Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Tips For Designing Bookshelves

As you might remember my family had new family pictures taken in July by Justin Hackworth. My parents got our family picture framed and put above their mantel. Once it was up there they started to realize how outdated their current bookshelf decor was.

Here is a picture of their mantle and built-ins from a few weeks ago.

They had a lot of really random things on the shelves. 

I think they had just put stuff up just to fill spaces but there was really no rhyme or reason to how it was designed. 

And yes, that is faux Ivy you see up there. (gasp!) 

Just a bunch of "stuff": random jar of potpourri, a bust of Abraham Lincoln, a large jar covering up something else? Like I said no rhyme or reason to the design. 

My Dad enlisted my help to freshen the shelves up so I got to work! 

I was given a budget of $300 to fill the shelves back up. 

Here is the after:

I kept repeating the mantra "less is more" as I redesigned the shelves. I pulled off almost every knick-knack and tchotchke off the shelves and only left what I really loved or would work well in the space. I also used a lot of white and creams to enable the items to "pop" more off the shelves. 

Almost all of the frames and accessories were purchased at Target. 

I love the Target frames with the large white mats. They really help keep pictures from just blending in with all that dark wood. 

I used green as a my main accent color. 


Notice that there isn't any clutter. When you have so many shelves it's easy for things to get easily lost. Especially the items that are up high. I kept everything simple and clean. 

Here are some of my tips when designing shelves.

1. Remember the mantra, less is more. If you don't love it then you don't need it. 

2. Don't buy random suveniors when you are on vacation. My mom had picked up seashells, mini terra-cotta warriors, wooden boats, wooden animals, ceramic sculptures and other tchotchkes from all her travels. While I don't think you need to totally ban all souvenir buying I would say think carefully about what you are buying. I think some of the best souvenirs are just beautifully framed photographs from your trips. 

3. Put bigger items up higher. Small items can get lost easily when you put them too high up. Move your smaller items to the lower shelves and your bigger items up high. 

4. Stay away from faux Ivy. No explanation needed. 

5. Pick accessories that "pop". My parents have dark cabinetry so I wanted to pick a lot of lighter items to create contrast and make the accessories noticeable. 

6. Leave negative space. Not every shelf needs a million things on it. Sometimes one single item stands much better on it's own. 

If your shelves are feeling cluttered to yourself a favor. Take everything off and start from scratch. A few new accessories can go along way! 


  1. Great post and a good reminder about negative space! That's something that is sometimes hard (for me) to remember but so important to follow!!

  2. That is such a huge improvement! Thanks for the great tips!

  3. Great tips. While I love styling shelves, I find it ver challenging. I agree with everything you shared!

  4. Really great post. Thank you for sharing all of these wonderful tips.


  5. Such a great improvement! I want those target trophies bad....

  6. #2 is the best, and I've never heard many people talk about negative space except artists! Love it. I'll share on Facebook.


  7. Looks so much better, you did an excellent job!

  8. Looks great! It's amazing what can happen when you design with intention :)

  9. I love this post. Good job on the shelves. I am totally laughing about the faux ivory. For some reason our church building out here as lots of it and when ever we are assigned to clean the building (yes, apparently that is what you do outside of Utah) I want to throw it away! Nothing at all is better than faux ivory! Hope all is well with you guys!

  10. Great tips! I always have a hard time knowing how to "style" bookshelves. I have one I can apply these steps to simplify it :-)

    I do have a question though....is there a secret as to why "The DaVinci Code" book is placed upside down? ;-)

    1. lol no! I just totally didn't notice it. too funny :)

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  12. This is exactly like my mom's house! I feel like if I say anything about it though, I will hurt her feelings. Was that hard for you too, or did your parents take it ok? I want to restyle her shelves so bad!

    1. Luckily my dad approached me. But I'm not sure if I ever would have been able to say anything to them. I know how hard that would be!

  13. Thanks for the great tips. I just did this over the weekend and it looks soooo much better.

  14. That is an amazing difference! And it feels "doable" for real people too. Nicely done.

  15. Fantastic Tips Kirsten! Absolutely love the result. Super fun to see you today!! Thanks again for letting me steal your frames for a day or two. I might just steal them altogether because I am SO in love with them :) he he!!

  16. So I bought this faux ivy arrangement with twigs etc, paid a lot of money for it at the time. I can't throw it out so I will put it in a box in the basement! LOL Thanks for pointing out something deep inside I already knew, the first step is admitting there's a problem! ha ha

  17. Thank you for the fantastic article. The place else could anyone get that kind of info in such a perfect means of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I am at the search for such information.

  18. The shelves are so nicely done. Those target trophies are looking great. Some of your tips are so helpful. thanks for that. xoxo
    ~ Herman Swan

  19. Faux ivy!!! Oh my gosh, I about died reading that. It makes me cringe.

    I think you're right too about the souviner thing- it's easy to go overload when you're on vacation, but then where to put everything? And it looks so cluttery. I love too, just framing the pictures and making those the souviners.

    Your suggestions are great and I love the updates you made in your parent's home. Thanks!!

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