Is your bookcase a hap-hazard arrangement of items that look like they were thrown together without rhyme or reason?

I’ll admit it, when I was first starting out as a designer I avoided arranging my client’s bookcases like the plague. This just wasn’t something they taught us in design school! Of course we learned all about balance and symmetry, as well as rhythm and repetition, they just neglected to tell us that these are the key components to creating a pleasing bookcase arrangement.

Over the past 35+ years I’ve gone through a lot of trial and error in this area, and I’ve come up with an easy formula anyone can follow to create beautiful bookcases that showcase your personal style with their organized arrangements of books, collectibles, and pieces of art. Do you want to know my secrets?

1. Play with color

When picking colors to highlight in your bookcase, look to the surrounding room for inspiration. What accent colors do you want to bring into the bookcase? By doing this you employ the design staple of repetition.

In the image below red was used in the bookcase, and it really adds a nice punch of color to the shelves while also being a way to tie everything together.

Denyne Designs LLC client project image

Here’s another tip about using color in bookcase arranging – group books together by color so your eye flows easily from one shelf to the next.

Image from

2. Add height to create interest

Don’t have a boring bookcase! Vary the heights of items on your shelves to create visual interest. One trick I employ all the time is to lay some of the books down horizontally vs. vertically, and use them as a pedestal for shorter items.

In this image, several books were used for the mid-sized gear so it’s just slightly lower than the large gear. On the upper shelf only one book was used to offset the rattan ball from the one adjacent, but its finished height is again slightly lower than the large ball. This trick is so subtle, but a perfect example of design rhythm.

Image from

3. Mix it up with decorative objects

This is a great way to use all those items you’d love to display. Think sculptural here: pottery, vases, statues, stacked boxes, that funky collection you have. Use things with different texture – shiny vs. matte, smooth vs. rough.

In this bookcase I used a mixture of green and blue glassware, along with vases and object de ’art in pewter. The client’s collection of bound books in a darker green hue creates unity and balances the arrangement.

Denyne Designs LLC client project image

4. Make it personal with photos

Bookcases are a great place to showcase your favorite photos. If you have many photos to display consider dedicating an entire bookcase and create a photo gallery as shown in the image below. Just remember to limit your frames to two finishes maximum while mixing in a couple of decorative objects to keep things interesting.

Image from

The same thing goes for mixing in framed photos with your bookcase arrangements – use no more than two frame finishes. You can get away with three, but it works only if you repeat that finish somewhere else in the bookcase as shown in this image below.

Denyne Designs LLC client project image

5. Add a little Zig & Zag for movement

What makes your eye move about a space? Well when it comes to arranging a bookcase movement is where it’s at. This can make a bookcase go from boring to bravo. Pick items of interest that have a common theme – a color, a shape, an identical color frame, or even an artwork series – then stagger them on bookcase shelves in the way you want your eye to travel.

In this image the designer used similar framed art with a common theme and placed them on the shelf in a way that guides your eye. Notice how they put the smaller art on an easel, just to break things up a bit – brilliant!

6. Resist the urge to cram everything in there – Leave some empty space

Just as creating movement in your bookcase is important, as equally important is having empty space so your eye can rest. Remember that Hap-hazard jumbled mess I talked about at the beginning of this post? Well that is exactly what you’ll end up with if you have TOO MUCH stuff crammed into your bookcase and you won’t know what to look at first! Here’s a perfect example of what not to do . . .

Image from

Here’s an example of a beautifully arranged bookcase that leaves space between the objects. They have room to breathe while creating an arrangement is really soothing and pleasing to look at.

7. Pick a theme and run with it!

Do you have a collection of items you’ve gathered over a lifetime? Items that have memory and meaning to you? This is my FAVORITE kind of bookcase arrangement to create! Why? Because it’s so personal and the result tells YOUR story. Separately these treasures are interesting, but when grouped together, WOW they can really make a statement.

Check out this image – it is the perfect example of what I am talking about here. The treasures have a common Asian theme, but also look closer . . . there is a common color repeated throughout. Also look at the texture that is repeated in the bookcase back and baskets on top. The result is stunning!

Image from Refined Haystack

When it comes to arranging a bookcase my advice to you is this . . . Just give it a try and play with what you have. Arrange, rearrange and step back to admire the results, then tweak as necessary! Add things, take away – you’ll know when it feels right. Creating a stunning bookcase arrangement takes time. When I do this for a client it can take me an hour or more to get things just right and I’m a professional!

Don’t be shy, give it a try using some of the tips I shared with you today and share this. The results will be well worth the effort.