How To Style Bookshelves For Real Life

May 30, 2017


How To Style Bookshelves For Real Life

From the moment I took the first step into my current home, over a decade ago, I was smitten. We were looking to move and this house, located directly across the street from our old home, no kidding, was on the "if that house ever came up for sale, we'd buy it" list. The yard was big enough for a pool, there was room to add a dream kitchen and there was a large basement for the kids to make their own. Dreamy all the way around.

However, it wasn't until I walked into the living room, that I actually fell in love.

It was a room full of charm and character. It had a rustic stone fireplace, original wood paneling, beams on the ceiling and a charming little bookcase that I couldn't wait to decorate.

Of course, like every other room in this 1920's cottage, it needed a total makeover. One day, I will find the old pictures and do a full-on before and after, but suffice it to say there was seafoam green wall to wall carpeting and dull, flat white paint everywhere.

But the room had potential and I couldn't wait to get busy.

The space evolved easily on its own, but those bookshelves, the ones I couldn't wait to style, became my nemesis for years to come.

At first, I covered the back of them in Ralph Lauren floral wallpaper to make them stand out.

And they did, but eventually the pattern overshadowed my pretties, so I swapped it out for fabric. That sagged, bagged and dragged, so I removed that, too. Then I left the old white paint exposed for a clean look...that eventually just looked boring and uninspired.

I finally settled on a relatively plain red wallpaper that gave the shelves a simple, clean look, but popped enough to make this red loving girl smile.

However, the shelves themselves were never really my problem. You see, what always gave me pause, was what I had to put on the shelves.

In magazines and catalogs, bookshelves are always perfectly styled. Seashells and books are artfully displayed. The hottest home decor accessories are front and center, the look is deliberate and makes sense.

And believe me I have tried to do exactly that.

Over the last fifteen to twenty years, I have purchased items specifically for those shelves, started collecting milk glass so I could have a cohesive collection to display, set it all up, arranged and rearranged...

...and hated the result every time.

What a waste.

What was wrong with me? I had a decent vision of what I wanted this room to be. Why couldn't I get this one right?

I asked myself this often and you know, it wasn't until very recently that I figured out the problem.

I had been ignoring my own advice about decorating and the fact that my home is not in a magazine, for far too long.

It's real life.

That means I have family photos, mementos, keepsakes and treasures. None of them match, there's generally no theme or unified color scheme to what I have chosen to display. They are just pieces that I absolutely love, full of meaning and history. And they make me smile.

And so, I have stopped fighting the urge to replicate someone else's vision of the perfect set of shelves and I have made peace with the ones I have.

Lenox Princess Collection Snow Queen

Now every day, I get to see the vase that my mom bought for her mother's birthday at the drugstore for a quarter back in the early 1940's. My mom recounted the story of how she saved her money and bought it a million times over the years.

It sits next to the elegant Lenox Snow Queen, a doll that was left to me by my husband's grandmother, an avid collector. She and I would talk about that doll so often, it's one of my most special treasures.

How To Style Bookshelves DIY

Preschool crafts are never featured in high end photo shoots, nor are dollar thrift store candy dishes, but these two make me smile, each for their own reasons, so they stay.

Vintage Family Photos

Family photos take up the bulk of the space and I am fine with that. My mom as a little girl and during her Broadway showgirl days, my dad's WWII Air Force portrait, my grandparents...of course, there are wedding and baby photos peppered about...more smiles for me.

Wooden Swan Decoy

There are random items included, too. My grandmother's crystal candlesticks, an old swan decoy my mom bought for husband and I for our anniversary one year. We call her Harriet.

And this little crystal Mikasa angel ornament, because she has a special story.

Mikasa Crystal Angel Ornament

I'd had another and one night when my mom was babysitting, my eldest, who was probably about four at the time, dropped it. My mom was just being a great grandma and let my daughter take the angel off the Christmas tree and hold her, something this mean mommy would not allow her to do.

Well, as you can imagine, my mom felt so bad when it broke into a trillion little pieces.

Now truth be told, I can't remember where I got that first angel, I'd had it for years, but you can be sure that I will never forget where I got this one...or how I cried on Christmas morning when I opened the box and saw it.

