Six Ways To Use BookCases For So Much More Than Books

There’s more than one place to find the story of someone’s life. You can hunt down a relative to get the scoop, pop online and scan their favorite social media page—or take an in-depth look at their bookcases. The latter would tell you a lot about me.

You’d think a professional organizer would be all about owning fewer things. Instead, I focus on being selective but don’t worry about always minimizing. I tell my clients to keep what they love, what they use and what they need—and I try to do the same. A bookcase is the perfect showcase for those things I love, use and need!


These shelves in my den feature some of my treasures. Displayed among my much-used cookbooks is a wooden bowl that traveled to Arkansas by covered wagon with my pioneer family. There’s a small oil painting from a seaside vacation, a marble lamp from my husband’s childhood home and many family photos.

You can turn any bookshelf into a room’s focal point or an organizational highlight. Here are some suggestions for decorating and using yours for so much more than books.

1. Family Gallery

family gallery

Sure, you can take out your phone and easily pull up a bunch of photos, but that doesn’t highlight the ones you love the most. Adding framed favorite photos to your room brings in warmth. Since your home décor should show your personality and what you love, creating a family gallery is the perfect way to do just that. Arranging a group of frames on a bookshelf is an inexpensive and easy decorating trick. As you choose which photos to print and frame, keep these ideas in mind:

• Stagger your photo sizes. Visual interest is created when they are not all the same size.
• Coordinate your frames with the rest of your decor. You may want to go with gilded, gold or silver frames for an elegant look or a rustic finish, or wood for a more casual feel. If your decor is eclectic, mix up your frame styles.
• Use mats to keep your photos from sticking to the glass.
• Work with both horizontal and vertical photos. Accent ordinary frames with a few other shapes of interest, such as a round frame or one with a saying about family.

2. Build Self-Confidence

For a tween or teen, a bookcase is wonderful place to highlight accomplishments and tell a story. It’s a great way to add a graphic reminder that they are doing great work.

sports canvas

Every child has something that can be a shelf’s highlight. While it’s certainly a classic place to show off sports trophies, there are many other accomplishments that can also be shared. Framed or simply matted artwork from school can be placed on an easel. Canvas wall art boards can hold favorite show or movie tickets. Framed photos of friends are reminders of good times, and souvenirs—from rocks collected on a hike to signed baseballs—can be displayed.

3. Accent your Decor

A well-dressed bookcase becomes a statement piece in your interior design. Placing one on a focal wall, such as in a foyer or hallway, brings interest to the space.

wall art

Remember some of these elements for choosing and placing objects for decoration:
• Work in odd numbers. This is a guideline rather than a rule. Grouping items in sets of threes almost always works.
• In a large space, you can even go for bigger clusters of five or seven. When starting to arrange things, start with three and see how it looks.
• Think singularly, too. Remember that one is also an odd number. Focusing the attention on one awesome item, such a piece of art or lovely pottery, is a great decorating technique.

4. Bring in Color

Bring color into an otherwise neutral space by using a bookshelf to showcase art or pottery in complimentary shades.

conversational wall artAdding conversation pieces you love, such as this wooden mannequin hand or a souvenir like the large starfish, brings personality to a space. Some tips:

• Group like items. If you have several things that are similar, like the bright vases above, they will pop more if you group them together than if they are scattered around.
• Stagger height. Create variety by setting objects on books or on a decorative box.
• Display art pieces by leaning them against the back of the bookcase or by using a tabletop easel. No nails required!

5. Organize a Collection

From Civil War memorabilia to vintage vinyl records, a collector loves their goodies. But as a homeowner, they often wonder where to store everything. Instead of stashing a collection away, one organizational solution is to bring it out in the open for full-time display.

bookcase collections

Showcasing items from your collection as part of your home design requires following a few rules of thumb. Continue to place similar items together and work in odd numbers in your display. You can use glass front shadow boxes on the shelves for items you want to show off but also protect from dust.

6. Make it Fun

Hobbyists sometimes struggle with having their craft or art supplies easily at hand but also keeping them from looking like a mess.

boxed bookcases

Enjoy a hobby by using shelves to keep items concealed in plain view, such as with this little girls’ art center. Using baskets or canvas containers allows for supplies to be close at hand yet hidden from sight. Try these ideas:

  • If it is bright and fun, such as stacks of neatly folded fabric or reams of bright scrapbooking papers, leave it out on display.
  • Contain loose items before displaying them. Use clear glass canisters to hold collections of buttons or wooden stamps. Use pretty jars to hold handfuls of markers or paint pens.
  • If it is messy, use a container to keep it hidden but handy on the shelves.
  • Store specific project items together and create zones within your bookcases. For example, have one shelf for scrapbooking, another for quilting and yet another for card making. This way, you’ll have what you need organized as you move from project to project.

With all of these tips in mind, you will be amazed at how versatile a bookcase can actually be. When holding books is no longer its primary function, you may even start calling your bookshelf by a different name!

Lea Schneider writes on home décor, and how to blend creative design with strong organization and planning, for The Home Depot. Lea makes Nashville, Tennessee, her home, and is the mother of three kids. Home Depot's selection of bookshelves and other storage ideas can be reviewed here.

Leave a Reply