, and filling the empty space in with something else from around the home. Be sure not to get carried away, however, or your shelf will look cluttered and disorganized. Here are some ideas:[1]
    • Add a low maintenance plant, such as a: aloe, English ivy, heart-leaf philodendron, jade plant, moth orchid, peace lily, pothos, snake plant, and spider plant.[2][3]
    • Add a fishbowl with a betta fish in it. Betta fish are colorful and low maintenance. .
    • If you like to collect anything, such as figurines or china, consider putting it on display on your shelf.
    • Place photographs and artworks in frames, and set them on your shelf.
    • Add something metallic for eye-catching sparkle. If you don't have anything metallic, then choose a figurine and paint it using silver, gold, or bronze spray paint.[4]
    • Add a mirror to create depth. You can either place the mirror against the back of the shelf, or place a small, framed mirror on top of a stack of books.
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    Know how to group items in a visually interesting and appealing way. Try to group items in odd numbers, such as groups of three or five. Also, consider placing large and small items together. This sort of contrast will keep the eye moving around.[5]
    • At the same time, consider placing similar items together. For example, if you have a shell collection, try to keep them all on the same shelf.
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    Give your shelf some texture by adding baskets. You can also store items inside the baskets, such as magazines, or crafting supplies, such as yarn and fabric.[6] Baskets come in all different shapes and sizes. Here are some ideas to get you started:
    • Add some cube-shaped baskets that are the same height as the spaces between the shelves. Use these baskets to store items you don't want on display, such as crafting supplies or video game controls.
    • Use tray-shaped baskets for storing magazines; they will also make the magazines easier to see and to reach.
    • Use round or bowl-shaped baskets to store bulky items that you may want displayed, such as colorful, homespun yarn or potpourri.
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    Stack small statues and other trinkets on top of the books. Tiny globes, decorative bookends, and small statues are just the right size for bookshelves, and they can help make things more interesting too.[7]
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    Layer objects in front of each other. Consider placing a large, flat object towards the back of the shelf, and a smaller, bulkier object in front. This will add some depth to your bookshelf.[8] Here are some ideas to get you started:
    • If you have a a photo of your family at the beach and some shells from the beach, place the photo in a frame towards the back of the shelf, and arrange the shells in front.
    • If you have a flat vase or decor item, place that towards the back of the shelf, and place a bulky item, such as a bust or plant, in front of it.
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    Consider rearranging the shelves, if possible.[9] Not all of the shelves have to be at the same height. If you can, carefully lift the shelf up and take it out of the bookcase. Take the pegs that the shelf was resting on out of the bookcase and put them into a different hole (most bookshelves should have holes drilled to the inside wall; if not, you will need to drill your own). Once you have the pegs in their new positions, place the shelf back onto them.
    • You can also create horizontal divisions in your bookshelf by cutting a spare shelf into smaller sections, and then sticking those sections inside.

Method 2
Arranging Books

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    Try arranging your books into categories. If you are an organized person, you might feel more comfortable by grouping your books based on category. Try devoting one shelf to each category. Here are some ideas:
    • Fiction
    • Non-Fiction, including dictionaries, research and reference materials, and textbooks.
    • Magazines
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    For a library-like feel, consider alphabetizing your books. You can alphabetize your books based on title, or on the author's last name. This will also make your books much easier to find.
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    Try grouping your books based on color. If you are more of a visual person, then consider organizing your books based on the color of the spine. Put all of the books with red spines together, and all of the books with blue spines together. Try to keep all of the warm colors (red, orange, and yellow) on one shelf, and all of the cool colors (green, blue, and purple) on another shelf.[10]
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    Make your bookshelf more interesting by stacking some books. Books don't all have to be placed on the shelf in the traditional manner; you can also stack some books on top of each other creating small piles. This will help add some visual interest to your shelf and move the eye around.[11]
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    Place larger books on the lower shelves and smaller books on the upper shelves. This will make your shelf appear more stable. If you keep other items on your shelves, consider grouping them the same way: larger items on the lower shelves and smaller items on the upper ones.[12]
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    Consider keeping magazines in folders or baskets. Magazines are very floppy and flexible, and they don't stand up well on their own. Folders and baskets will keep them all together while adding visual interest to your bookshelf.
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    Consider leaning a few books against each other. If you have a gap between the last book and the wall of the shelf, try leaning that last book against the rest of the books. This will fill in the empty space without adding bulk. The sudden angle will also help keep the eye moving around.

