Chelsea Handler's bookshelves are some of the busiest we've ever seen – but her styling stops them from looking cluttered

Open, modular shelving has room for error – but with the right styling tips, we can overfill our living spaces with abundant personality

(Image credit: Michael Kovac via Getty Images for Champagne Collet & OBC Wines)

Book shelving units have long offered the opportunity to showcase our personalities in ways beyond our favorite titles – but how many pieces are too many pieces for our shelves? Take Chelsea Handler, who suggests there is no limit to the pieces in which we should exhibit.

The comedian has filled her anti-minimalist bookshelf with countless titles and other personal artifacts, including a framed map and a large gemstone that appears to double as a decorative book stop. Though the modular shelving unit is one of the busiest we've ever seen, it doesn't feel cluttered. Instead, Handler has styled her shelves in a way that feels both intelligent and curated (while simultaneously nailing the bookshelf wealth trend). How can we ensure the same? Designers emphasize that the key is not in the number of pieces we have but in the variety.

'A well-styled bookshelf is all about variety. Mix books with decorative objects like vases, picture frames, and small sculptures. This keeps things interesting and adds depth. Don’t be afraid to throw in some greenery, too – plants bring life to your shelves,' comments Jodi Peterman, the CEO and owner of Elizabeth Erin Designs.

Alongside incorporating a variety of objects, Handler has unintetionally taught us another key styling rule: go for a combination of horizontal and vertical book placements.

'When it comes to books, go for a mix of horizontal and vertical arrangements. Stack a few books horizontally to create little platforms for decorative items. Then, line up some books vertically to give a structured look,' Peterman comments.' Also, show the spines of some books to add color and character, but don’t be afraid to turn a few around to display the pages for a softer, textured look. Stick to book covers in white or neutral tones to maintain a cohesive and elegant aesthetic.'

Similarly, there's a lot to be said for how we group our titles together. While the number of books on our shelves as a whole doesn't matter – the number of books in our clusters can make an impact. Peterman recommends grouping items in odd numbers like 3, 5, 7, or 9 for the most beautiful impact.

'Odd numbers are more visually appealing and create a natural, organic look. This tip works wonders in making your shelf look thoughtfully styled without being too symmetrical or rigid.'

A dining room with a full bookcase

(Image credit: Fanny Radvik / Cathy Nordstrom)

With numbers in mind, it's similarly important to remember how balancing colors and textures in our clusters is also key. 'Distribute colors, textures, and sizes evenly across your shelves. If one side is feeling heavy with books, balance it out with some lighter decor on the other side. Aim for symmetry, but don’t be too rigid – a little asymmetry adds charm,' Peterman comments.

'Varying the heights of your objects adds dimension. Use book stacks to elevate smaller items and place taller pieces like vases or framed photos to create vertical interest. This layering effect makes your bookshelf look thoughtfully curated.'

Shop H&G's bookshelf edit

Whether we go for large, modular living room shelving like Handler's, or more compact options (for whatever our space allows), these picks will look great in every type of home.

Handler's bookshelves are a reminder that busy shelves don't necessarily translate to a cluttered aesthetic. One last thing to remember from her space? Bookshelves are used for more than books. Handler recommends adding 'personal touches like mementos from our travels', and other pieces that tell our story. 'This not only makes your bookshelf unique but also adds a warm, personal vibe to your space,' she says.

'Finally, take a step back and look at your shelves from a distance. Is there something that stands out too much or feels out of place? Don’t be afraid to edit. Sometimes, removing one or two items can make a big difference!'

Megan Slack
Head of Celebrity Style News

Megan is the Head of Celebrity Style News at Homes & Gardens. She first joined Future Plc as a News Writer across their interiors titles, including Livingetc and Real Homes, before becoming H&G's News Editor in April 2022. She now leads the Celebrity/ News team. Before joining Future, Megan worked as a News Explainer at The Telegraph, following her MA in International Journalism at the University of Leeds. During her BA in English Literature and Creative Writing, she gained writing experience in the US while studying in New York. Megan also focused on travel writing during her time living in Paris, where she produced content for a French travel site. She currently lives in London with her antique typewriter and an expansive collection of houseplants.