Restyle Your Bookshelves for a Fresh Look (Photos and Video)

Here’s a satisfying project to tackle while you wait for your city to open up: restyle your bookshelves. We know they need it, because ours certainly did. Bookshelves can be tricky—they hold lots of stuff while being completely open, so they say a lot about their owners. Analyzing other people’s bookcases has become a bit of a national obsession, as they’re often the preferred backdrop for celebs broadcasting from home and our own Zoom meetings. Do your bookcases communicate what you want them to or at least look nice? Ours sure didn’t. So for this week’s challenge, Laura and I did some research and came up with guidelines for our individual bookshelf makeovers. Scroll down to see our problems and approach, our before-and-after pics and a quick video tour of the final result.

Laura’s Project—Random Tchotchkes

My bookcase was originally styled by our interior designer Chris Garrett and stylist Laurene Sutko from Pagoda Red, but that was years and one move ago. Now, it was looking sparse and a little too random. Some of objects we’d bought from Pagoda Red moved into other spaces in our house and other tchotchkes took their place. Plus the books moved in and out and weren’t always put away with an eye for style. Time for a makeover!

A good guide on how to style your bookcase came from Style Curator, an Australian website that I like. Some of the advice is pretty obvious—start with large items, vary the stacking of books, mix in decorative objects—but other ideas are harder to follow. My bookcase was made decades ago by my husband’s grandfather and I’m guessing that books used to be smaller. The space between shelves is barely tall enough for most books, and definitely too short for artwork most artwork, so I squeezed in what I could but I would like more layering like in the article’s examples. I also don’t have any short plants, so my next shopping trip will include looking for a realistic faux plant that drapes a little, since I think that would look quite snappy (see Marjie’s excellent plant placement below). All in all, I’m happy with the results, and sometimes I think it’s just nice to have something fresh to look at in these rooms where we spend so much time!

Here’s the finished bookcase!

Marjie’s Project—Less Isn’t More

Our bookshelves are the first thing you see as you enter our Bonita Springs condo, so they need to function as a “drop zone” for keys, phones, bags and masks, while making a stylish first impression. Looking at the “before” photo, you can see the piece did neither. I kept moving things around, but the shelves looked awkward and messy, and nothing on them made sense. After I did some research, I realized I needed to add a lot more stuff to pull them together.

The experts pretty much agree on these rules, which I followed: choose a color theme, put big items like storage baskets on the bottom, take advantage of the full height and depth of shelves by layering, display books horizontally and vertically, incorporate natural and metallic elements, group similar items together, and use quirky treasures to inject personality. Since most of our stuff is in Chicago, I really had to do some digging to come up with additional books and objects, and I did purchase two new baskets at Home Goods. I thought streamlining was the key to beautiful shelves, but turns out in this (book) case, more really is more. I’m very happy with how it looks and functions.Take a quick tour of my finished project in the video below.

Check out the details of my newly styled shelves.


Here are some of the resources we used to help restyle our shelves. If you have any suggestions, including ways to improve our bookcases, please share them with us!

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