Dress Up an Empty Bookshelf

By Annie Rainford , last updated February 7, 2011

Use these great tips to dress up an empty bookshelf and improve the decor of any room. Big, beautiful bookshelves make a small room feel cozy and stimulating and a large room feel warm and textured. But if they are nearly empty, they can make a room feel lonely and incomplete. You don't have to run out and acummulate books you don't want to read just to fill those empty spaces. Fill temporary gaps creatively and let your book collection grow naturally over the years.

Display Functional Objects in a Kitchen

A bookshelf in a kitchen can be a fantastic feature for showing off beautiful countertop appliances like stand-up mixers and retro-inspired blenders in beautiful colors. Let several shelves remain relatively spare, housing just a shaker-style water pitcher or a particularly handsome cake stand, while you pack others snugly with cookbooks. Cooking magazines can also look good on kitchen bookshelves, but house them in stylish magazine holders so that the look is organized rather than recycling-chic. In a pantry, stock bottom shelves with baskets for potatoes, onions and other produce that does not require refrigeration but prefers cool, dark conditions.

Play with Scale with Wall-Sized Bookshelves

In a living or bedroom, built-in shelving that covers a whole wall and surrounds a door can be striking. Break up the look and cover empty shelves by hanging a painting in the center of the shelving. This creates an eclectic atmosphere of energy and movement and adds a break-the-rules spontaneity that can make you and your guests smile. Play with scale to take the idea to an extreme. Place a giant enlargement of a photograph (or, if you are on a budget, a giant photocopy) in the center of a wall-sized bookshelf and fill the surrounding shelves with relatively tiny objects like decks of cards and dollhouse furniture. If your personal aesthetic is somewhat less extreme, mix books with vases, folded blankets and decorative bowls to fill out the space around the picture.

Put Your Prettiest Books on Display at Eye-Level

If you inherited the set of hundred-year-old poetry books by American romantics with embossed leather covers and gilded lettering, please do not place it out of reach, on the top shelf next to books such as "Car Repair for Dummies." Put them right where your guests, if not you, can access and enjoy them. Books are for opening and reading. Leave the tchotchkes for the top shelves and keep the good books within reaching distance.

Arrange Fresh Flowers in Vases on Empty Shelves

Red tulips brighten a white bookshelf in a way nothing else quite could. Be certain not to crowd flowers. You don't want them to look trapped. Make each shelf a sort of frame for your arrangement, allowing several inches of "breathing room" on each side. Keep cut flowers in fresh water so that they stay beautiful, or select silk, plastic, or ceramic varieties if you can't deal with changing the water. Enjoy the organic botanical lines and colors of your real or artificial bouquet thoroughly.

Color-Block Your Shelves

Every so often, paint the wall-side of an empty shelf unit in a contrasting color. Place a single object in the spot and highlight it by installing a shelf light. This will draw attention to your piece and look deliberate, with nothing empty about it.

Showcase Your Aquarium

An empty middle shelf is the ideal spot to house an aquarium. Light it well and enjoy the moving sculpture.

Guitar Amplifiers

These fit right into large shelf units with a little height and can reduce clutter in a bedroom or the corner of a basement. Handsome vintage models can even be attractive and are a natural fit in a bachelorette pad. Along those lines, accordions have a beautiful, evocative shape. Mix one in with your collection of polka records.

Fill Canvas Drawers

Use canvas drawers or boxes to hold loose items such as dolls, cars, toys and art supplies in a child's bedroom. Along those lines, use handwoven baskets to house DVDs in a living room, or loose jewelry in a bedroom or bath. Any container that looks beautiful head-on can be a great asset to an empty bookshelf, and to you, when it utilizes existing space to provide additional organization and storage.

Curtain Them Off with Gorgeous Fabric

Stack sweaters on the bottom half of bedroom bookshelves and cover them with a curtain. You can always remove the curtain when your nighttime reading material overflows the top shelves (although you may have to invest in a dresser).

Whether you use one of these ideas for dressing up a bookshelf or come up with your own, you will create a sense of warmth and visual interest in any space in your home.

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