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Bookshelf Styling: In Which All My Decorations Come Out to Play

Someday you and I will have a conversation with our kids or grandkids or creeped-out-neighbor-children-who-just-want-us-to-leave-them-alone in which we tell them about the times before tablets and nooks and kindles when people read “paper books.”

Which had “spines.”

And “pages.”
piles of books, how to style bookshelves
And you had to physically turn the pages and sometimes you got papercuts and it was all very brutal and we also had to walk barefoot in the snow.

Remember those days?

Also, remember my DIY office bookshelf wall?
DIY office built-in bookshelf wall, bookshelves, shelves, shelf

The last time I showed it to you, it was empty. And sad. And I was itching to style it.

(Except it wasn’t actually empty. Large, empty surfaces are scientifically proven to have a magnetic attraction to Crap You Don’t Want to Deal With at the Moment. So in reality it looked like this most of the time:)

Because we have so much real stuff that needs storing, our office built-in wall can’t be the kind of place that houses a bunch of pretty things but doesn’t actually serve any real purpose except to give you something to dust.

So I collected all our books…
Piles of books
…and shopped the house for all my currently-unused decorations. You have a pile of those too, right?

I set these decorations on this shelf for a minute, then left the room. Andy came in a moment later and I heard him yell to me: “WHY IS THERE A ZOO IN OUR OFFICE?!”

Because I’m busy. Playing with my toys.

I started by grouping my books by color. I found that arranging them any other way made the shelves feel too busy and cray-cray.
Bookshelves sorted by color

Now this is the point in this post in which you and I need to have a talk. A talk about how you’re going to promise not to judge us by the books we own. Don’t do that squinting-trying-to-read-the-spines thing. Because I haven’t even read all these books yet, so let’s not get judgey.

As I was arranging the books, I started to get nervous, because I knew there would be photos of this on the blog, and somehow showing all our books made me start feeling all vulnerable. Right at that moment, Andy walked in the room and said, “I hope anyone who comes in our house can tell who we are by looking at these shelves.”

Way to make me even MORE nervous/vulnerable. Because it turns out that the books we own tell a very real story about us. Like where we went on our honeymoon…
Dream Anguilla
…And the family Bible we were given at our wedding by a close, close friend and former roommate of Andy’s who died unexpectedly about a year ago.
family bible
There are memories here…
holy matrimony

And memories here, in our wedding album…
wedding album
And in this book from our alma mater which we bought when we realized we were in it!
Saturdays between the hedgessaturdays between the hedges
There are pieces of us all over these shelves. Hints of our hobbies…
complete home decorator, home decor books
..our careers, our plans for the future:

…and all collected here together, they say so much. But not everything. So don’t do the squinty thing.

After I’d arranged the books by color, I slowly added in decorations and photos and baskets, then moved things around five hundred times over the last month (I wish I had a time-lapse video of that!) until I ended up with this:
Office built-in bookshelves at View Along the Way, how to style bookshelf, how to decorate shelves


I’ll probably be shifting things around and changing them every day, so it probably already looks different than this..
Bookshelves office built-in bookshe;f
…but I can never leave well enough alone, so what else is new?
Styled bookshelves at View Along the Way

Okay, let me tell you about all my fun steals! The heavy bronze duck bookends in the photo above came from a yard sale. I snatched ’em up for 50 cents! The little botanical print came as a set of four which I got for 25 cents each at a yard sale. The green lacquer box is from Homegoods, and the magazines are old issues of Domino which I can’t bring myself to get rid of.
Styled Bookshelves at View Along the Way
The two big bronze thingies I’m using as bookends on the top shelf both came from a yard sale. Two bucks for the pot and a dollar for the pitcher. (Thoughts on decorating with brass and bronze.)
Styled Bookshelves at View Along the WayStyled bookshelves at View Along the Way
Andy was a [champion] pole vaulter in high school and college. That photo on the right is him, like 15 feet in the air. (Here’s more on his pole vaulting. I think it’s pretty impressive stuff. *Fanning myself*)

Styled bookshelves at View Along the Way
That picture on the top shelf is Andy and me, as toddlers. We didn’t technically know each other then, but Andy photoshopped two photos of us together and we both think it’s hilarious-slash-awesome. You can’t tell from here, but photoshopped Kelly has her hand on photoshopped Andy’s leg. ‘Cause I knew how to get fresh, even then.

The funky vintage green typewriter was a yard sale find, $5. It still has the case, extra ink and the instruction manual. I bought it about three years ago and every year Andy asks me if we have to keep storing it, and I tell him YES, because someday it’s going to be on display. That day is here.

The painting was a gift from my best friend when we were both in high school. She painted it herself and I love love LOVE it. (Thanks, Mel!) Just sayin’, if you paint me a picture, it WILL be on display in my home for the rest of time. (I’ll need to adjust this philosophy as my kids get older. Yikes!)

The baskets on the bottom shelf are a little DIY project you can check out here.