My mom, a woman who had zero computer skills, managed to track one down on eBay, with my wide-eyed preschooler by her side, bought it and presented it to me, from my daughter.

That is real life.

It's messy and mismatched and full of stories and love. It's not planned, designed or preconceived.

It's what I want on my bookshelves.

And now, it's what I've got.

Perfect.

Here are a few quick tips for styling your own real life bookshelves.

  • Books are optional! Above all else, fill the shelves with items that you love and ones that make you smile. 
  • If you are looking for a more cohesive look, but not a super matching one, choose the same finish for your picture frames. White, silver, wood...up to you. You can also coordinate with photo sizes or frame shapes...all circles, ovals or rectangles. I prefer to mix it up a bit, but I do stick to one basic finish for the most part.
  • You can mix a collection with other items. It's ok to pepper your milk glass, crystal or Snow Babies in between the photos or other treasures. Sometimes that's more interesting than just keeping like items sequestered to one shelf. It will add a little visual diversity. 
  • Less is best. Empty space is vital to any good display. It's also much easier to clean. Too many items jammed onto any shelf just looks messy. Be choosy, pick your favorites and only use them. You can always swap them out occasionally...or seasonally. 
  • Balance is key. Your shelves should each be balanced with large and small items, visually heavy and light ones and tall and short. Sometimes taking pictures are an easy way to really "see" what you've got.
  • Use magazine and catalogs for inspiration if you wish, just don't get too caught up with replicating the exact look. Make it your own, with what you have on hand...with what makes your room, truly yours. 
  • Enjoy the process...decorating is supposed to be fun! 😊 




You might also enjoy:


DIY Custom Archway Door



Redecorate Without Spending Any Money



Easy DIY Wooden Farmhouse Sign


Sign up for email and follow the fun ~

Tips, tricks, crafts and giggles delivered straight to you!









50 comments:

  1. The styling looks great BUT where are the books?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! And yes, great observation, no books right now, but every few weeks the arrangement changes. I have to say though, even when there are books on the shelves they're most likely my wedding album or scrapbooks. I am a huge fan of the library so I don't own many books. Thanks for the comment today. πŸ™‚

      Delete
  2. I love the family photos on your shelves. Nothing adds more instant charm to a home in my opinion. They are part of my decor in multiple rooms.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They are my all time favorite home decor accessory!

      Delete
  3. So true, Kim.
    Special stories, special memories.
    I love the photos. I love the stories that are attached to the photos and decorations and keepsakes. It all says Home Sweet Home, a place of love and a welcome heart.
    Thank you for the tips.
    Carla

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Carla! Home Sweet Home is exactly what I was going for!! πŸ™‚

      Delete
  4. Hi Kim. Your shelves look beautiful and full of love. That's what comes with the trappings of a life well lived. Isn't it hard sometimes to not get pulled into what is "supposed' to be? Mine are also filled with family photos and books that belonged to my mother. It would be hard to find anything prettier!..Happy Tuesday..Judy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your shelves sound lovely, Judy. I can't imagine anything more fitting. πŸ™‚

      Delete
  5. Your shelves look perfect....totally YOU! And that's the important thing. I like your tips, they feel true and will help those who have shelves (I went self
    less awhile back!) avoid some obvious mistakes.

    Great post!

    Jane x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think that shelves of any kind can throw the best of us! Somedays we love the arrangement and the next it just looks all wrong...I guess it just takes a little trial and error. Thanks for stopping by today, Jane!! πŸ™‚

      Delete
  6. I knew I'd find a comment about not having books. Call them memento shelves and maybe that'll keep them happy or just call them bookshelves and tell the naysayers to... well, you get the gist ;) Anyway, this was a really touching post and looking at your beautiful things made me want to know even more about them, and that my dear isn't something you'll find in a magazine ;)

    love to you,
    rue

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Rue! Yup, no books this week. It's funny I didn't even think about it, books no books, they're bookshelves. That's what they were built for in this house whether I keep any there or not. Oh well, potato/ potato I guess! πŸ˜‰

      Delete
  7. Maryellen WebberMay 30, 2017 at 7:42 PM

    Love how you display your moments! The story about the angel is so sweet. I am a scrapbooker and would take a photo of the angel and one of your mom and daughter to capture that precious memory!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much, Maryellen. What a great idea. I think I am going to do that!! πŸ™‚

      Delete
  8. Seeing a few people ask where the books were reminded me of something :) I think it is from old-school European settlers :)

    My grandfather built many a "what-not" or " what-knot" shelf in his day to hold anything from figurines to 'what-not"
    I was recently perusing a historical book related to quilting and history and this description came up in regards to shelving :)

    Anything goes :) ??

