Six Simple Shelf Styling Staples


Dear World,

You know how you get all scared when you look at your shelves and bookcase? Wondering how on earth you are going to be able to fill all those nooks and crannies? I hear you. I recently spent some time with my parents, who just installed the above built-in shelving in their sitting room. I basically went into their house and bossed them around about what should go where and they acted like they liked it but then they threw a huge party after I left to celebrate their freedom, tears of joy streaming down their previously tormented faces. I have styled shelving for many clients, and it can be super challenging. Usually, the challenge is that people do not have enough books or objects to fill the space. Or the objects that they have are gross and ugly. Luckily my parents are hoarders like me so they had tons of stuff to play with. Organizing at my parents’ house helped me come up with a list of what you’ll need to style your bookcase or built-in shelving.

Below is what I think you should ALWAYS have to style your bookcase:


1. Books
Yes, this goes without saying. You should have good books around you at all times. Especially when you’re single and looking for a new boyfriend. Otherwise, how else are you going to drop your books in front of a guy and then you’ll both bend down to get them and bonk heads and then look into each other’s eyes and then fall in love? Duh. But in all seriousness, get some books in your life. Good books. Ones you might actually read. And pretty books. With art in them that you want to ogle. Then someday when book-drop/head-bonk b0yfriend leaves you for some other book-dropper, you will still have your books. And at that point you’ll realize books are better than people. And then you’ll start wearing “Book Banning Burns Me Up!” t-shirts and everyone will know how crazy you are. And then you will be a social pariah and you’ll lose your job and everyone will hate you. Just kidding that could never happen to you. You’re far too pretty.



2. Sculptural Objects
Bookcases are the perfect place to store objects you love to ogle. My mom found these little sculptures in Alaska and my dad found that beaver skull on a bike ride in Northern California. “What if I’m an orphan with no dad to find me skulls?” you ask? Well, you can find your own stuff to put in your bookcase! You should constantly be looking around you for things you can hoard to put on display  for ogling purposes. Thrift stores and flea markets are a good place to start.



3. A Variety of Finishes/Materials
Life gets boring when everything is the same. So you should make sure you are collecting things made of different materials. Wood, glass, ceramic, paper. Anything. The more varied the more interesting your guests will think you are. And the whole point of life is tricking people into thinking you are interesting, right? Variety also helps your eye travel around the bookcase, looking it up and down so many times the bookcase will feel self-conscious.


4. Lighting
Shelving tends to be dark and brooding, like Joaquin Phoenix. So you need to make sure you add lighting to your bookcase otherwise everyone will get totally depressed when they look at it and it will be all your fault. But don’t worry, all you need to do is add lighting and you’re fine. Glamorous Noguchi lamps are one of my favorite ways to add lighting to shelving because they are a great scale and provide warm, diffused light. Also, because Noguchi was known for his beautiful sculptures, each one is a small sculptural work of art.


5. Photos
Because I’m not a fancy British person wearing a monocle, I like my shelves and bookcases to look a bit more casual. Thus, I like to add unframed photos in front of books. Above is a photo my dad took of his old MG, which he had when I was a baby. I was such a cute baby. And so well-behaved! You know who’s not a cute baby? Uptight British bookcases. They’re all “Do you want a scone?” And you’re like “No they’re so dry!” And they’re like “You must try one they’re simply divine!” And then you try one and it’s SO DRY. Anyway, boring perfect bookshelves are like that dry-ass scone. No one wants that. [Full disclosure, I actually love scones and I plan on opening a scone shop one day called “Scone Thugs-n-Harmony.” Really].


6. Art [All Sizes]
It’s nice to break up the busy look of an all-book bookcase with some art. When designing my own shelving, I like to design some larger shelving spaces to accommodate larger art pieces, like the above print. This solves two problems. One, it allows you to stare at your art. Two, it solves the problem of starving artists. Because if you were buying artwork then artists would have money. And if they had money then they wouldn’t have to starve. And you wouldn’t want artists to starve, would  you? I thought not. So put some art in your bookcase!


You can also put art in front of books, which allows you to display some of your smaller artwork and hide some of your uglier, more shameful books (ie the “Twilight” series and all the “Harry Potter” books. I know you have them).


So there you go. The six things you need to make sure your shelves look sexy! Now go out and get them right this minute! Or everyone will judge you. Through the computer. Right now as you read this very sentence.


14 thoughts on “Six Simple Shelf Styling Staples

  1. Funny–just this very morning we were laughing at somebody’s expressed need for “book ends”–there are people who don’t have enough books to fill their shelves? Who don’t always need more and more shelves to hold the books pouring in every day from every quarter of the globe? Who aren’t tempted to get rid of all of the furniture and just sit, eat, and sleep on appropriately stacked piles of books? Really?

    One great hint that I’d like to emphasize here is the use of lighting in bookshelves. Incandescent bulbs aer out of the question, because of the heat. Fluorescents can help, but LEDs are the best. Simple little lampie-thingies or ropes of lights on the shelves behind the books are wonderful and cool enough to do no damage to the books. And you can put them on a timer to switch on at dusk and off at dawn, so there’s always just enough light in the library.

    And I will confess to having a microwave discreetly installed on a bookshelf in my study, along with all of the additives and condiments that one might need, decanted into laboratory bottles corralled in a stainless-steel autoclave tray. Plus I made labels giving either the pharmaceutical name for the condiment or its chemical formula. That way it looks more suitably scientific.

  2. I spelled “are” incorrectly. I am sorry. The microwave went off in the middle of that sentence, and it distracted me. Again, my apologies.

  3. Scones are the best! I’m British, living in SF and I find American scones much dryer and much less divine! At least we Brits try and disguise the dry ones with a dollop of jam and clotted cream! Yum! Is it tea at three yet?

    Bravo on the Shelves!

  4. Hey, I love how all those pieces from different places and times have finally come together in my longed for giant bookcase. Thanks, Orlando, I love the styling!

  5. What I love about this styling is it’s not over styled…’s effortless, stylish, interesting and useable!

  6. “Usually, the challenge is that people do not have enough books or objects to fill the space.” Who are these people and what is wrong with them?! My challenge is always too many books, objects, and art (all of which are beautiful, of course).

  7. Orlando you are hilarious! I totally couldn’t help prevent my brain from reading “You must try one they’re simply divine” in a thick, English accent.

  8. Keep on keeping on! Love your posts. So fun and informative! Thanks for all the time you take to post.

  9. If I were a small sculptural object I would love to be styled in a lovely bookcase by you.

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