Lessons from a Magazine Stylist: How To Organize Your Bookshelves

by Elysian Magazine

By Lynn McBride, Magazine Editor and creator of Southern Fried French

image above courtesy from Splendor in the South

As a magazine stylist and editor for Traditional Home and Better Homes and Gardens Magazines, I have the lucky job 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 almost always hear me let out a groan. Even in beautifully designed 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 the 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.

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.’

image courtesy of Architectural Digest

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.  However, if you’d like a more soothing look there are two options. Try this trick: remove all the book-jackets from your hardback books and store them away. What remains are solid color books, and now you’ll get to see the pretty bindings.  You can add in some pretty old books that will also soften your look.

Juniper Books specializes in custom bookbinding

The second option is to cover your books, or in this case, have them covered in neutral tones. Juniper Books is a bookbinding shop that custom covers books to suit your library’s look.


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.

Lynn McBride is a magazine editor and stylist for Meredith Publications, amongst others, and currently writes for her own site, Southern Fried French,  where she continually delights her followers with life in the countryside in France. Lynn spends half of her time in France and the other half in Charleston, S.C.

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