Video: How to Style a Bookcase

Interior designer Tamara Eaton explains how to create balance when decorating your bookshelves.

A bookcase is so much more than a place to, well, store your books. There’s also an opportunity to get creative, display your favorite things and express your personality. We tapped New York interior designer Tamara Eaton to style a 1960s chrome and glass étagère that does just that, in four simple steps:

  1. Start with low stacks of books
  2. Add sculptural objects
  3. Include plants and flowers
  4. Finish with a personal touch

The objects Eaton chose (and the bookcase itself) were borrowed from top dealers at the 1stdibs Gallery at 200 Lex, and you can peruse similar pieces online in our special collection. If you’re all about the details, we have more good news: In the interview below, Eaton gives us the lowdown on her bookshelf-styling process.

What are some good ways to display books on shelves?

People often select books based on the cover, but remember that only the top book cover really shows. The spine is so much more important for the “under stack” books. Always stack large to small — small on top. The most important thing is to have books that have meaning to you. I have a client who is a hobbyist woodworker, and I found for him a gorgeous coffee table book on wood. Books should say something about who you are.

How do you choose sculptural objects?

Honestly, this one is difficult. Try to find objects with some kind of interesting silhouette, material or color. Objects do not need to match, but they need to go. I always reference fashion as a parallel and think about accessories like a handbag and shoes: No one wears a matching purse and shoes anymore, but we choose complementary pieces that work together.

Should you limit the overall color palette?

If you have a very keen eye, then you don’t need to. However, it’s always a safe bet to have a general color scheme with a base color and then pop and accent colors. Another way to keep control over the aesthetic is to select all jewel tone, all pastel, all primary, etcetera.

How do you keep a bookcase looking tasteful, not cluttered?

Restraint is difficult! If you step back, take a picture of the bookshelf and look at the photo, it helps you be more objective about what to add or subtract. I’m also not one for too many family photos all in one spot. It’s hard to see them when there is too much going on, so limit picture frames to just a handful at most. For a fabulous family photo display, you can install a gallery wall where you can actually view all the photos.

Any other tips?

Introduce personal items into a display. I love adding things such as a gorgeous camera, signed baseball or kids’ art. Give yourself license to insert personality!

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