10 super-stylish bookshelf ideas to elevate any room

Clever ways to display your favourite reads.

A well-styled bookshelf is a thing of beauty. Whether your style is minimalist, quirky or elegant, having your books and collected objects thoughtfully displayed on shelves pleases the eye and gives each room a more deliberate, decorated look. Here’s our roundup of HB’s favourite bookshelf ideas sure to inspire you.

How do you make a bookshelf look pretty?

Colour-coordinated bookshelves have been around for some time, and some may say they’re a little dated, but there’s something incredibly satisfying about them, particularly in a kids’ playroom where colour stimulates imaginative play. Tap into the rainbow of book spines and items on display in your bookshelf to create a visual feast that’s pretty, as well as practical.

colour-coordinated bookshelf
(Credit: John Downs)

2. Ceiling-to-floor bookcases

What bibliophile hasn’t dreamed of ceiling-to-floor bookcases in a room dedicated to the love of books?! This combined living room library is the stuff dreams are made of and brings a tactile warmth to the space, showcasing artworks and objects in the mix, with table lamps positioned to while away the hours on a plump sofa.

How do you decorate a bookcase?

Great bookshelf ideas are born of thinking outside the box. Why not combine your home bar, travel treasures and favourite family photos with an ever-changing library of books currently on your reading list? We can never have enough bookshelves, so, instead of having a ceiling-to-floor bookcase complete with a ladder to access it, mixing and matching everyday items in an artful display brings all of your worlds together.

Beautiful bookshelf decorating ideas

How do you style an empty bookshelf?

Start by gathering all of your books together and sorting them into similar piles – group by topic or genre, hardcover or paperback, fiction and non-fiction – it’s your choice! Then organise these groups by size in terms of how much space they’ll take up on your shelves.

Mix and match sizes to create visual interest, but if you have an entire collection of books with matching spines, these look wonderful displayed as a large block to make a strong impact.

Green sunroom with floral upholstered chair and bookshelves
This sunroom is drenched in colour and pattern giving a lived-in-and-loved feeling to the sophisticated space. The inclusion of comfortable seating invites relaxation, while a tray highlights a current favourite literary treasure. (Credit: Tim Salisbury)

When storing and displaying books, be guided by the style of the room where your bookshelf sits. A space designated just for reading might be filled entirely with books, whereas in a room with more than one purpose, you might allow space for decorative items in the mix as well. A living room bookshelf might be a great place for vases or sculptures, while a children’s room bookshelf could accommodate beloved toys, games and photographs.

Stand some books upright on their base and stack others on their sides and build a pile that graduates from large at the base to smaller. Sometimes a bowl or an object placed atop such a stack breaks the monotony of continuous books and gives the eye a curved shape to rest on. If you have a nearby power source, sitting a lamp inside your bookshelf helps to illuminates the space and highlight favourite covers or objects.

Federation home library room with ottoman
(Credit: Dave Wheeler)

Can you dedicate an entire room to your collection of books? If space allows, this is a beautiful way to use a converted verandah, sunroom, or surplus space made available when re-assigning rooms in a renovation. Even the smallest room can become a cosy book nook with the addition of narrow shelves and a comfy ottoman to perch on.

What can I put in my bookcase besides books?

This is where the fun starts. Now is the time to showcase your favourite treasures and give them the attention they deserve. Bookshelf decor is only limited by your imagination so dig through your cupboards and collections to create an elegant edit of everything you love. Photo frames, urns, vases and antiques can be displayed alone on a shelf or grouped in striking vignettes. Without a sunroom or small study to convert into a dedicated home library, try including a reading nook in your living room. This space is tucked into the fireplace recess next to cosy armchairs, where the reader has some privacy while remaining close to the action.

Plants make a wonderful addition to a bookshelf – particularly if the bookshelf is near a source of natural light. Faux plants can be a great choice in a darker or hard-to-reach spot. Floating bookshelves don’t always have the strength to carry a heavy load of books so can do double duty as a focal point for decor such as vases and knick-knacks. Display these in between the books and cascade a healthy indoor plant down the shelves to bring life to your room.

living room with fireplace and reading nook
The neutral palette of this living room is reflected in the choice of objects displayed in this bookshelf that cleverly houses a cosy reading nook. (Credit: Ema Peter)

Is it cheaper to buy or build a bookshelf?

Depending on your needs, buying a bookshelf from a big retailer or hardware store may be cheaper than having something custom-made. The important this is to measure up first. Custom-made shelving might be expensive but can maximise the use of space and streamline your room layout, particularly if you build shelving into otherwise unused areas – such as in the recesses beside a fireplace or above doorways.

Library living room with blue and white upholstered sofas
(Credit: Tim Salisbury)

A clever way to make the most of your space is to build bookshelves under or beside a staircase. This could be made from a combination of off-the-shelf cabinetry and DIY shelving measured and cut to fit an awkward space like this. There may even be scope for an office nook. Style it up to inspire, but remember to include cupboards to hide away the mess of computers, paperwork and filing.

bookshelf under the stairs
(Credit: Chris Warnes)

A simple and affordable solution in bookshelf design is to install floating shelves for the display of plants, objects and your favourite hardcover picture books. Choose a material for your shelves that matches your decor and play with combinations of shelving lengths to work in with the other furnishings in your room. A TV or fireplace becomes part of the decor when surrounded by shelving that holds other objects and art, particularly if it’s a Frame TV or similar model.

floating bookshelves with indoor plants and entertainment unit
on the entertainment unit below, providing extra storage. Another perfect solution for small spaces. (Credit: John Downs)

Shop floating shelves

coastal living room with black fireplace and white bookshelves
Simple shelving is painted white to blend into the walls and serve as a blank canvas for the display of objects, while a more sturdy structure is below for wood storage. (Credit: Brigid Arnott)

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