The style rules of creating an Instagram-worthy bookshelf

12 January 2018
By Fashion Quarterly

If getting your s**t together is on your list of resolutions for 2018, what better way to #adult than some serious decor upgrades?

Bookshelves are having a moment, hence the arrival of the ‘shelfie’. Get your shelves ready for their close-up with our styling tips and tricks.

How to style your bookshelf with Instagram-worthy precision

Check out the social media channels of any interiors nut and you’ll find shelfies – photos taken to show off carefully arranged displays of books and objects. Shelfies show us that bookshelves don’t have to only display books – with a little bit of creativity you can use them to showcase a variety of your favourite things. Whatever your style or shelf size, we have some hints to help you create a bookshelf worthy of a shelfie.

Getting started

It’s always good practice when styling any room or surface to start with a clear, consistent colour palette. For a shelf display to really shine, it is also important to mix up the textures of your decorative objects and to vary the size and shape of the items. Make sure you have a range of heights to create interest, too.

It is often said that you should only have things you love in your home, so we suggest a careful edit of what you have on display before styling. If it’s not functional, sentimental or beautiful, it might be time to say goodbye.

Shelf stacking

I recommend you start with books when styling your shelves. Beautiful books add so much interest to a space and the key is placement. Try stacking your books both vertically and horizontally.

Maybe lie two or four of your larger books flat, then lean some others vertically. Mix up the positioning of these book piles by placing some in the centre of the shelf and others to the left or to the right. If you have smaller books, these can look good in between some bookends.

Add artwork

Who says art is just for the walls? Incorporating art into your shelves adds personality and draws the eye to the back of the shelf, making it appear deeper and more three-dimensional.

Art also takes up a lot of visual real estate that can be tricky to fill with smaller objects. Along with any larger pieces, place your art at the back of the shelf with smaller objects in front. It’s okay to overlap art or framed pics and it’s fine for art to be a little obscured.

Decorate in odd numbers

It may sound weird, but our eyes are drawn to arrangements in odd numbers. The simple rule here is to style objects in arrangements of 1, 3, 5 or 7 – you’ll notice how much better they look. In the photo above I’ve styled a patterned canister, an iron dish and a shell necklace.

It still works to have things stacked on top of each other, like the canister on the shell coaster, and it looks better to have smaller items such as the necklace dangling out of the dish and onto the shelf to show it off to best effect.

Height, scale and space

Mixing up the height and scale of your objects is important. Just remember that if an arrangement isn’t working for you, consider changing the height or scale of some pieces. Nine times out of 10, this will solve your problem. Remember to stand back and look at your shelf.

If it’s looking too busy you may need to edit by removing some items. Maybe it’s too bland and you need to inject some colour? Remember, sometimes less is more. It’s okay to have some blank space on your shelf as this can give the rest of your objects room to breathe.

Small storage

While your bookshelf is in theory a storage space for larger objects, it’s often nice to include smaller storage pieces. This could be in the form of decorative boxes such as these beaded ones. I’ve also included a small canister for storage of tiny items.

Add some bling

Adding the shine of metal to your shelf brings a touch of luxury and will catch the eye. While there are no set rules for mixing your metals, it does look better when you stick to either warm tones such as gold, brass, copper and rose gold or all cold metals such as silver and nickel.

Lots of greenery

Greenery can add the finishing touch to a good shelfie. Plants inject colour and a sense of life to an interior, so if you don’t already have some, pick up a few pots, large or small, and get arranging. Plants that drape or hang down always look great as length links one shelf to another.

Good things take time

The perfect shelfie takes time so don’t be afraid to play around with items. Maybe leave it for day, then go back and play. Sometimes it’s the pieces you don’t think will work that make the look when you step back and admire the whole. Happy styling!

Words: Vanessa Nouwens
Photos: Wendy Fenwick

This article originally appeared on

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