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Built In Bookshelves - Decorating Ideas: Stylish by Design

Updated on April 25, 2016
renoelle profile image

Renoelle, published author, and is a long-time fan of classic TV and movie monsters of all persuasions.

Built-in bookshelves are not only a way to save space and complement your décor, they can add that designer touch to your home. They can also become a catch-all for every knick-knack, what-not, and chachka in the house. Regardless of your design style, paying attention to a few simple design practices can de-clutter and organize your bookshelves, and turn them into a display worthy of any high-style showroom.

Many of us enjoy collecting, be it antique, country chic, or modern accessories. Some of us are "gifted" with items that gradually become collections, courtesy of our friends and relations. However the many and varied items arrive in our homes, they seem to migrate to the shelves of our bookcases like homing pigeons to their loft.

Fireplace flanked by built-in bookshelves - photo credit: lipstickalleydotcom.jpg
Fireplace flanked by built-in bookshelves - photo credit: lipstickalleydotcom.jpg

Clean, simple lines for uncluttered, classic decor

Classic style from
Classic style from

Sophisticated modern styling

Streamlined decor - photo credit:
Streamlined decor - photo credit:

Some Basics

The style and finish of your bookshelves will have some effect on what décor objects will suit your room, but actually, almost any items will look great if they are displayed properly. So, what constitutes "properly"?

There are a few design principles you need to keep in mind, that will help you display your treasures to their best advantage.

Less is more. This may seem to be a contradiction in terms, but it is a basic design concept. In practical terms, it means that a few, carefully chosen items will have a greater impact than a hodge-podge of clutter massed together. As lovely as each individual piece may be, if they are all lumped together they can look more like a display for a garage sale than a lovingly selected collection.

Be selective. Are there some pieces that you can winnow out? If so, keep only the best, the most unique representatives from your collection of antique pepper mills. After all, you really don't need to have all 197 of them on display all at once. This could mean putting most of your collection away, and displaying selected pieces in rotation.

Pick your absolute favorites to begin with, and carefully store the rest. After a few months, trade your favorites for a different selection from storage. You can rotate your display seasonally, or as the mood strikes you, but this will ensure that all your beloved collection will continue to give you great pleasure - just not all at the same time.

Use groupings to show off your items. Combining two or three smaller objects with interesting shapes while showcasing larger items on their own can create a variety of eye-pleasing groupings. Using items of the same color but different textures can also provide interesting accents.

Some years ago, my mother decided that I collected candlesticks. I did not, but that didn't stop the family from gifting me with an amazing variety of candle holders over the next few years. I had short, fat, tall, thin, round, square, wooden, carved, glass, crystal, and china candle sticks in, I'm sure, almost every hue of the rainbow.

It took me years to retain my family, and even more years to winnow down my "collection" to a manageable size. Now I have a rotating display featuring a few modest groupings in silver, brass, and crystal, depending on the season. All, of course, loving displayed on the shelves of my built-in bookshelves.

Carefully selected elements make a strong design statement - photo credit:
Carefully selected elements make a strong design statement - photo credit:
Minimal decorations show off these built-in bookshelves - photo credit:
Minimal decorations show off these built-in bookshelves - photo credit:
Small bedroom bookcase - photo credit:
Small bedroom bookcase - photo credit:

Don't "match", co-ordinate... Some of us approach design by covering every piece of upholstered furniture in the room with the same fabric, and then adding drapes and throw pillows in exactly the same pattern. Remember the lovely bedrooms in the back of the mail-order catalogue? You could purchase matching bed spreads, pillows, throw pillows, and curtains - all from the same fabric, in any of two or three lovely shades. If you were really lucky, you could find towels in the same color for the master ensuite.

Choose a strong pattern for your walls, or your carpet, or your sofa and keep everything else simple - use contrasting or co-ordinating colors for soft accents, curtains, and throw pillows.

Décor items such as vases, candle sticks, and other decorative objects should reflect this approach. Glass, metal, and wooden objects can be grouped together to add interesting notes of sheen, sparkle, and texture.

A simple way to achieve a high-style designer look is to use one color for all or most of your décor items. Using white, or a combination of white, glass and one metallic hue for your décor items creates a fresh, modern effect.

As the bookshelves on the right from Good HouseKeeping illustrate, the light green interior, reflected in the single bloom on top of the case, adds an extra zing to the fresh, white exterior and display pieces.

Use texture to achieve variety. If your items are in different colors, consider repainting them the same color. Many items such as candle sticks, picture frames, lamp bases, and many other décor items can be given new life with a fresh coat of pain.

This is especially true when considering which items to place in your built-in bookshelves. A simple unified color-scheme is a most way effective to achieve a stylish look.

Can't find exactly what you want - consider building it!

If you are have the time, tools and energy (and who among us avid DIYers doesn't have the tools?) you might consider creating your own book shelves.

The project below shows some basic assembly techniques for a unique, personalized approach to adding a new look to your décor.

You could also make two units, omitting the raised side trim on this project on opposite side of each unit. Then, use the two units to beautifully frame an existing feature, such as a fireplace.

© 2010 renoelle


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    • renoelle profile image

      renoelle 7 years ago from Second star on the right, straight on 'til morning

      Thanks so much, shanel! I think so, too.,

    • shanel profile image

      shanel 7 years ago from Seattle

      There is something about build in bookshelves that really finishes the look of a room. Great hub.