Rebecca in front of shelves

The Illustrated Guide to Decorating Your Bookshelf

Bookshelf decorating is a true art, but one that is utterly unique. Here's some great tips for how to make your shelves stand out.

Bookshelf Decorating

Update your book nook with this illustrated guide on bookshelf decorating, organization, and design. Find the persona you identity with most (The Creative, The Minimalist, The Decorator, The Collector, or The Academic) and apply our tips to create a fabulous bookshelf.

 The Creative

Rainbow bookshelf

Technique: Books by color

Ditch the alphabetization and arrange your books by color. It will catch your eye every time you walk in the room.

Cover Art DisplayTechnique: Face out artwork 

Turning out cover art is the quickest way to create a visually appealing shelf. If you think you have too many books on your shelf to do this, stack some behind the front-facing book to save inches.

Oversize art book display.

Tip: Dealing with oversize books

Oversize makes the difference when looking at artwork or graphic novels, but it’s hard to display when it doesn’t fit on the shelf. Stack books horizontally or use them as a backdrop for other books.

The Minimalist

Books without Dust Jacket

Technique: Take off the jacket

Bookshelf decorating doesn’t have to be overdone. Hardcover books look beautiful without their dust jackets on and this style erases hard lines and images between books. If you hope to accumulate value in your collection, keep and store the jackets.

Backwards Books

Technique: Backwards books

If you feel like you have too much clutter in a room, turn your texts backwards to hide spine lettering and images. This is great for paperbacks and you might be surprised how beautiful they are.

Tip: Purge your shelf

Purge your bookshelf

This is the hardest tip, but a necessary one. Donate or resell books that you don’t plan to reread and don’t have sentimental value. Start by giving yourself a pass on the books that you always planned to read, but never found the motivation to do so. Keep in mind that the most effective collections must have FINDABLE contents.

The Decorator

Decorate your shelfTechnique: Knickknacks & baubles

Display showpieces or collections among your books. Use large items like trophies, photographs, ceramics, vases, and baskets first, and then incorporate smaller items. Remember that odd numbers are more aesthetically appealing and be sure to double-check stability of breakable pieces.

Stack books horizontally

Technique: Stacking books

Break up a straight line of books by stacking small groups horizontally. Grouping paperbacks together works well because of the standard size. You can also make a pyramid with small books on top of horizontal large books.

Cookbooks in a KitchenTip: Incorporate books into life

Bookshelf decorating can spill over into other areas of the house. Cookbooks, reference guides, and photo albums should be kept in the area where they will get the most use, not necessarily your standard bookshelf. Take a little time to move them to a bright corner.

The Collector

Technique: Organize your books by value


Be sure to place your most valuable books on an eye-level shelf so they’re well protected from pets and children, but visible to all.

Technique: Series collecting


If you’re collecting a series of books, decide what edition to collect so they are consistent on your bookshelves (hardcover, paperback, old, new, illustrated, etc). This collection of the Harry Potter series is in a liminal phase while we wait for the rest of the illustrated editions to come out.

Tip: Caring for antique booksProtect collectible books

Make sure books are out of direct sunlight and the temperature is a nice, stable high 60s or low 70s. Don’t overcrowd books and allow for decent airflow. Lay tall books flat and use bookends to keep books from leaning or sagging. Dust regularly to prevent mold.

The Academic

Books by subjectTechnique: Dewy Decimal System

If you have a lot of nonfiction books, categorize them loosely according to the Dewey Decimal System: 0. Basic Info, 1. Philosophy & Psychology, 2. Religion, 3. Social Sciences, 4. Language, 5. Science, 6. Technology, 7. Arts, 8. Literature, and 9. History. Don’t get caught up deciding subcategories or debating what section a book goes in. Go with what makes sense to you and keep it simple.

Stickers on books

Tip: Peel off those stickers

If you’re going to give a book a rent-free place in your home for possibly decades, you can commit 5 minutes to peeling off price stickers or used-book markers. Goo Gone is safe to use on glossy, modern covers. Eliminating those stickers will immediately elevate your shelf and make it feel more personal.

Reference bookshelf

Tip: Use your books

If you keep reference books or university texts, make a point to use them. They’re not the same as a collectible novel because unlike storytelling, the information will go out of date. So embrace it, and use them thoroughly without guilt. Nosy guests will learn a lot about you when they notice which are the most marked and worn.

We hope you got some useful tips and are looking forward to revamping your own bookshelves.  If you have a favorite way of organizing your books, post in the comments, or share a photograph of your update.

Also, check out this time lapse of Rebecca organizing her shelves on YouTube, and a full bookshelf tour.

Recommended following on Instagram (aka #bookstagram):

@ab_reads posts pictures of books and tea and cozy things

@thebibliotheque organizes her books backwards

@thebibliophagists shares book covers

@the.novelistics decorates her bookshelves

@xenatine posts colorful images of books

@conquer_books is our Instagram page with lots of book news and reviews

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