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How To Not Hate Your Bookshelves

Confession: I loathe built-in bookshelves. Not so much styling them - because I do this often and do enjoy it - as much as just the shelves themselves. Why? Because, when curated well, a bookshelf can be a true standout in a room, but more often than not, they tend to be holders of stuff. And not special stuff, just belongings that have nowhere else to go, or impersonal objects set there to fill the void that those empty shelves created for you. Without planning, bookshelves can quickly become eyesores, and even when thought out, they can so easily make a room feel cluttered just by the sheer addition of things to the space.

But alas, my "new" office/guest room includes a giant built-in bookshelf over the radiator. If you recall, this past summer, in a manic state of pregnant nesting, I moved Teddy to the guest room, the nursery to the old playroom, the playroom to my old office, and put my new office into the old nursery. Because completely swapping four rooms while nine months pregnant makes total sense. That being said, at the time my focus was on the kids’ rooms (where I did remove similar built-ins in each), and all I did to my new office was paint the walls white and wallpaper the closet. #priorities. Fast forward a few months, and this large built-in bookshelf has been staring at me, gathering things with no homes, and generally giving me anxiety.

So. Before going straight to the sledge hammer, I decided to style it to see if it was a feature I could learn to love. The goal: a QUICK (key word!) and easy bookshelf revamp that makes my new office feel polished, complete, and in no way creates a feeling of clutter in a relatively small space.

And, voila! This little spruce up was so quick and easy (read: done during nap), that I’ll go out on a limb and call it a tutorial. Note, some of the links below are affiliate links. Enjoy!

Simple Shelf Spruce-Up:

  1. Scour attic for unused books that you probably don’t need to be hanging onto anyways. Grab all the white/light ones you can find. Donate everything else – you’ll feel better!

  2. Open that box of grad school books you’ve also been hoarding unnecessarily. You will not be referencing how to run a regression. Ever. Again. Wrap said big overpriced books in butcher block paper - or paper grocery bags if you’re feeling super green. Have vague memory of making book covers in high school. Feel old. Donate remaining books. Feel good again.

  3. Scatter small groupings of white books throughout shelves, backwards. You weren’t really going to read them again anyways, let’s be honest. Layer with horizontal stacks of your wrapped big books.

  4. Send pictures of your children to Target Photo for pickup; you have to go there later today to pick up more diapers anyways, remember? Pick the black and white option – instantly more chic.

  5. While scooping up the photos, also grab some super simple matted frames to showcase said prints.

  6. Scour your house for a few small white objects - see candle and pomegranates. Can’t find anything? Try harder! Still nothing? Try these. Don't overdo it. One object per shelf is just plenty. And don’t stress yourself looking for just the right thing. The point here is that they are Not a focus. Simplicity is your friend. Blank space is A-OK.

  7. Add giant framed art you scooped up at HomeGoods the week prior without any real plans for it but that you couldn’t let go of once you saw that other chick lay eyes on it. Hang that sucker right in front of the shelf that you wish was a wall anyways.

  8. Chill on your new, beloved slipcovered sleeper sofa and enjoy!

Room photography by Catherine VandeVelde. Kid's pictures by Sarah Van Zandt.

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