This interior designer's three step rule for arranging bookshelves is so simple – and it works every time

There are so many ways to style a bookshelf, but designer Marie Flanigan has got it down to a science. This is how to arrange your own collection

Three rooms with styled bookcases
(Image credit: Future)

The recent buzz over 'bookshelf wealth' has us all rethinking how we've been arranging our bookshelves – storing books isn't so simple after all. If you're in need of some quick and easy pointers on how to keep your book storage looking sophisticated, you're not alone.

Luckily, interior designer Marie Flanigan just took to Instagram to share her step-by-step guide to styling a bookcase like a pro – and the three tips she offers are incredibly easy to follow. Here's how she arranges books and accessories in her own design projects, and what she suggests if you're looking to bring your bookshelf back to life.

Marie's top three tips for styling bookshelves

Marie's three bookshelf styling steps make rearranging your books feel like a breeze. Here's her step-by-step guide to creating an eye-catching vignette that'll store all your favorites – books and beyond.

Marie Flanigan
Marie Flanigan

Marie Flanigan is an award-winning interior designer whose passion and achievements in design have positioned her as one of the nation’s best. She is classically trained and practiced architect, and her trademark style is evident through the sophisticated use of color, texture, and light. Every home she designs receives her personal signature of timeless elegance and innovative simplicity.

1. Start from scratch

A light green room with bookshelves and an armchair in front of a fireplace

(Image credit: Future)

Before you jump to the exciting part of design, Marie says your best bet is to empty the bookshelf and 'start from scratch.' Remove all the books, trinkets and clutter from the shelves and take a look at the space you have to work with. When it comes time to designing the bookshelf, your mind will be better set to get creative.

'You can see it in a new way, and it'll help you even see your objects as new again,' she explains. 

2. Place visually heavy objects first

A pink room with two floor-to-ceiling full bookshelves and a fireplace behind a seating arrangement

(Image credit: Future)

'Start by filling in visually heavy objects – that is typically large objects,' says Marie.

If you have large vases or hefty coffee table books as part of your collection, start to place these within the shelves first. Once you achieve a visual balance with the larger items, filling in the gaps with books and accessories will start to seem easier – and the heavy lifting will already be done with.

'If you want a bookshelf that's mostly full of books, start filling in the books and leave room for some smaller accent items,' she says.

3. Add beautiful accents

A white living room with a fireplace and tall bookshelves built into the walls

(Image credit: Future)

Now comes the fun part, says Marie. For the third and final step, she advises that you 'fill it up with all the beautiful accents.' Whether you've collected nostalgic items over time or just want to show off your latest design find, this is the time to let your personality shine.

'Add in your collected items that you found on travels, pictures of your family, and little artifacts that you love and that really bring you joy,' says Marie.

The amount of items all depends on you – for a more maximalist look, bring out everything you've got and balance until you're happy with the result. If you tend to be more of a minimalist – or if the shelves are looking quite full of books already – just one or two items per shelf will do just fine.

With these three stunning yet simple tips, you'll be on your way to achieving true bookshelf wealth in no time. By starting fresh, layering in the large items, and accessorizing with all your favorite things, the shelf you're left with will be an authentic representation of you and your home.

Abby Wilson
News Writer

I am a News Writer at Homes & Gardens, with a focus on interior design. Most recently, I worked with Better Homes & Gardens, where I wrote and edited content about home decor, gardening tips, food news, and more. Before that, I studied Journalism and English Literature at New York University. I’ve moved around quite a bit in the last several years, most recently making the trip to London, and love transforming each new space into a comfortable retreat that feels like home. When it comes to decor, I’m most drawn to unique vintage finds and calming colors.