How to Design Statement Bookshelves


As we spend more time than ever at home, gazing around rooms that have quickly become our gathering spaces, offices, happy hour spots, classrooms and more, bookshelves are emerging as eye-catchers — witness the ongoing social media commentary on the bookshelves of news anchors and others who suddenly find themselves broadcasting from home. Some are beautifully edited, others are crying out for a design update. 

Whenever I get the urge to transform some design details in my home, I love to start out with the bookshelves. They have the ability to turn simple storage into a signature design moment, and can easily be elevated with some simple updates. 

Today, I’m sharing my tips for transforming your bookshelves into personalized, stunning statement walls in your room. 

Start with a Blank Canvas

As your very first step, completely empty your bookshelves. It is so important you start the process with a blank canvas that allows you unrestricted creativity.


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Create Statement Shelves with Paint or Wallpaper 

Before thinking about the decor and books that line the shelves, take a look at the shelves themselves. While a simple, classic look might perfectly complement some spaces, in others you might want more of a statement. 

Consider whether you’d like to create a bold backdrop for collections and books by painting the shelves a bold color or lining the back with wallpaper. If you have extra paint or wallpaper from another room, this is a great way to add an eye-catching element. AKD design tip: you can cut out a foam board, cover it with fabric, and press it to the back of each shelf for a faux wallpaper look.


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Let the Room Inspire the Shelves

Next, think about how the bookshelves can best reflect the room they are in. In family rooms, I love to bring in sentimental pieces like family pictures or decorative objects from travels that create a sense of warmth and happiness in the space. In children’s rooms, I like to add a touch of playfulness by bringing in more personal objects like baby shoes, toys or stuffed animals. Let the room inspire the pieces you choose to fill the shelves, creating a purposeful atmosphere. 


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Add Personality and Sentimental Pieces

Bookshelves have the ability to frame meaningful possessions and bring them up to eye level, increasing visual impact. They are the perfect place to showcase artwork, accessories, sentimental collections, family photos, and so much more. Because they’re endlessly adaptable, bookshelves can really speak volumes (no pun intended) about you and your fondest memories. 


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Use Books Strategically 

If you don’t flip through the pages of physical books or your collection has yet to take shape, fill your shelves with books that offer aesthetic interest, such as similar color bindings or arresting cover art.  

While I love a tone-on-tone bookshelf design, if you are an avid reader and have a large collection, this look can be nearly impossible to achieve. So, let your bookshelf speak to you, and embrace the color mixing that comes with a well-read and loved collection of page-turners.  

When using a monochromatic look with books selected for visual appeal, accessories can take center stage. When using a mix of well-read and well-loved books, the focus becomes the books themselves.


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Master the Mix by Bringing Together Decor, Art and Books 

Add diversity and interest to your bookshelves by mastering the mix of heirlooms, decor, art, books, decorative boxes, and more. 

Some of my favorite pieces to incorporate into bookshelves are: 

  • Family photos in beautiful frames

  • Items from travel like shells or rocks in a statement bowl

  • A beautiful plate propped against the back of the shelves or on a stand

  • Family heirlooms 

  • Collection pieces scattered throughout the shelves

  • Small vases with a few blooms (especially when you have guests over) 

  • Artwork in a small frame on the shelves or in a large frame hung directly between two shelves


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Layer Your Objects

Once you have an idea of the pieces you’d like to incorporate, consider how you can layer these to add depth and interest. I look to have some of the large objects stand on their own while layering some of the smaller objects strategically, mixing shorter and taller pieces with narrower and wider accessories. This contrast adds interest to the design.


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Mix Horizontal and Vertical Pieces 

On that same note, another way to add contrast is to ensure you have a strong mix of both vertical and horizontal pieces — which includes books too. Layer in some books horizontally in small stacks with an accessory on top, or use decorative objects as bookends following a row of vertical books. 

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Don’t Forget to Maintain Order and Keep it Functional 

Lastly, always keep functionality in mind. While the aesthetic often takes priority when designing these statement-making bookshelves, it is still important to make them functional and keep your books and accessories in order. I love to incorporate decorative boxes to add a bit of organization as well as interest. They hide clutter wonderfully while also adding polish when stacked on a shelf or used to elevate smaller objects. 

Baskets are another perfect organization essential, and with so many beautiful options out there, they bring functionality and textural beauty to your design. I like to keep them near the bottom of bookshelves for easier accessibility

Above all else, enjoy the process of bringing your bookshelf design to life. It’s the perfect place to infuse personality and intertwine memories, art, and literature.


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