Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); }

While it’s fantastic to have all the storage and display space a built-in unit presents, filling the ceiling-high niches can be an overwhelming task.

superb photo/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

There’s an art to styling bookshelves – and a reason why the #shelfie hashtag is always trending. Turns out arranging things in an eye-pleasing way is so satisfying that it’s become a social-media sensation.

Here’s the home truth about built-ins: They’re a mixed blessing. While it’s fantastic to have all that storage and display space, filling the ceiling-high niches can be an overwhelming task. So let’s start fresh. If you’ve already got stuff on your shelves, remove it all and make piles of like items: books, vases, framed photos and sculptural items or things you’ve collected on your travels. Once everything is categorized on the floor, do an inventory to see what you want to keep and what can be integrated elsewhere or donated.

Place a few baskets on the lower shelves to act as a catchall for magazines, remote controls and other tech pieces, from tablets to charging cords.

Story continues below advertisement

Next, tackle the books. You’ll need lots, so if your collection comes up short, hit up some local thrift stores and garage sales for inexpensive additions. Save the paperbacks for your home office or basement, though; hardcovers look a little more hardy in a living room or den. Decide if you want to group books together by tone, creating a colour-blocked effect, or go mostly neutral with a few hits of colour throughout.

Conventional wisdom has been to line books vertically across a shelf, but today’s style veers toward a mix of vertical rows, horizontal stacks and even a few books on a lean. Why? The variety makes the books appear more eclectic than perfect and that’s what we’re going for. Start placing books with this approach in mind, leaving spaces for decorative items.

When it comes to adding personality, it’s important to build levels and layers. For levels, use your horizontal stacks of books as a pedestal or plinth for bowls, sculptures or boxes. Do think about scale and introduce some tall pieces in the back, such as a vase or framed photo. As for layers, I’m a fan of hanging a couple of small pictures or paintings on the outside of the built-in, preferably at a point where the horizontal shelf and vertical divider meet. Adhesive hooks are a great solution if you’re not keen to put a hole on the bookshelf’s outer frame (fair enough).

Finally, don’t shy away from negative space. I love the look of just one to three well-chosen items on a shelf right in the middle, or on the upper shelves. It’s important to give the eye a spot to rest, and one of the ways to create the clutter-free effect you’re after.

Need some advice about interior design and decor? Send your questions to personaldesigner@globeandmail.com.

Sign up for the weekly Style newsletter, your guide to fashion, beauty and design, and follow us on Instagram @globestyle.

Follow related topics

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies