Experts suggest ways to make your shelfie shine

Bookcases, freestanding shelves are opportunities to feature collections, artwork, improve interior design
Designer Andi Morse created symmetry on the top shelf in this living room to make sure the overall shelfie didn't feel visually overwhelming and distracting.
(Courtesy of Morse Design / Heidi Harris Photography)

Credit: Heidi Harris Photography

Credit: Heidi Harris Photography

Designer Andi Morse created symmetry on the top shelf in this living room to make sure the overall shelfie didn't feel visually overwhelming and distracting. (Courtesy of Morse Design / Heidi Harris Photography)

No area of the home can be as simple but also as complex as the bookshelf. It is an undeniably functional space for storage that can transform into a memorably stylish one with the right vignette of beloved books, souvenirs, artwork and objects.

Enter the “shelfie,” in which an ordinary shelf suddenly becomes special when matters of balance, symmetry and scale are addressed. And just like a mediocre selfie becomes next level when filters and editing tools are used, the shelfie is an opportunity to make your home decor something special by being strategic and intentional, making sure your shelfie shines.

“It’s a focal point, and you want to treat it like a statement in the room,” Atlanta interior designer Gabriela Eisenhart of Silo Studio Design said of the shelfie.

TikTok has recently taken note of the impact of the bookshelf in its new trending hashtag #bookshelfwealth which celebrates homes filled with books and artwork and evidence of a life well-lived.

Shelfies work in many contexts and lend beauty and harmony to any space as in this kitchen shelfie from Gabriela Eisenhart of Silo Studio Design.
(Courtesy of Silo Studio Design)

Credit: Handout

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Credit: Handout

Eisenhart recommends thinking of your shelfie in three layers. First comes the foundation — the shelf itself. Whether it is a built-in or freestanding bookshelf, here’s where you can use white for a minimalist look, a darker, trending color or even wallpaper behind your shelves for dramatic impact, Eisenhart said. The next step is layering in artwork, whether that is paintings or photographs. Step three is layering in books, which can be placed horizontally or vertically, spines in or out. And the fourth step is adding sculptural or decorative objects.

Read on for more tips from designers on achieving the ultimate shelfie and display #bookshelfwealth.

Designer Andi Morse brought a calming, monochromatic look to this shelfie by turning book spines inward.
(Courtesy of Morse Design / Tara Carter Photography)

Credit: Tara Carter Photography

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Credit: Tara Carter Photography

  • Style your books. Eisenhart likes to remove book covers, which can be less appealing than the book itself. She also groups books by spine color to create a color-themed rainbow effect. Designer Andi Morse of Morse Design turns spines away from view to give a uniform, monochromatic look to her shelfies. Eager to display your #bookshelfwealth but don’t have time to assemble a collection? Eisenhart said companies such as Books by the Foot offer the opportunity to buy vintage or single color books for bookshelf styling.
Dramatic black salvaged mantels work with smaller collectibles — bought on the homeowners' travels — here because of the striking contrast of large and small scales, designer Andi Morse says.
(Courtesy of Morse Design / Elliot Fuerniss Photography)

Credit: Elliot Fuerniss Photography

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Credit: Elliot Fuerniss Photography

  • Keep scale in mind. Small collectibles and tiny sculptural objects can get lost on a shelf so Eisenhart advises caution in putting dainty items on a bookcase. In rare exceptions, you can play with scale by pairing smaller items with massive shelves in a contrasting color as Morse did in one Atlanta home, but that kind of styling might be better left to a designer.
  • Add plants. Plants are a great way to play with scale, Eisenhart said. Smaller succulents or draping ivies and pothos can add color and drama to your shelfie.
  • Lighting is a great option. Building lighting or sconces into your bookshelves allow you to spotlight objects and collections, Eisenhart said. Or, if you have outlets on your shelves, adding a lamp can be a great shelfie option.
  • Vary your shelves. If you are creating a vignette with three horizontal stacked books and a plant on one shelf, you will want to vary your vignette on the shelves above and below. “You never want to be stacking the same object over the same object,” Eisenhart advised.
Gabriela Eisenhart recommends creating a little breathing room on shelves when you have a "library heavy" collection of books.
(Courtesy of Silo Studio Design)

Credit: Handout

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Credit: Handout

  • Breathing room is important. Eisenhart notes that some people have “library heavy” book collections. “It’s so important to display their books, and I get that.” But she recommends allowing a little space in key areas “to give the shelf that breathing room.” Both designers recommend keeping things simple and not loading on too many objects, “people don’t really even notice the beauty of the objects,” when there is too much going on, Morse said.
  • Try a trending object vignette. Eisenhart is a fan of groupings of spheres in various sizes made of marble, wood and stone. She said boxes are also a great option and offer the additional benefit of storage. Morse likes white and glass vases, wicker objects and black and white photographs for a cleaner, neutral look.
For the best shelfies designer Gabriela Eisenhart recommends varying placement and types of objects on each bookshelf.
(Courtesy of Silo Studio Design)

Credit: Handou

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Credit: Handou

  • Shelves are a chance for multipurpose display. “The shelf is such a good landing place for collectibles or art people find when they’re traveling or for smaller pieces of art that feel lonely on the wall,” Eisenhart said. You can lean artworks on shelves or for real drama, even hang larger pieces on the bookshelf fronts.
  • Use paint strategically. Morse created a more neutral, monochromatic look for one client’s Sandy Springs home by painting the room and built-in bookshelves the same bright white to make the shelves disappear.
  • Balance colorful and monochrome objects. Morse balanced colorful small sculptures from an Atlanta client’s world travels with monochromatic white vessels to keep a shelfie from feeling visually overwhelming. Morse recommends striking a balance of color and monochromatic elements to avoid visual chaos. “When you have too many different colors, your eyes go crazy,” Morse said.
  • Start from scratch. It’s best to take everything off your shelves to start your shelfie with a blank canvas, Morse said.

Felicia Feaster is a longtime lifestyle and design editor who spent 11 years covering gardening, interior design, trends and wellness for HGTV.com. Felicia is a contributor to MarthaStewart.com and has been interviewed as a design expert by The New York Times, Forbes and the Associated Press.

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