Skip to main content
Acima Leasing Logo

Style Your Bookshelves with These Affordable Decor Tips

Sep 22, 2021

A man reading a book while propping his feet on a bookshelf

True story: An empty shelf is a sad shelf. An empty bookshelf, even more so. And sure, you could add books to it — but that’s so expected. When it comes to the many ways it can showcase home decor items that reflect your style and personality instead, it’s … well, basically an open book.    

When styled tastefully and purposefully, bookshelves or built-ins can really contribute to your room’s aesthetic. However, if you’ve recently tried your hand at decorating one, you know that creating that stylistic balance can be easier said than done. You can easily swing from too minimalistic to too over the top when it comes to choosing what decorative items you want your shelves to show off.

What to do? Just read on. Start with any decorative items you already own (so you’re already starting off with a budget-friendly project) and follow a few of our pointers to make styling your bookshelves simple, affordable and unique to you.

Do Some Shape-Shifting

In the game of shelf styling, the key is to mix things up, so juxtaposing decorative items in different shapes is a winning strategy here. This is a chance to get out of your stylistic comfort zone. Your design instincts may draw you to a certain shape, so start with a few of your favorites, but then look for distinctly contrasting elements to maximize visual interest.

For example, if you’re a fan of hard, edged lines, it can be easy to fall into a trap where all the items on your shelf only have that shape. However, too many rectangular shapes and edges can blend and make the space feel too rigid. Instead, bring in rounded, organic shapes and objects to offer some variety. A mix of both soft and hard edges will help visually balance your bookshelves or built-ins.

Play with Different Heights

You also want to make sure that the decor pieces that sit on top of your shelves are all different heights. Just as with shapes, playing with height in your decorative elements allows you to create a multidimensional look, which makes your bookshelf even more appealing to the eye.

Tall, eye-catching pieces mixed in with some daintier, shorter pieces can elevate any shelving arrangement. A slender lamp or vase works well next to a small ornamental bowl or candle. Or add one tall item that draws your eye vertically while a nearby piece points off to the right or left.

Are you starting to see how much fun styling shelves can be? Let’s keep going …

Mix Up Materials and Textiles

Are you starting to see a pattern here? As you may notice, there is a bit of method to the mixing madness. With materials and textiles, you’ll want to make sure you continue the pattern.

Although uniformity is important in a room or space, too much of anything can spoil it. When it comes to decor materials and textiles, do the opposite. Add a little leather here, a little metal there and some glass over there. Varying the materials used will give your space so much life!

One thing to consider if you have small children in the house: Keep decorative items that are fragile, breakable or valuable to you on the higher shelves, out of reach from curious little hands.

Bring Nature Indoors

Who doesn’t love plants to bring a room to life? They’re perfect anywhere, but it seems some were just made to adorn a shelf. They’re also calming and therapeutic, so when you add a plant to your bookshelf you’re naturally implementing some serious Zen into the whole space.

Depending on the dimensions of your shelves, adding plants in (again) various shapes and sizes is ideal. A combination of small potted plants and hanging/drooping plants can add an organic element to your shelf decor and help your other pieces pop.

Picture This: Adding Photos and Frames

Nothing personalizes a space more than displaying framed photos of your family or of your favorite artwork. Your bookshelf is, of course, a natural place for your small- to medium-size framed pictures, because this is an easy place to display and admire them all. And as we’ve said before, mixing up frame sizes and heights (without going too large) will add visual interest beyond the pictures themselves.

Related pro tip: You don’t want all your decorative items right at the front edge of your bookshelf, as this can make your space feel stiff and lackluster. This is especially true of frames because of their two-dimensional nature. Layering in these pieces and leaning some of them up against the wall behind the shelf is a perfect way to add depth.

Step Back, Assess, Adjust as Needed

One thing you’ll want to avoid is cluttering your shelves with too many elements, which can make a space feel chaotic. So when you’ve added all of the decor you want, take a step back and ask yourself, “How does it look?”

If it seems too cluttered, take the opportunity to remove a few items. If you can’t decide what to purge, decide on a few things to take away now, then switch them out for something else on the shelf later to keep things fresh and interesting.

On the flip side, if it’s still too bare, add in a few more pieces: A couple of stacked books, a plant, basket, anything you want. To keep costs down, just repurpose something already in your house. And don’t forget to add pieces at the top of your shelving to draw the eye upward, making things feel taller than they really are. 

Even the Bookshelf Is Affordable with Acima

As you’ve probably surmised by now, there are so many ways to style a bookshelf. That’s the beauty of it! However, having a theme in mind — whether it be with the decorations themselves, with colors or something else — makes it easier to both decide what to display and make sure all your choices work as if they were meant to be together.

The most important tips of all: Have fun, follow some of these interior-designer approved suggestions above, and make use of Acima’s lease-to-own option* to get show-stopping shelves that are bold, balanced and beautiful. Now you might love these ideas, but you have one small problem: You’re still missing the bookshelf itself. Problem solved: We partner with tons of name-brand retailers to help you take care of that. Browse today’s trendiest, design-forward shelving to get started, and use the no credit option* from Acima to get it into your house affordably and start putting these design tips to work.


1.      “How to Style Your Bookshelves Like a Pro” – West Elm blog

2.      “How to Decorate a Bookshelf” – The Spruce, August 6, 2019