How To Style Your Bookshelves With Lorri Elder Dyner

“I know what I like, but I don’t know how to get there!”

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When it comes to decorating your home, does that sound anything like you? As a professional decorator and blogger, I am passionate about helping people who want to take their homes up a notch but just don’t know how. And I’m pleased to announce that a few times a month here at Westchester Home, I will be sharing my decorating wisdom with you, too! I’ll be dishing out product tips and ideas, easy DIY projects, and plenty of decorating advice. My goal is to help you take your living spaces from “eh” to “ahhhh!” I believe that beautiful surroundings can hold the promise of something better for ourselves, and anyone—yes, you!—can have it. It’s my privilege to help you get there, and I look forward to seeing you here at Westchester Home. Please note my website below—I love hearing from readers. If you have any questions or need clarification, by all means email me. I look forward to hearing from you!

One great feature we had in our old apartment was a huge built-in bookshelf in the living room. I was overjoyed to have it—and then totally freaked out. Let’s face it: Bookshelves are pretty intimidating! If you’re like me, you know a good bookshelf when you see it. But to actually start from scratch and style a good bookshelf myself? Where do I even begin?

Like any intimidating project, I’ve learned that successfully styling a bookshelf starts with a few simple guidelines. Here are some pointers that the experts talk about time and again:

Mix it up

A mistake I see a lot. All of your books do not need to be lined up, sitting perfectly straight and vertical. In fact, it’s so much better to break everything up; some books placed vertically, some lying horizontally. And even better to stick a small bowl, picture frame, or piece of pottery on top of the stack. Here are some examples of ‘mixing it up’ done right:

Lorri Elder Dyner of Return to Home Interiors

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Credits, from left: Coco + Kelley, Emily A. Clark,

White space is a good thing

So many of us think we need to fill up every square inch of a bookshelf. It’s something almost all of us do. But, in fact, occasional empty space is pleasing to the eye. Once I learned this, I removed a ton of books and stuff, and it really created some breathing room.

Credits, from left: Return to Home Interiors, Apartment Therapy (These shelves are like art installations),

In the first picture above, you’ll see that only a few books line this one shelf, stopped by a decorative bookend that I found at TJ Maxx. The rest of the shelf holds two framed photos. Ahhh, space.

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Symmetry is the name of the game

Your eye really does like to see symmetry—it makes all the difference! Here’s a great example below of books lined up according to height (in descending order from left to right), and stark blue vases perched on top. So calming and balanced.

Credit: Caitlin Creer

Keep it interesting

This last guideline is not a ‘must have’ but a ‘nice to have.’ Painting the back of your bookshelves really makes the books and art on your shelves pop.

Credits, from left: Emily A. Clark, Caitlin Creer

I just love designer Emily Clark! See how she painted the backs of the bookshelves a charcoal color in her home office? Can you imagine if it were just white? That charcoal gray really adds a depth and interest to the room. Even more fun, you could wallpaper the back of your bookshelves. Isn’t this picture above from Caitlin Creer just great? I’ve also heard of people using fabric and even fun paper or gift-wrap. Even renters could use gift-wrap as it wouldn’t be hard to remove in the future.

I hope these tips were useful and that you are inspired to get styling this coming weekend! I’m certainly getting inspired to make some changes.

Lorri Elder Dyner is an interior designer and blogger who believes in the power of “decorating for the rest of us.” Using clever, accessible, and affordable ideas, she brings us insider tips and tricks that make our living spaces feel pulled together. Lorri resides in Westchester with her husband and two small children. Visit her at

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Westchester Magazine editorial staff.

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