Styling Shelves: Creating Your Perfect "Shelfie"

If you’ve been following me long enough, you’ll know that I love functional pieces of furniture that fit your lifestyle and tell your story. So naturally, I love bookcases and shelves and how functional they are (hello, storage!).

But have you ever thought of them as a piece of art? A way to tell your story? With a little attention, bookshelves can be turned styled into a piece of art, a reflection of you with favorite treasures, books, colors and trip mementos. It’s a design craze called “shelfie”. An alternative to a “selfie” that’s curated and reflective of your style, interests and personality.

Here are my tips on how to create your perfect “shelfie”:


1. Tell your story. There are no rules to what can and can not go on a shelf so add what speaks to you and reminds you of moments in life. Frame one of those twenty scenery pictures from vacation, add a ceramic animal of your college mascot (that’s what I did--go dawgs!), your favorite Christmas ornament as a bookend or fill a jar with sand or shells.


2. Layer, Layer, Layer. Adding different shapes and textures breaks up the monotony of the straight lines from books, frames and boxes. Think vases, bowls and decorative objects with varying textures and colors. It’s also a great way to use smaller art by leaning one of two pieces together.

3. Pick a color scheme. How much color, if any, depends on the space, size of shelves and the rest of the room, but here are some no fail tips:

  • Pops of Color: Pick one to two colors you’d like to add to your shelves and pair them with a neutral. Space your use of color throughout the shelves.

  • All Neutrals: Add lots of texture (white ceramic objects with some shine, books with a matte finish, white sand dollars in glass bowl, etc.)

  • Any Scheme: Use white or neutral frames. Unless your photos are black and white, the photos themselves will add plenty of color to the shelves. Also, pay attention to the colors in photos and try to keep them similar so it doesn’t appear too busy

4. Leave some breathing room. Start by placing big items and then fill in the spaces with smaller objects. When you are up close and styling it can sometimes feel like there’s too much space between objects, but step back (like ten feet) and it might change your perspective.

5. Create Cohesion. Stack books that are all one color and repeat shapes and textures. You can add texture with the books by taking the covers off, flipping them so that the pages are showing or covering them with butcher paper or linen scrapbooks. I like to add books that have meaning to me but sometimes when I’m looking for a certain size or color book I’ll look in McKay’s (for Knoxvillians) free section.


6. Add visual interest. Odd numbers and height cause our eyes to move around, making it a more interesting visual experience so style in ones or threes when possible and use a mixture of tall and short pieces.


7. Use a grid. Create an imaginary grid in your bookcase and start styling section by sections. Alternate the sections between books and objects, and dense areas and more dispersed areas. Use objects as bookends or the top of a stack of books as a punctuation. 

8. Make it pop. Paint or wallpaper the back of your bookcase or add antique mirrors to make objects pop.

9. Curate your favorites. Use a wood bowl, apothecary jar or metal tray to display some of your favorite smaller items like shells, coins, glasses, or wine corks.

10. Make it seasonal. With a few easy changes you can turn your everyday style into one for the holidays. Swap out bowl fillers with shiny ornaments, mini pumpkins or Easter eggs. Switch your framed art and photos to more festive colors. Change your stacks of books to ones with holiday colors or titles. Add seasonal greenery to vases.


Styling your shelves can seem overwhelming but turn on some music, grab something fun to drink and snack on, maybe invite a friend to help and follow these easy steps:

  • Lay everything out that could possibly go on your shelves so you can see it all.

  • Start with the shelf at eye level and work out from there.

  • Use the tips above to start filling in the remaining shelves

  • Edit, edit, edit and let them evolve over.

  • And for goodness sakes, HAVE FUN!