I love furniture.
I’m not entirely sure where this love came from, but the transformative power of furniture in a space has always excited me. Bookshelves are one such piece of furniture that I’ve always loved. Most book lovers probably do, but even if you’re not a fan of reading, your home’s décor could still benefit from having a bookshelf. Books are only the beginning when it comes to decorating your bookshelf. Open shelves with room to display various items enhance the look of a room by adding another layer to the space. They also add interest to rooms that may otherwise be lacking in architectural details. After seeing far too many bookshelves used in visually unsatisfying ways, I knew it was time to write a blog about my favourite bookshelves on the market today and how to make them look their very best.
Time to De-Clutter
Bookshelves look best when they’re not filled with books. A general rule of thumb is to fill only half of your bookcase with books. The rest should be filled with pictures, plants, and decorative possessions you’d like to display. The 50% rule only applies if you’re starting with a bookcase that is 100% full like so many I see. If you’re introducing a bookshelf into a space and don’t have that many books, not to worry; you can get away with as little as 10-20% and still create a beautiful display.
Start at Eye Level
When decorating your bookshelf, it’s always easier to start at eye level. These 1-2 shelves will be the centre that you balance the rest of the shelves around. I like to place a single sculptural and decorative element at eye height (if the shelving height permits) and then make busier arrangements (books or books and a picture frame or two) above or below. You should think of your bookshelf like a stacked hourglass, curving in and out, with weight balanced on either side as the eye travels up and down. Entire rows of books are okay on some shelves (preferably the lower and visually ‘heavier’ shelves) so long as they are balanced by more sparsely decorated shelves above or below them. Balancing your bookshelf takes time, so be patient and play around with the spacing and balance until you get it just right.
Placement is Important
Whether it’s in an office, den, living room, or bedroom, bookshelves can take a dull space to the next level by adding interest and depth to the space. Their placement in a room is important, however. When used in a living, they often look great, filling an entire wall or flanking other essential elements in the room, like the T.V. or couch. If you’re using several in a row to fill a wall, consider taking a little more time to make them look built-in by adding trim around them. Living room bookcases are often used for practical purposes too, so consider purchasing or building shelves with closed cabinets at the bottom. After all, open shelves are no place for media equipment, old movies, or pencil crayons. Open concept spaces sometimes benefit from having a visual break in between them. A bookcase can break up the wall and create a transition facilitating a visual divider between the living room and dining room in an open concept floor plan. Offices, dens, and bedrooms look great with bookshelves framing the corner. If you’re able to place them at right angles in a corner, you’ll create a cozy, custom nook that you’ll want to show off. Open shelves are best for this as one shelf will be in front of the other up to the depth of the shelf.
Bookcases We Love
Ladder bookshelves are great for small spaces and can be easily moved around. They work as a standard bookcase but can also be used as nightstands, bar carts, and for just about any other purpose you dream up. For the best selection of ladder bookshelves, your best bet is Wayfair.
For the most economical options, I love the Billy and Laiva bookcases from Ikea. They may be cheap, but they can be used together to look custom and styled to look expensive.
For a bookshelf with a little more style and durability, I love the Madras from Structube. It has sleek open shelves that make it perfect for rounding out corners or being used together to look like a stunning custom wall treatment. This bookcase has helped me transform countless spaces and as a result, is near to my heart. It comes in several wood stains and won’t break the bank.
For a bookshelf that will stand on its own as a showpiece in a room, I like using the Dalton from Sunpan. The solid metal and modern frame comes in chrome, gold, or nickel finishes and its widely spaced shelves are perfect for showing off your blown glass or ceramic treasures. This bookcase is seriously sexy and works best in modern, high-end spaces. Sunpan only sells to furniture distributors, unfortunately, and not the public, but their products can be found in fine furniture stores around the city.
Of course, sometimes the best way to see how new furniture will look in your space is to have your home professionally staged. You may be selling your home, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take away some ideas about how to decorate your next one. Selling with Brel means staging with Upstaging, so not only will you have an over-achieving agent on your side, but a design team to help you re-imagine your space. We also hook you up with our Structube discount and designer access to Sunpan products (to name a few), so you can bypass the retail mark-up and shop like a designer from the source. So whether you fall in love with the Madras or Dalton bookshelves, you’ll be able to buy them for your new home at a fraction of the cost. Whether you love to read, decorate, or shop, let bookcases scratch your itch by introducing one into your home.
Kiel has been a member of the BREL team for three years and a designer for UPstaging since its founding in 2019. As a McMaster alumnus in Communication and Design at George Brown, he soon made his life-long dream of spending other people’s money…err.. we mean decorating… into reality with the BREL team! When he’s not staging homes, he can be found searching the Junction for vintage furniture and unique accessories.