DIY Be still and know art project on decorated bookshelves
The painting on the top shelf is my DIY chipboard art project I created a while back. (You can see the tutorial here.) The happy little bronze elephant friend came home with me for $3 at a yard sale.

There you are. In the time it took you to read this post, I’ve already switched out at least five things. Do you have bookshelf displays in your home? Ever get all nervous and vulnerable about it? Did you do the squinty eye thing we talked about? Have you already forgotten what “paper” books are?

Let's connect


  1. I totally love a “real” bookshelf, with actual books on it!! I like what some people do with their built-ins full of monochromatic trinkets and gewgaws but I don’t think it’s realistic at all. And they always seem a bit contrived to me. I love having books, displaying books and touching books. Great job!

  2. That Photoshopped pic is awesome. Bravo on the shelving project- what a treasure trove! It was fun to watch your process!

  3. First of all… mathematical analysis is in your future? Second, the shelves look great! I think you’ve changed them since i was there. I love the eclectic feel of everything. Can you come do that to my shelves now?

  4. Erin @ His & Hers says:

    Oh, the “blog filter decorating disease.” It bothers me, sometimes, too. But then I’m like–this is ridiculous. It’s my house. Why should I make decisions based on what will be seen on the blog? Basically, what I’m saying is…you’re not alone, lady! I’m glad you embraced your books and then were honest about it 🙂

    I think grouping the books by color was a good call. And Andy calling your toys a zoo is hilarious. Husbands and their decor humor. 🙂

    • Blog filter decorating disease! It has a name! It is a real thing! I feel so much better. 🙂 Now what’s the cure?

  5. Love it!!! This has been such a fun project to watch come together. 🙂 Nicely done!

  6. SO – I don’t think I actually realized that your books were arranged by color. Did I miss that in the house tour?

    The shelves look great but seriously that green typewriter puts it over the top for me! Such a quirky and great find!

  7. Here is my list of comments:
    1. I’m glad I’m not the only one whose “open empty spaces” collect crap. I mean stuff.
    2. I LOOOOOVE that your bookshelf is a “real” storage space!!
    3. I LOOOOOOVE that you organized by color.
    4. I did the “squinty eye” thing and read some books. We have LOTS of the same books!
    5. Based on one specific parenting book I saw that I also own, I think our families could hang out and have a GRAND time. 😉

    Way to go! Can’t wait to hear about the other project.

  8. You did a fantastic job, truly. I usually end up with 2 books on the entire piece and the rest filled with pretty things. You’ve managed to incorporate everything and make it look cool and fun…just like you:)

  9. Gasp, love it! So personal and real and lovely. Must have freed up lots of space in other rooms because that is a whole lotta storage up there. Wow. I actually have sort of an opposite fear of judgement. My husband (also a math teacher, btw) is starting to think we should go over to electronic books and ditch most of our hard copies. Now THAT makes me uncomfortable. What would people think if they came over and we had NO books. Yikes. I guess I’d have to change my welcome routine. “Please come in. Why don’t you take a quick look at our kindle while I get you something to drink…”

    • Hahaha. “You’ll want to note the intelligent titles we’ve downloaded. Don’t worry about whether we’ve read them or not.”

  10. Oh my gosh!!! I LOVE it!! It looks amazing, and I totally love that you have it sort of color blocked.

    BHG is gonna be calling you girl!! 🙂
    That is a perfect bookshelf styling, and I love all of your wonderful yard sale finds, and sentimental treasures mixed in.


    P.S. That photoshopped toddler pic of the two of you is an absolute HOOT!! 🙂

  11. Real books are where it’s at! I hate reading off of a screen, except blogs of course 😉 Your shelves look awesome!

  12. It looks awesome {and I love all the meaning behind your items!} I’m so bad at bookshelf styling that I had to give up and do this: Next time I’ll use this post for inspiration, and maybe I can pull it off?

  13. Love, love!! I do heart a fun space to fiddle with. And love the books-by-color approach. My head hurts from all of the squinting, tho. 😉

  14. The shelves look great, the photoshopped picture is awesome (he should provide that service for people…specifically me), and you’re hilarious. I’m trying to decide if I want to display my books in our living room or hide them away upstairs. I just don’t know if I can make it look pretty like yours! But now I’m inspired. I buy every book I read, so I have a lot! I say no to e-books!

    • Yes, together we will “just say no” to ebooks! …except the kind of books that you really, really don’t want to display. :

  15. Beautiful! Love the color, books, baskets, knick knacks, pictures and well just everything 🙂 Need I say more,haha

  16. Hey Kelly, your bookcase looks great! I have 5 bookcases in my downstairs family room, but they are all CRAMMED with books. They don’t look nice and decorative like yours do. And yes, I do still read “real” books – with spines. No e-reader for me – don’t want one!

    • I seriously LOVE a bookcase crammed full of books! I have an e-reader, but I’m still emotionally attached to the paper. 🙂 Thanks for your note!

