Homes & Design Photo Credit: Ema Peter

Expert Advice: How to Style Your Bookshelf Like a Pro

Fox Design Studio’s Ben Leavitt shares his top tips for stacking your favourite books and knick-knacks.

Japanese bowls, Haitian statues and a faux dinosaur skull from Drumheller: these objects line the shelves of Ben Leavitt’s bedroom bookcase. The founder of Fox Design Studio, Leavitt works in both interior and industrial design, a job that takes him overseas often. Most times, he returns with another piece for his already full bookcase. “I’m definitely not a minimalist,” he laughs. “I never switch things out, I just add more.”

That’s because for him, a bookshelf should show who you are and how you live. “Really, it isn’t about the books,” he says. “It’s an opportunity to tell a story.”

Of course, styling a bookshelf to tell that story is no easy task. “It’s one of the hardest things to teach people how to do,” Leavitt says. But luckily for us, he was willing to take on the challenge. Below, we count down his seven top tips for how to style a bookshelf.

Leavitt’s bedroom bookshelf is used to display an eclectic collection of objects. (Photo: Janis Nicolay.)

1. All In
“If you’re a little bit reserved, a bookshelf should be the place you go crazy,” Leavitt advises. “But don’t just go to your local home decor store and buy a whole bunch of things.” Instead, he recommends curating meaningful objects from all over your home. Who says dishes just belong in the kitchen?

2. Wandering Eye
A well-styled bookshelf forces the eye to move around—and that, Leavitt says, is “a game of balance and contrast.” Place a small lamp on one shelf, then an unusual accessory on another to create visual interest and to keep that eye roving.

For a more sophisticated look, remove the sleeves from your hardcover books—or try turning them so the spine faces outward.

3. Strategic Stacking
Of course, you don’t want anyone’s eye to land on unsightly wires. In Leavitt’s bedroom, a thick cord runs up the back of his floor-to-ceiling bookcase—but you’d never know it, thanks to some strategically stacked books.

4. Think Small
Bookshelves need not be a case of go big or go home, says Leavitt. “What makes you want to get close to a bookcase and really inspect it are all the little tiny accessories that you mix in there.”

5. Book Smarts
Leavitt suggests removing the sleeve from hardcover books for a more sophisticated look. Or spin your stacks: turn the bound spine toward the back of the shelf so that the book’s paper edges are displayed instead. “It looks very French!”

styling shelving
Place different items on each shelf to create visual interest, says Leavitt. (Photo: Ema Peter.)

6. Haute High Function
For a pretty but functional display, keep folders piled in neat stacks or arrange pencils in a gorgeous vase. “You don’t want to look for a piece of paper and have to open five different boxes,” says Leavitt. “The reality is nobody lives like that.”

7. Work in Progress
“Your bookcase should be like dunes in a desert,” says Leavitt, “always shifting, always changing.” Don’t be afraid to switch up your styled shelves or add more mementos. “It should never be static!”

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