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think that's a perfect description, Deb!

      Delete
  9. I think it's important for all of us to put whatever floats our boats on the shelves. I like a little of all of it..books, decor, and family photos. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I bet you're going to have a ball styling some shelves in your new place! How fun!!

      Delete
  10. You have the perfect bookshelves for you and your family! I love the stories behind your sweet items. Mine are full of books and knick knacks but mostly pictures with all different frames (I have a bit of a frame fetish!). It all works when you can look at your things and it conjures up "home".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, AnnMarie! I have a small house and finding the space to display items is tough. This is it…the treasures all end up here. For better or worse and I’m finally ok with it!! πŸ˜‰

      Delete
  11. brava dear bean! another wonderful post! xo

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Why thank you, Tammy! πŸ™‚It's always fun to see you in the comments!

      Delete
  12. I love that you style the shelves with what you love and what your life is about. That is what make them beautiful. I love that every time you look at the built in shelves that made you fall in love with this home is also full of memories. Happy New Week.
    Kris

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Kris. I love that little cut out area. It really adds so much to the room. The problem is that it is next to my grand fireplace, so both features fight for visual attention. I really tried to keep the shelves simple, but my stuff won out! πŸ˜‰

      Delete
  13. I have various collections on my bookshelves as well and they change with seasons and my mindset!
    I love these photos of your Mom, how very special. She is a beauty, just like you!
    J.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Jemma!! ❤️ That picture of my mom is one of my favorites. I couldn't imagine tucking it away...

      Delete
  14. In those fancy decorating magazines, they never display family photos. I have had a camera in my hand for as long as I can remember and I have photos everywhere. A decorating faux pas. Oh well. Your decorated shelves are beautiful.
    xo Kathy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kathy, I agree with you and like you have them all over the house. Family photos are my favorite things to look at when I go visit someone's home. I think they're the definitive item when it comes to personalization, it shows who lives in the house, what they love and who they are overall. They are what makes a house someone's home...if that's a faux pas (and yes, I know it is) then I will always be a poor decorator! πŸ˜‰

      Delete
  15. Great tips! I love these kinds of shelves! Its fun to change them around and mix things up. Your family photos and special mementos have a place of honor where you get to enjoy them everyday!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Deanna. I really do enjoy looking at them and they are always the first thing people gravitate to when they come in the room.

      Delete
  16. I love this post. Your shelf decor looks great. The front of my little farmhouse is one long room set up as living on one end and dining on the other. My 'bookcase' holds dishes not books. My walls hold photos of my kids. My artwork is all painted by my younger daughter, pottery made by my older daughter and son. I have one framed piece that is a still life in a gold frame that belonged to my grandmother. My house is not 'designed' but filled with things that have meaning and are important to me, like your house is. I have that same vintage candy dish, by the way. If you feel the need to add books to your bookcase I would suggest the possibility of two or three small, thin volumes covered in red jackets as stacked as a riser for one of your treasures. Problem solved with no need to change the name of that terrific set of shelves.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the tip, Lorri!! I just may do that, and actually have in the past. This time around though, books have fallen out of fancy with me. Too dusty and when I began simplifying, I donated anything that I don't actually use. I get most of my books at the library, since I don't believe I have ever read a book twice. If I do purchase them, I generally pass them on to a friend. As far as your house goes, it sounds perfect from end to end...filled with love and treasures that make you smile. That sounds like it is designed, designed for your enjoyment and real life. Perfect!! ☺️

      Delete
  17. YAY for you, Kim, for being wise beyond your years! Your shelves are so charming. I struggles with a bookcase that The Man built many years ago...it use to be in our living room, but we moved it to our bedroom about a year ago. I wanted a change and also wanted to lighten the look in our living room. I struggled for awhile with trying to make the bookshelves into something they weren't. For awhile (about 2 days), I turned all the books with their spines facing the back so you didn't see so many different colors. The first time The Man, in all his practical nature, almost gave me an eye-roll and sweetly (actually kind of sarcastically) asked, "How do you find a book you might be looking for?" After that, I just couldn't see myself painting the book covers or covering them with burlap...that truly isn't our style. So now I have a real mix of colorful books, photos and a few treasures on the bookshelves.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I just love this post, Kim! Your treasures are absolutely precious, and I love that your home is a real home that you love, not just a home styled for a blog audience!!

