Create the perfect shelfie

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Create the perfect shelfie


Shelf styling, otherwise known as “shelfies,” is a great opportunity to show yourself and your style. Whether you’re accessorizing a large custom built-in or a small, “big box” bookcase, here are some styling tips to achieve a thoughtful and curated look.

Aim for equilibrium

Balance is soothing and somehow satisfying. It’s “right.” We naturally tend toward equilibrium in our interiors, from our rooms and the furnishings in them, right down to our bookshelf accessories. Start by arranging larger pieces, such as books, photos and art, toward the back of the shelf. Then, layer in your smaller pieces in front. Furthermore, you’ll want the overall display to be balanced, as well. Evaluate the visual weight of the large items and the overall arrangements. Is the display too top-heavy, skewed to one side or evenly distributed?

May the odds be ever in your favour

Taking balance a step further, odd-numbered groupings of items are pleasing to the eye and the mind, allowing us to naturally create symmetry that people are naturally drawn to. Arrange your collections in groups of three or five on shelves, or on any surface for that matter – tabletop, desk or mantle.

These groupings create little “landscapes,” and when done correctly, they become landmarks in the room. The eye naturally gravitates to the largest item in the centre and takes in the details around it.

When it comes to the items you choose to display, I believe in the holy trinity of shelf styling: Books, art/ accessories and plants. These offer an effortless and intriguing mix of colour, texture and shape, which keeps the eye moving from one grouping to the next. Alternate your accessories to keep your shelves interesting. This can include seasonal additions, trendy new buys or a rotation of existing collections. Just remember: For every new item you bring in, take one out. You don’t have to display everything – rather, be selective. In the case of a bookcase, less really is more.


Can you actually see the items that you’ve carefully selected and thoughtfully arranged? Or are these treasures hidden in the shadows? If you’re designing a room from scratch or renovating a space, plan your shelves and display areas together with your lighting plan. A built-in bookcase with strategically placed, focused pot lights can instantly elevate your collections from mere accessories to artfully displayed treasures.

If you’re styling an existing bookshelf but want to enhance the light around it, consider adding sconces or overhead upper embedded shelf lighting (electrician recommended!) or, as a DIY option, small table lamps or light strings arranged on your shelves can do the trick.

Shelf styling is an art, and it takes time. Experiment with existing items, display pieces you love and think beyond the cubby, so to speak. The bookshelf is not just for books anymore.

Jennifer Backstein is the Creative Director and Principal Designer for Jennifer Backstein Interiors. The firm offers a diverse range of full-scale design services in the GTA and across Canada. jenniferbacksteininteriors.com


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