  17. I love it! Great job! I love the color coded books and all the trinkets! And that photo shopped photo is hilarious. Beautiful! Have a great weekend! 🙂

  18. Oh, your shelves look wonderful and I know it’s a job. Guess what? I’ve joined the pinning party too and I’ve posted on redoing my shelves! 🙂
    I’m pinning you now.
    Be a sweetie,
    shelia 😉

  19. Hi Kelly, for some reason your link won’t pull up any images to pin. I’ll try again later.
    Continue being a sweetie,
    Shleia 😉

  20. Hi! Hi just pinned your for the “Pin” party! I would be delighted for you to link to Potpourri Friday, in progress!

  21. Is there some really inappropriate book in there? Because that would be HILARIOUS!!

    Styling bookshelves is hard. Like Quantum Physics hard. Yours look stunning. Good work zoo keeper Kelly!

  22. Jessica CM says:

    I regularly Skype for school projects, and have gotten strategic about where I sit because people can see what’s behind you. I realized this when everyone commented on the bookshelf behind me…which happened to contain all of my husband’s books from Rabbinical school – many sets of Hebrew books that looked REALLY impressive. LoL. So yes, I’ve had that experience!!

    • Haha, that is awesome. I used to do video conferences from home for work, and I would spend WAY too much time “styling” the background so I looked pulled-together and professional.

  23. ooohh, aaahh…this makes me very happy. I love the books by color and all the blue hues. Nice work, Kelly! But where do you find the time?

  24. Looks great! I like how you grouped the books by color.

    Confession: I’m the girl who hides, yes hides, books or turns them “spine in” when people come over. I don’t want my mother-in-law to get all Tom Cruise jumping on couches excited when she sees that I have a fertility/baby planning book on my night stand.

  25. I forgot to mention in my other comment that you are freakin hilarious! Anyway, bookshelf styling, hmmm. I definitely need to do that. I will absolutely be posting a before pic because our bookshelves are just too sad, and crowded, and small, etc. Oh, and my mom or grandma, can’t remember had a pair of those bronze duckheads, ahhh….childhood. Thanks for the great post, now I need to get off and make those curtains you posted.

  26. Pinned!

    I really should get on this myself, my shelves are not organized by color because I have this mythical idea that one day I will need to find a book and won’t remember what color the spine is!


  27. I love this! I have to go back and see the post on how you made this bookshelf wall in the first place. That painting and elephant in the top center totally grounds the whole thing and makes it look decorative, even though you managed to store tons of books in there AND have a prominent computer station. Just love it.

  28. Yes, a perfect marriage of PRETTY and USEFUL. The art in the upper middle, along with the elephant, just makes it all work. Love it, looks great 🙂

  29. I love this post! 🙂 Can you imagine a time when there are no more books? One of the things I love about going to people’s homes is perusing their titles — not to judge, but to get a sense of what they enjoy and what speaks to them. I’m a tweaker, too, so I totally know what you’re saying… keeps things interesting around here!
    xo Heidi

  30. Hi Kelly,

    Oh my gosh you crack me up. They look awesome! I wish I had bookshelves like that.

    And you have fabulous accessories, I love the zoo 🙂

  31. Love that you grouped your books by color! I’ve been wanting to do the same thing, however my husband is convinced he won’t be able to find anything in bookshelf that’s not grouped alphabetically or by topic. Did your husband have similar complaints or is he pretty laid-back with the color-coordinated zoo bookshelf? 🙂

    I might just go ahead and do it anyway. Chances are he’ll ask me where it is instead of looking for it himself.

    • Thanks! My husband would prefer the dewey decimal system too. 🙂 Haha. But he agreed that it ended up looking too busy when it wasn’t color-coordinated, plus he knows to pick his battles. 🙂 If he had it his way, there would be no statue animals either. Tell your husband it could be worse: some people cover all their books in craft paper so they’re all the same color and the titles aren’t even visible!

  32. I have bookshelves that I have been afraid to put all of my books on for the same reason that you mentioned–it makes me feel too vulnerable. I loved reading your blog and your rationale that it DOES tell something about you. You have given me the courage to take the plunge on the bookshelves. You are so right that the first thing people do is try to read what books are there because it tells something about you–like old CDs. Great blog!!!

  33. I love books. In my younger days, the only library was the school library, which was closed during the summer. So, we were given books and eventually I bought books and still do. A grandson commented that I had books in every room! I said, what does that tell you? I prefer reading a paper book rather than a book on the computer.

  34. I love the photoshopped picture! How funny! 🙂

  35. New to your blog and loving it! And the zoo comment made me laugh so loud my dog demanded to come inside the house and see what was going on! I have so many books (and apparently my husband has many stored away I’ve never even seen) that I could literally cover 80% of the walls in my little house. No way could I group by color, except maybe within subject! I’m really enjoying reading about your adventures, keep it up!

  36. 3cperrymom says:

    So glad I found your blog – make’s me feel like I might be able to accomplish some of your projects since you’re a Dawg fan also! (unfortunately they didn’t do so well for this season!). Thanks for the information and tips, but especially the funny side notes;-) I will be uncray craying my bookshelves in the morning!

  37. You inspired our office built-in project I recently shared on my blog, thank you!


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