Shelf Help
Image: Dennis Wise

NO OFFENSE TO THE E-READER, but a word collection of well-thumbed books, be they fiction or non-, best-sellers or biology texts, reveals personality and gives character to a room. But how to best integrate books into your decor without turning shelves into overstuffed catchalls? Interior designer Beth Dotolo, whose Dallas-based firm Pulp Design Studios recently opened an office here in Seattle, offers a few foolproof industry tricks. “If a bookcase is too sparse, it can look empty. If it’s too repetitive, it can look boring. And if it’s too cluttered, it can look messy,” Dotolo says. A designer with a trained eye can quickly bring a pleasing order to a person’s books, baubles, and frames. But, without some guidelines, it’s easy for the rest of us to hit a visual roadblock. These basic shelf-design guidelines can work for any decorating style—and any shelf style, for that matter—to organize a bookcase both fetching and functional.

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1. Good things come in threes. “Objects should be placed in a triangular format using tall, medium, and small items to help create symmetry,” Dotolo says.

2. Instead of framed photos, Dotolo suggests adding an unexpected personal touch by framing an everyday object, be it a memorable scrawl on a Post-it note or a quirky greeting card.

3. When arranging books, nix the monotonous rows and try integrating vertical and horizontal stacks. For even more richness, top a small vertical stack of books with a personal item.

4. Don’t be afraid to keep one shelf devoid of books. Dotolo suggests filling an empty shelf with one eye-catching item, such as this tray with vintage liquor dispensers, to create a focal point.

5. A bookshelf can—and should—hold much more than books. Create balance and movement by weaving bowls, vases, and sculpture throughout.

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Bamboo shelf $1,249, Retrofit Home, 1103 E Pike St, Capitol Hill, 206-568-4663; retrofithome.com. Magnifying glass with claw foot $85, tall leather periscope $95, brass periscope $22, iron hand wall hook $32, framed leaf insect $210, santo hands (in bowl) $9 each, Lucca Great Finds, 5332 Ballard Ave NW, Ballard, 206-782-7337; luccagreatfinds.com. Wood hands $5 each, Fremont Sunday Street Market, 3401 Evanston Ave N, Fremont, 206-781-6776; fremontmarket.com. Silver lacquer jewelry box $49, large decorative wood object $49, lacquer tray $32, small decorative wood object $29, West Elm, 2201 Westlake Ave, South Lake Union, 206-467-5798; westelm.com. Vintage coffee carafe $32, vintage glass bottle $12, vintage decanter $26, vintage glasses $5 each, Jax Joon, 5346 Ballard Ave NW, Ballard, 206-789-8777. Foo Dog bookends $68 for a pair, Camelion Design, 5330 Ballard Ave NW, Ballard, 206-783-7125; cameliondesign.com. Ceramic urchin objects $24 each, Dwell Studio, dwellstudio.com.