Lessons from a Magazine Stylist: How To Prop Your Bookshelves

Lessons from a Magazine Stylist: How To Prop Your Bookshelves


As a magazine stylist and editor, I have the lucky jobs of tweaking fabulous rooms for the camera. But when I walk into a home we’re going to shoot that has prominent bookshelves, you will most always hear me let out a groan. Even in beautiful designer homes, the bookshelves are the one thing that are often in complete disarray. And it is my job to get them looking great, and pronto.

If your family is choosing books from shelves that are a part of a main living space, it’s inevitable that they’ll become messy after a while. So why bother to prop them? Here is why: bookshelves tend to be a focal point of a room, they draw the eye and set the tone for the space. When it comes to shelves, a de-cluttered, organized look is more relaxing. If you like color and stimulation, maybe you prefer them stuffed and overflowing. Just be sure they complement the rest of your decorating scheme.

So, for your next week-end project, you might want to stand back, take a good look at your shelves, and do a little bookish styling. First take everything down,then jump in. Here are my pointers for great bookshelves:


By color, size, topic, or by already-read’ and to-be-read.’ 

Chez nous I have several shelves for one topic—like travel or cooking—then I organize by size within that group.


Modern books tend to have colorful, often busy covers.

Want a more soothing look? Try this neat trick: remove all the book-jackets from your hardback books and store them away. You’ll have solid color books, and you get to see the pretty bindings.
Adding in some pretty old books from flea markets will also soften your look.

Now take those garish paperback mysteries and store them in a closed cabinet, or in a box under the bed.


Collected objects break up monotonous rows of books and add interest.

If you want a clean look, a bigger scale is better for your art objects (if you have collections of small objects, display them together on a tabletop or mantle instead).

Gather all your selected objects together, ready to intermingle with the books. Choose vases, pottery, art pieces, framed photos or artwork, houseplants, candlesticks, seashells, or baskets.

Framed art can be propped up, placed on a stand, or even hung on the outside of the shelves, over the books.
Don’t forget to rummage through your kitchen as you gather accessories; pitchers, plates, and platters make great props.
Position the larger objects, then add the books, then the smaller objects. Be sure to mix shapes, and put weightier objects toward the bottom.

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