This is how to style a bookshelf like an interior designer – 5 top tips from Kit Kemp

H&G chatted with British designer Kit Kemp to get her tips on the hottest topic in the design world – how to style a bookshelf

Three images with rooms with sheving
(Image credit: Kit Kemp Design Studio)

Books have become the most coveted decor item in the interior design world. Early this year we basically didn't talk about anything apart from the bookshelf wealth trend. And what we loved so much about it was it was focused on something so accessible. You didn't need to go out and buy on-trend pieces, or totally overhaul a room to nail this look, you just had to get the things you love out on display. 

That makes it sound very easy, and it can be. However, styling a bookshelf is a bit of an art, even if you want it to look really effortless. And who better to guide us through styling a bookcase than an interior designer who does it all the time, for different homes, rooms, and styles. 

We chatted with iconic British designer Kit Kemp to get all her tips to nail that ever-popular bookshelf wealth trend

1. Don't be afraid to hang artwork in front of the shelves

Pale gray living room with shelving build into alcove

(Image credit: Kit Kemp Design Studio)

'A beautifully crafted interior is nothing without a carefully thought out and developed art collection. If you’re at a loss for wall space, hanging art in front of shelving packed full with colorful books is a fantastic solution, that will add another layer of decorative detail to a space. A thick frame will help to define the artwork and create a separation from the busyness of the shelves.'

2. Add texture with antique books

Pale blue living room with wall of shelving

(Image credit: Kit Kemp Design Studio)

'Bookshelves can add color and texture to a room. There is something so appealing about a well-thumbed, leather-bound antique book, they can add a layer of history in an otherwise contemporary space. Antique books often have beautiful marbled papers which work fantastically turned to face a room, breaking up the rhythm of book spines on a bookshelf.'

3. Create depth with mirrors

Cream dining room with two alcoves filled with books

(Image credit: Kit Kemp Design Studio)

'Placing antique mirrors behind bookshelves creates the illusion of more depth and space, or the impression of an open shelving, hinting at a space beyond. Antique mirrors will bring contrast to contemporary shelving, and bounce light into a room, this technique works fantastically to create symmetry on either side of a fireplace or a statement piece of art.'

4. Interrupt rows of books with vignettes

Red shelves used as a divider in a living room

(Image credit: Kit Kemp Design Studio)

'Intersperse your books with art, objects, and photographs to add depth and intrigue. These accents break the monotony of book spines and invite exploration.'

'By adding individual touches your shelves will transcend mere storage, becoming dynamic showcases of your personality and style. Unleash your creativity and transform your shelves into captivating vignettes that tell your unique story. Storage space is precious, so maximize space and utilize every inch of your shelf.'

'Books laid flat serve as elegant pedestals for showcasing art and objects, framing them while adding visual interest. Reserve this technique for books you’ve already devoured, repurposing them with style.'

5. Introduce meaningful pieces

Red dining room with painted green shelving

(Image credit: Kit Kemp Design Studio)

'The best bit of styling a bookshelf is adding the fun, personal details, be that artwork hung in front of the shelving, smaller framed artwork mixed in with your books or surprising characterful items displayed amongst your books. I love to include whimsical painted boxes, sculptural ceramics, candles and even stuffed toys.'

6. Light up your shelving

Blue living room with arches bookshelf

(Image credit: Kit Kemp Design Studio)

'Shelving provides a fantastic opportunity for creative illumination. Elevate your shelf game with LED strip lights. These versatile additions inject warmth and ambiance with a simple click.'

'Experiment with placement, above the shelf for a subtle glow or below to cast enchanting shadows. Illuminating your shelves will mean they come to life in the evenings, adding a new dimension to a space, and the messier your books, with some upright, others leaning and some laid flat the more interesting the shapes and shadows created by your lighting will be!'

Whatever your interior design style, these shelf styling tips from Kit offer a winning formula. The key really is to use your bookshelves to add personality to a room, use them to display your collections, alongside your books. They are the perfect area of your home to create character so don't worry too much about aesthetics, experiment and let your shelves evolve as your home does. 

Head of Interiors

I am the Head of Interiors at Homes & Gardens. I started off in the world of journalism in fashion and luxury travel and then landed my first interiors role at Real Homes and have been in the world of interior design ever since. Prior to my role at H&G I was the digital editor at Livingetc, from which I took a sabbatical to travel in my self-converted van (not as glamorous as decorating a home, but very satisfying). A year later, and with lots of technical DIY lessons learned I am back to writing and editing, sometimes even from the comfort of my home on wheels.