Method 3
Adding Designs and Details

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    Add some decorative panels to the back of your bookshelf.[13] Measure the spaces between the shelves of your bookcase, and cut pieces of cardboard or foamboard to fit using a craft knife. Spray the cardboard with some spray-on adhesive and cover it with a piece of colorful fabric. Trim off the excess fabric and turn the panel over so that the back/undecorated side is facing you. Place a square of double-sided foam tape on each corner.[14] Pop each panel into the spaces between the shelves. Press down on the corners to make the tape stick.
    • You can also use drawer liner, wallpaper, or even wrapping paper. The drawer liner does not need to be glued onto the cardboard, as it already is sticky on the back.
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    Use ribbon to trim the edges of your bookshelf. Choose a ribbon that is the same width as the edges of your shelves. Cut the ribbon so that it is the same length as the shelf. Apply some double-sided tape along the edges of your bookshelf where you want the ribbon to be. Press the ribbon down onto the tape.[15]
    • You can also use scrapbooking tape. It comes in many different colors and patterns. Stick the end of the tape onto one of the ends of the shelf, and roll it across the edge. When you get to the other end of the shelf, snip the tape off.
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    Drape a flower garland or battery-operated string lights over the top of the bookshelf. You can secure them by taping the rope part to the top corners of the bookshelf. You can also drill a tiny hole into each top corner of the bookshelf and twist in a small cup-hook; the garland or lights can drape over this.
    • You can purchase flower garlands and battery-operated string lights at an arts and crafts store.
    • Most flower garlands are between six and eight feet long. You can trim them down to the width of your bookshelf using a pair of wire cutters, or you can leave the garland as it is; the ends will drape against the sides of your bookshelf.
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    Add some lights to the inside of the bookshelf. Purchase a set of battery-operated shelving or cabinet lights and some double-sided foam mounting tape. Peel the tape off the card and stick it to the back of the light; try to get it as centered as possible. Peel the backing off, and then press the light to the underside of the shelf.

Method 4
Painting a Bookshelf

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    Consider painting your shelf. You can paint it a single, solid color, or you can paint the inside a different color from the outside. Here are some ideas:
    • Liven up a plain, wood bookshelf by painting it a bright white.
    • Add some contrast to a white bookshelf by painting the inside a bright color, such as cyan or pink.
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    Take out the shelves, if possible, and sand everything using 150 grit sandpaper.[16] If you are able to remove the shelves, take them out; if you are unable to, then don't worry about it. Sand the entire bookcase, including the shelves, using small, circular motions. You do not need to sand away the previous finish; you are simply creating a surface for the paint and primer to grip on to.
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    Wipe the bookcase and shelves down using a dust cloth. Be sure to vacuum the floor of your work space to get rid of any dust caused by the sanding. Any dust left in your work space may get onto the finished piece and mar the surface.
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    Wipe the bookcase and shelves down using a magic eraser sponge. You can purchase magic erasers in the cleaning department of a grocery store. Be sure to get a plain magic eraser, without any special additives, such as bleach.
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    Paint the inside corners of the shelf using acrylic paint and an angled brush. Use a light stroke; you can always apply a second or third coat once the paint is dry. Avoid applying too much paint all at once; this will help prevent any visible brush strokes.
    • Spray paint is not recommended for large projects such as this. It is more likely to cause drips and streaks than the paint that comes in a can.[17]
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    Paint the rest of the shelve using a foam roller. Apply the paint using light, even strokes. This will help prevent any drips, bubbles, and streaks. If you are planning on painting the shelf two different colors, paint the inside first and wait for the paint to dry before painting the outside.
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    Wait for the paint to dry before applying a second and third coat. Refer to the instructions on the paint can for specific drying times. Some paints dry in as little as 15 minutes in between coats while others need 2 hours or more.
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    Allow the paint to completely dry before putting the shelves back into place. Again, refer to the instructions on the can. Most paints will require 24 hours drying time. If you try to put your shelf together and use it too soon, you will risk denting the paint or causing it to go sticky.
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    Consider using adding designs to your bookshelf with stencils. Choose a stencil that you like and press it against the side of your bookshelf. If the stencil is not already sticky on the back, then tape it to the shelf using painters tape. Paint over the stencil using acrylic paint in a contrasting color and a foam roller. Remove the stencil and move it to the next spot you want to have the design.


  • Consider displaying items on the shelf that match the theme and color scheme of your room. For example, if your room has an old, country feel to it, add a few rustic items made from burlap and galvanized steel.
  • If something looks off, step away from your shelf and come back after a few hours. Try rearranging your shelf when you get back. You can also come back to your shelf after a few days; this will give your mind and eyes to get used to the change.
  • If you don't know where to start, consider starting from the bottom of the shelf and building your way up.
  • Try to stack your less read books, especially if you are going to be placing something on top of that stack. This will prevent you from shifting too many things around too often.

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