How to Style Bookshelves & Tips For Using Thrifted Items

Liz Besanson
by Liz Besanson

Today I'm going to share some tips on how to style bookshelves in a beautiful, aesthetically pleasing way. So whether you have built-ins or whether you are working with one or two little shelves in your room, these tips for styling bookshelves apply to anyone. We’ll even discuss how to style bookshelves with lots of books on them. Let’s get started.

Neutral color palette

1. Choose a color palette

Choosing a color palette helps to keep things looking cohesive and very organized.

Crystal items on a bookshelf

2. Personalize your shelves

You want to bring in items that you love or that are personal to you. They could be things that you do for a hobby, mementos, picture frames, or things of that nature that you want to incorporate onto the shelves. You can start doing this by finding objects within your home or at your local thrift store.


One of the things that I look out for when I am thrifting and I'm going to restyle a bookshelf is to keep in mind the colors that I'm going to be working with. I always look for hardcover books, pottery, statues, bowls, and things that look vintage.

Height and symmetry in bookshelf styling

3. Consider height and symmetry

I tend to use books and other objects to sort of balance each other out. I create highs and lows to bring the eye right to that shelf.

Styled bookshelves
Styling bookshelves

4. Observe your work

Pull back and make sure that you are observing your work. There's nothing worse than getting through your whole project and then you step back and it's still not to your liking.


Sometimes when we are close to something it looks great but when you pull back, that's when you see the whole picture. So make sure that you're taking frequent breaks so that you can either add or take away items as you see necessary.

So remember guys, there is no right or wrong way to decorate or style a bookshelf. It is all up to you and your taste, style, and color choices so just have fun with it.


Styling bookshelves

This is everything that I was able to score from one thrift store today to style my shelves. This unbagging will sort of give you the gist of what I look out for when I'm shopping.


I feel like the best, most interesting things are often found at the thrift store because I love the vintage flair. Honestly, I feel like a lot of decor that is new today always stems from something from the past anyway.

Crystal serving dish

1. Crystal serving dish

This is a beautiful crystal serving dish. They probably used this sometime in the 1950s and 60s. It's a really pretty catch-all, so you could store tons of different things in here. And when the light hits it just right, it looks so beautiful.

Large crystal bowl

2. Large crystal bowl

I love the little round shape of this crystal bowl. It's super small, but it's really heavy and durable. It would be a great piece to put some rings in here or maybe some lipsticks.

Crystal candle holders

3. Crystal candle holders

These are crystal candle holders. They're super heavy and they may or may not work in my bookcase. However, with the holidays coming up, they will definitely find a place somewhere in my home.

Small crystal bowl

4. Small crystal bowl

Here is the small crystal bowl I found. Stacking it inside the large crystal bowl looks so cool, so I could not pass this up.

Black bowl

5. Black bowl

This black bowl is an authentic 1950s piece from Haeger, a very well-known and well-loved pottery maker, and this piece does not have any chips in it.


You could use this bowl to put a beautiful plant in there or fill it with soil and add some succulents to it. I'm pretty excited because I love the shape of it and the glossiness. I think it's going to create a nice pop of color on the bookshelf.

White wicker basket

6. White wicker basket

I really like the shape of this white wicker basket. It has a weird cylinder dome shape. Again, you can put a plant in here or some succulents. I may even put some dry flowers in it as well.

Brass seashell decor

7. Brass seashell decor

This brass seashell decor is so pretty. It’s real metal and it’s made by the Bombay Company. I'm totally into the seashell shape and this would look so great lying on top of some books.

Marble flower pot

8. Marble decor

I found this piece of marble in the shape of a flower pot. I think it would look lovely laid flat with other items strewn on top of it. It is really heavy and is a great dupe for marble decor I’ve seen at Anthropologie.

Hardcover books

9. Hardcover books

I pick hardcover books for my shelf based on their color and size. I like to stack them up side by side or lay them on top of each other. If I am going for a more rustic look, I will even rip the covers off and use the raw pages to decorate. Finding a whole collection of books the same color is extremely difficult.


If you do find them, you're going to pay hundreds of dollars for a collection of books so when I want to create a really cohesive look, I will sometimes spray paint all the books the same color if that is the aesthetic that I am going for.


How to style bookshelves

I hope you enjoyed my advice on how to style bookshelves so they look curated and put together instead of messy and cluttered. Putting these tips into practice is easier than you may think. How do you plan to get started? Share your process in the comments down below.

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  • Monica Weitzel Monica Weitzel on Feb 09, 2024
    I enjoyed your suggestions except the part about buying books for their color and size. i am a voracious reader and I display the books I liked enough to keep instead of passing them on. They make great conversation starters. I love to see what books a person has on their shelves as it tells much about them. I'm sure you are a highly intelligent and interesting person. However, that is not what your books would tell me about you.
  • Vicki Vicki on Feb 10, 2024
    My galley kitchen w/little storage opens to a "dinette"/family room in which we have a large, maple wall unit for books/family pictures &TV. It has desk/drawers below & "hutch" shelving above. I restyled, painting the backing of the "hutch "the same color (French Vanilla) as my wall (lightening) while allowing the rest to remain maple. I also added a wall-to-wall new 3" thick x12' slab (painted same as wall) to the top desk part, & used the same wood to add 2 shelves into "knee-hole" of the desk of the wall unit. I thinned my book collection, moving it to this knee-hole section (which is, BTW, still usable as a desk: scoot storage ottoman/seat up to it.... the drawers store art materials for this area). I now use the shelving for the pretty platters, bowls, teapots, storage crocks (sugar, rice, grits....), and pitchers, etc. I get to really USE them now much more often than when I had them stuffed into crowded, insufficient cabinets. I also get to enjoy looking at them, some of them gifts or family heirloom pieces. I interspersed these with timed evening battery candles and leather-bound books, colanders, my sewing basket, & occasional jars of homemade jelly.
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