Perfectly styled bookshelves aren’t just made possible by interior designers! The beauty in built-in shelving units is that they are a part of your home, making it a unique spot to showcase your family and interests. You can style your shelves one time and be done with it, or you can constantly update your displays to go with the flows of your family. Use these tips to make the most of your built-ins!

Start Fresh Every Time

The most important thing when decorating or redecorating your built-in shelves is to start with a clean slate. It can get messy if you just keep adding things to pre-styled shelves, and you want to be able to fully see everything on the shelves. Take everything off the shelves and organize the items into piles. This way, you’ll get a good idea of everything that you could possibly put on the shelves and see if you need more items.

Go Shopping in Your Own House

Walk around your home and see if there are any knick-knacks, heirlooms, photographs, or miscellaneous objects in different rooms that don’t quite “fit” the style of that space but you love and want to continue to showcase. It can be tempting to buy a bunch of things that match, but you never know what kind of family gems and mementos you can pair together to create one-of-a-kind decor.

Use Negative Space to Your Advantage

Everything doesn’t always have to be symmetrical. Start by designing one shelf completely, and then move on to the next one. You can get new ideas as you build so each shelf ends up different. It’s okay—and encouraged—to leave negative space. This way, the eye can slowly focus on each item separately instead of just looking at a shelf full of random items.


Mix Up Your Items

The possibilities are truly endless on what you could add to your shelves. Really, anything that is eye-catching and/or personal to your family has its place on the shelves! Be sure you’re adding pieces that are varied in textures, heights, and colors. Some items to include are:
  • Picture frames: You can have more than just photos in picture frames! Consider printing out quotes or framing artwork that you like.
  • Greenery: If your green thumb is weak, you have more than real plants to choose from! Faux greenery mixed in with a few live succulents or plants will create the illusion that all of the greenery is real. A tip: Don’t water the real ones on the shelves—this could get super messy and even damage your shelves if the water leaks.
  • Books: Showcase your favorite reads or head to an antique store or garage sale to buy cheap, decorative books. Just take the covers off or flip them to expose the pages (rather than the spine) for a more coordinated color scheme.
  • Candles: Finally, you’ll have a place for all those candles you’ve received but never burned! Use them as filler pieces or bookends on your shelves.
Dedicate time to curating the best pieces for your built-ins. Your shelves will look best when they are a reflection of you, your family, and all of the little elements that bring you together. Almost anything can go together on a shelving unit if it makes you/ your family happy!

This content is not the product of the National Association of REALTORS®, and may not reflect NAR's viewpoint or position on these topics and NAR does not verify the accuracy of the content.