It's a tough one and it takes time to create that effortless, "oh I just had these things lying around" look. It's layers and time.
I am in need of JUSHing up my own book shelves but basically I have a few tips that can get anyone started.
1. Keep larger, heavier loads to the bottom.
The scale is important and if you have something solid and large at the top it will look off.
Below you can see I placed the stacks of books on the 2 bottom shelves.
2. Group collections together to tell an interesting story about you or your family.
I am a big collector of things. It doesn't really matter if they are new, old or even expensive. Some things just catch my eye. I love the vintage aqua glass conductors below. And I had a nice grouping of small sized urns that I paired together.
On the bottom shelf are large pinecones that my husband and I collected years ago in Florence. The small, distressed foot stool I found 25 years ago at a flea market in Vermont and I love how the Mary Gregory art fits perfectly on top of it.
One of my favorites sits on the bottom shelf just in front of the books. It's my husband's birth announcement that his Mom put into a silver frame when he was a baby.
3. Use books to create different heights, to tie colors together and to help highlight items.
I like to change the direction of a stack of books for interest but this also works well when you want to rest a picture frame or object. It creates a pedestal of sorts and highlights that object. Here I have rested a wood frame and I placed a piece of driftwood in front of it. I found this on the beach in Cape Cod and every time I see it it makes me thing of Summer. I like the color how the colors all tie together.
I found these very old books at the flea market and I love pairing the bi-fold leather frame that holds pictures of my mother-in-law and her siblings when they were young. They seem to go nicely together.
Below I used a stack of books to lift the frame up since it initially looked "lost" on the shelf which was too big a space for the size of the frame.
4. Change the layout on each shelf so its not a constant repeat as the eye goes up or down.
On a large set of shelves I like to create a separate story on each shelf. I often use books stacked or layered in different directions and below I even went so far as to layer them by spine color. Always take off the jacket covers!
Notice how I broke up the stacks on the bottom two shelves by plugging in frames and a mercury pedestal. And as you can see I collected clocks for a bit.
Below I place the framed art and photos in different locations on each shelf. And I try to be careful to avoid going overboard on kids school pictures. Chose your favorites and highlight those. Overkill of anything takes away from it being special.
5. Create a story with color.
I paired this grouping together based on colors. I used the ceramic bowl my daughter made as a book end and layered book spines that worked nicely with the colors of the artwork and pottery. My husbands college roommate sent the art as a thank you. Years later its still one of my favorites.
On the photo below I was after a pop of bright color since the wood table was feeling bare. I realize this isn't a book shelf but it's books. I love the aqua spine and how it pulls the colors of my new living room rug out and ties it together.
I love how my in-laws picture at the beach pops more when sitting on top of blue spine books.
Many clients will say to me, "I don't have books anymore."
One of my secrets is to head over to the local public library and take advantage of the book sales they run where you can snag great hard back books for 50 cents.