Interior design by Better Homes and Gardens

The ABC’s of Arranging Bookcases

Clutter is the number one issue I address while staging occupied homes. Most people simply have too much stuff. Trust me, I’m an authority on this. My grandparents were antique dealers so I have collecting in my genes.

typical bookcase before staging

Bookcases seem to be a particular problem. They collect all sorts of ‘stuff’, most of which could be thrown away. There is a point here, somewhere… say “NO” to clutter.


Apply the Rule of Threes for arranging a bookcase…1/3 books, 1/3 decorative objects and art, and 1/3 blank space, breathe!

This rule is only a guide, but it really works. Use it as your starting point.


bookcase by Up To Date Interiors

Don’t under-estimate the importance of the blank space.


When I’m staging a bookcase, I usually begin by emptying it completely. Then I add books back first, in a zig-zag pattern with the largest books at the end, moving down in size towards the center. For more interest, place some books vertically, others horizontally with something pretty sitting on top.

arranging bookcases on HGTV

Zig Zag the books. Put something pretty on top.


The books build the foundation. Now, you can fill in with your collections.  In Florida it’s especially easy to decorate using items saved from beach vacations.

beach themed bookcase by HGTV for Coastal Living

This bookcase by HGTV for Coastal Living offers a subtle nod to the beach.


If you’re not a shell-collector, it’s really easy to purchase coastal themed decor. The books with sea life covers are often available as sets at HomeGoods. Reader’s Digest Condensed Books (bottom shelf) are a great fill-in. These books can be purchased at the Seminole County Library-Casselberry Branch bookstore for 50 cents each. The place to shop when you’re trying to fill a large bookcase.

Of course, there are many other ways to organize your collections. By color…

IKEA storage bins and bookcase

This IKEA bookcase is not only affordable, it’s practical too. The bins offer lots of hidden storage. Well, mostly hidden.


Or go neutral by adding elements from nature.

elle decor's bookcase design

For a little excitement, consider wallpapering the back of the bookcase.

IKEA bookcase decorated for Women's Day by Eddie Ross

This is IKEA’s Billy bookcase styled by Eddie Ross for Woman’s Day.

Or simply paint it…

IKEA bookcase

Another IKEA bookcase, painted by Glitter Guide.

When you have two identical bookcases such as either side of a fireplace, they need to speak to each other. Marry the objects.

blending decor on multiple bookcases Not necessarily identical, but coordinating.

Three bookcases are especially challenging. It’s always helpful to use artwork since it takes up a lot of space and coordinating pictures are easy to find. Bookcases on either end somewhat duplicate one another while the center one is different, but  complementary. I prefer this look over a bookcase full of, what else, books. Much prettier and much more interesting, unless of course it’s in a library. I stage so many libraries?

Leah Hennen 's decorating tips for bookcasesNow it’s your turn. Think outside the box. There’s only one really important rule…

Your bookcase should reflect YOU.

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