    ReplyDelete
  19. Your mother was gorgeous! Still is, I'm sure. I know because when my sisters send pics to me when they visit Mama I still see her as she was when I was a child. And my father was also in the Air Force in WW II. When each thing on your shelves are treasured memories that make you happy, that is true style, the only kind that counts. I bet when guests come they all stop in front of the shelves and look at all the photos!

    ReplyDelete
  20. I love all your family photos! And it was interesting to hear the meaning behind the objects on the shelves, as well. The angel story is really touching.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I agree with you. Bookshelves should be decorated with the things you love most, and I love that you have a story to go with each treasure. :)

    ReplyDelete
  22. Your shelves look pretty. I love all the photos and the stories connected with them. Everything is perfect.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I knew that there would be "red" in that bookcase somewhere when I began reading your post. I love how you have all sorts of little things that bring back many memories and that are special to you and your family. Thank you for sharing. Blessings ♥ Teri

    ReplyDelete
  24. I think it is the only kind of decorating that works . . .
    If it is ones home . . . let the personal shine . . .
    Trying to "dress" a home, or bookshelf with ideas from some else,
    or from a magazine, TV show, whatever . . . .
    Does just that, "Looks Like Someone Else!"
    The fun is in the "putzin" . . . and making it our own!
    Love your red background, white shelves, memory, treasures book case!

    ReplyDelete
  25. Great tips are styling bookcases! I like how you added family photos which give the a personal touch with their great stores...

    ReplyDelete
  26. Hello Kim, I really like how you styled your bookshelves. I love the red background color. I too have in my dining room bookshelves and have had all different accent colors. Thanks for the tips and now I will have to rearrange my shelves. Maybe even buy some updated pieces?
    I have been using bloglovin now to comment on some blog post from people. I commented over there too but I'm not sure if you saw it. I wish I had more time lately to dedicate to blogging but life is very busy for me right now.
    Well take care and thanks again.
    Julie xo

    ReplyDelete
  27. I just can't get past those gorgeous shelves, or rather, what frames them! I've never seen such an adorable built in! Lucky you :).

    ReplyDelete
  28. Kim that is what it;s all about, family and home. Our homes should reflect who we are. Your bookcase tells a story, no lots of stories and that is far more interesting than a bunch of high end accessories that mean absolutely nothing. My bookcases are stuffed to the brim, too stuffed. But I love looking at all the photos and momentos that put a smile on my face each time. Your mom was a beauty!

    ReplyDelete
  29. I like your bookshelves. I miss mine. It is down at my sons house...I had kept it in the basements as I didn't have room to put it up here downstairs and it was tall and didn't work with the sloping ceilings upstairs. I have other places to display pretty things ( room dividers , a hutch cupboard etc ) but my trouble is the books, lol which are piled downstairs here and there ....current ones or spirituality ones that I use daily ) and the rest of the poor things are not on a shelf but in a chest upstairs in the catch-all room. The toys, sewing supplies, books, and now youngest son crashing there room, ugh! :)

    ReplyDelete
  30. Well I for one, think Harriet looks extremely happy there. :) It really is important to display what is special to you and you've done a stellar job. It's more fun to look at memories. I recently switched up a photo on my living room shelves...I wanted to display my son's red carpet premiere pic from SXSW, but I paused ever so slightly when I noticed the stark yellow background in the pic. But I ignored it and included it, even though there's not another bright yellow thing in my home and it totally stands out. Lol!

    ReplyDelete
  31. I think it's beautiful and personal and thanks for sharing that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Ronda. Personal is beautiful to me. I think it's what makes a house a home. Your words are the ultimate compliment! ❤️

      Delete

Hey~ before you go, let me know what you think! I love comments and respond to them all. Thanks so much for visiting! *Please note that if your comment contains a hyperlink it will not be published.