Jenn, a member of my Facebook group Dream Homies, asks…
How do you properly style a shelf so that it doesn’t look like a hot mess or cluttered?
Thanks for your question! Some people suggest painting your bookcase white, I do love a white backdrop, but it’s not absolutely necessary, but an option to consider! The biggest thing here is to take the time and to keep playing (step 3, edit, edit, edit!!!).
1. Purge and Collect
In this step you’re going to remove everything from your shelf. Since you’ve asked about how to not make it look a “hot mess or cluttered” I assume that the shelf is in an area that matters and needs to look nice (as well as be functional). Go through all your books and make two piles. Pile one is “books that are worthy of having on the shelves” and pile two is “books that are less worthy”. Aka, weird topic books you don’t want your friends and family seeing (that Kama sutra book you bought on a whim to spice up your love life, hahaha jokes). Either donate the “not so worthy” books or move them somewhere else, like the basement.
A perfectly styled shelf includes more than just books, so gather accessories and smaller art (should be about an inch or two shorter than the shelf height) from around your home if you can. Be sure to find things that vary in size! Try to avoid anything smaller than an apple though, ’cause that starts to look “a hot mess”.
2. Divide and Conquer
Decide how you want to group your books, you can group by colour, size or alphabetical for the OCD types. From here you can distribute the books evenly amongst your shelves. Keep it interesting by stacking some books horizontally. You can place an accessory on top of the books you lie horizontally.
Next I like to lean art on the shelves, don’t go too crazy, maybe two to three vignettes that include art. Try to find a few different sized options for art and again, distribute it throughout the shelves evenly. Layer smaller frames in front of larger frames. Layering is key with book shelves!
Grab the larger accessories and distribute those evenly throughout similar to the art and consider placing in front of art or books. Then you’ll take the smaller elements and place it throughout, layering as you go.
3. Edit, Edit, Edit
The reality is, you’re not going to nail it on the first go. Place things, take a step back, squick your eyes to check for balance (not sure what it is about squinting but it helps see the balance a bit better). And keep playing. If you need help you can always search Pinterest for ideas!