Built-in Bookshelf Makeover

I really never paid much attention to my mother’s bookshelves until recently. I admit I am not very observant when it comes to things that do not interest me, such as her collection of blue and white china, her annoying love for my horrible teenage years family photos, and tattered family bibles.

When I photographed the living room for “before” shots for the makeover I’m working on I was appalled at what I finally allowed my eyes to rest on: no attention to color or height. No books. Mostly everything is lined up in a row, no rhythm no reason.


The bottom right shelf has completely given up. It looks like a pile of trash down there! Books are obviously of no concern here. They’re just shoved in piles off to the side. Who needs books, right? We got dishes and cheeseball photos galore to show off.

At first I was hesitant to post this mini-makeover because it is only a temporary solution. There are not nearly enough books in this “case”. There were none in the house for me to pull from to add in. I am ashamed of the top and bottom shelves. But then I remembered the point of this blog, the evolution of home. So, we’re evolving mom’s home one step at a time.

I also desperately need real life content. 😉 Without ado, the newly styled built-in:


This is the view with that wretched tv I cannot stand! We’ll be getting rid of it soon enough. At least buying a tv stand that isn’t oriented in front of the bookshelves. BUT right now, it’s kind of nice because it hides the lower shelves from view.


I originally had the bottom left shelf arranged like so. Then when I moved the tv back over, as seen above, I realized I could take some books from a hidden-from-view shelf and boost up the plate. The height of books made a world of difference instead of this row of items. Like I said, these bottom shelves are bad/sad.

But I am fine with the meat in the middle:


I need to tell you a little more about this no books situation. I could have sworn there were more in this bookcase growing up, I thought to myself, “Maybe they’re in the closet?” So I went looking. All I found were a bunch of Little Golden Books (those cardboard books with the gold spines?), my college year books, and ton of bible story books.

But no adult books. Had we no Encyclopedia Britannica?

I also realized my mother is insane. Insane with china and space wasting figurines. There are 9 rooms in her house. That’s 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, a living room, a kitchen, a hall/study, and an old playroom turned dog room. You know how many of those rooms have cabinets with dishes and figurines? Every single one of them except the 2 baths and 1 bedrooms (ahem, the guest where I sleep) and the dog room. So 5 rooms.  5 rooms have dishes in them. There is a cabinet or TWO of dishes in nearly every room of this house. So books are not a priority.

In fact, there are 2 cabinets in the living room, 2 in the kitchen, 1 in the hall, 1 in the bedroom that is now a “jungle room”, one cabinet in her room…. I mean, it’s completely dish/figurine insanity.

Also, we need to discuss the Jesus-centric text in the house. There are 6 bibles on those shelves and I cannot even tell you how many children’s bible story books I used simply for height and color. Thank goodness for them because they really came in handy! But I honestly had no clue so much religious text was in the house. I don’t recall anyone reading those stories to me. If and when they did, it was at an early age, one I do not remember. “Hello, child. You will now be indoctrinated into the Church, now and foreverrrrr.” It’s actually no wonder I’m the non-religious person I am today (rebel, run away…run awaaay from the teachings). 😛

I kid (not really).


I began in the middle with a photograph of mom’s parents in their youth (the round gold frame). I knew mom loved those crazy Bibles and that religion was important to her and her upbringing so I thought this would be a great “family” shelf.  I’m not sure and didn’t ask, but I know some of those bibles were from members of her family, maybe grandfather. The teapots were given to her by grandmother, too. That special touch!

Across from that are a bunch of family photos- a wedding, great grands, grandmother, me at 5 in a clown costume- an egg (mom’s obsessed with Asian eggs), bible story mess. So, across the board this whole shelf sings the song of family ties.

This also sort of started the color story of the entire shelves: blue, black, brown, gold (yellow). I also threw in green.

Since I had a lot of yellows and blues in the bible books from the family photo graph shelf, I brought those colors down to the next shelf with the piggy bank and the children’s books. This shelf could tell the tale of childhood.


I just love the colors in the piggy and the colors in the egg from the shelf above. The way the eye travels around from shelf to shelf picking up moments of brightness. That was the intention.

The piggy bank was my father’s. Perhaps the American Indians, too. Or he got that for me. I haven’t a clue. I love me some Secret Garden.


If memory serves by now I’d hopped up to the upper cubbies and decided symmetry would look best. Mom had mostly all her blue and white china lumped together and while grouping is a good tactic for shelves, I wanted to group like things together and space them around the shelves. I felt like the 2 biggest pieces could stand on their own here. Especially given “stuff” was limited to divvy among all the shelves.

I nabbed the monkeys from the jungle room for color and their religious element. I threw the white pieces in for fun. Ha.

Now back to the middle. You probably don’t keep your cook books on the living room shelf but whatever. Mom had a bunch of these Southern Living Annuals. I wanted to bring in more green since I had the green monkeys. I flanked the annuals stack with blue china tea pots. This is the cooking shelf.

Since the bible family shelf was black, I balanced the next corner shelf with black yearbooks I’d found in the closet. There’s a green picture frame tucked in there of mom holding me as a baby. Baby me, me in the high school yearbooks. Something about life and growing up shelf. Still on the childhood shelf so we’re making complete sense here.

I brought in more yellow and finally some books that can stand! on the next shelf. This shelf holds no significance whatsoever. It’s a hodepodge of kids bible books, other random books, some more monkeys, and blue and white china. But colorwise I’m diggin it!

Next to that we round off religion with more bibles. Since I had the brown teapots from her mom, I wanted to match that and found the brown pot in a closet. I know that is a family relic too. The magnolia bookend tosses in a teeny bit of yellow and green.

So there you go! This concludes the best shelves.

With 2 remaining eggs and trinket boxes, I again went for symmetry in the 2 small cubby shelves. The shelf in the middle contains college yearbooks, her nursing school books, jesus text for height, and dishes for color. This was supposed to the be college shelf.
We’ll skip the bottom because it’s stupid and pointless and ugly and the redheaded stepchild we throw in the basement…

On top, I tried to maintain the color story of blue, black, and green. The photos give the height. And look, Old Great Gran made it from the very bottom, forgotten under that stack of trash I mentioned at the very beginning, to the very top, where she can shine out over the shelf world for all to see!


On the top right are the last bit of kids bible books and family photos. Can you believe how many of those bible books there were? There were A LOT.


So, here we go. Before, Middle, End.






I’d like to end on these quotes:

“Even if you don’t collect any particular type of book, do have books. A house is bereft without them.” HouseBeautiful Quick Changes
“Organize and style your bookshelves. Group books by subject or even color. Stand some upright, and then stack some horizontally to break the monotony. Mix in favorite pieces of pottery, collectibles, shells, or family photos.” -Angie Hranowsky
“Don’t line up objects like they’re on a march. Vary heights.” – Dan Marty (Speaking about collections)

While these shelves are not perfect, I feel they’re in much better shape than before. I probably could mess around a little more for better solutions with the items available to me, but I look at the shelves now and I see color balanced as a whole, I see varying heights and eye movement, and I like that most of the shelves tell an individual story–but as a whole a story that makes up the life of my mom. Isn’t that what a home is all about??





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