Saturday, March 26, 2011

Ten Tips for Beachy Bookshelves

Before I begin my design tips for decorating beachy bookshelves, I have to share that my white ladder bookshelves are one of my biggest furniture scores in our new house thus far. I picked these up at Christmas Tree Shop....for...get this - $29.99/bookshelf. They are solid wood, very sturdy, and are finished in my favorite color (white). They are also tall and provide 5 shelves worth of good storage. Just like Annelle "cleaned them outta baby Jesuses" on Steel Magnolias, I purchased as many as they had remaining in stock (4).

My bookshelves are practically identical to the Crate and Barrel versions:

Crate and Barrel - $149

Crate and Barrel - on sale for $399

I stacked three of my shelves together in our living room (for under $100):

And I put the remaining bookshelf in our family room:

And without further ado and further rambling, here are my tips for decorating beachy bookshelves:

1) Consider decorating your shelves with items that keep within the same color scheme. While blues/whites/tans are probably the most commonly used beach decor colors (and the main colors throughout my entire first floor), any color palate can become beachy; check out these pics:

Orange Coastal Decor:

The Lennox
Red Coastal Decor:

Coastal Living

Beach Cottage Love
Purple Coastal Decor:

Absolutely Beautiful Things
Our Master Bathroom
Candace Rose
Green Coastal Decor:

Coastal Living

The Lennox
Yellow Coastal Decor:

Southern Living
2009 Southern Living Texas Idea House Upstairs Master Bedroom
Southern Living
Simply Irresistible Designs
Black Coastal Decor:

Baca Creative

Beach Cottage Love

Beach Cottage Love

Pink Coastal Decor:
House Beautiful

My Design Chic
Coastal Living

Inspiring Designs
If you already own items that you want displayed on your shelves, but they aren't yet the right color...well, then paint 'em! I can't tell you how many items I've given a new life as result of a little spray painting this year (Mom, you must be so proud - she's the original queen of spray paint! Just ask my Dad! :-). For example, I spray painted three (empty) wine bottles silver to match my living room color scheme:

And I also painted picture frames (this one was originally purple - now it's nickel!):

Some starfish and a sea fan were sprayed white, then framed:

Even hardcover books!

The bottom book was sprayed nickel and the 3rd from the bottom was sprayed white
Color is probably one of the most effective, inexpensive and easiest ways to evoke a beachy style (or any style, for that matter). If you are going to be spray painting, just remember to do so outdoors or in your garage with the doors open to allow for good ventilation.

2) Use natural materials to achieve an authentic, beachy vibe. Shells, sand, sea glass, interesting stones, driftwood, etc. are all great examples of this. Bonus - if you live near the beach then your decor is free. Try and display these items in a variety of different ways to add interest.

I put this cool rock found on the beach by Mr. C on top of a small stack of matching hard cover books:

These white starfish were placed inside a metal basket purchased at the Dollar Store (basket was originally a neon color, but nothing a little spray paint can't fix):

Sand and dollar store candles look elegant in glass vases (also from the Dollar Store)...I actually used epsom salts for these candles - I keep forgetting to bring back sand from the beach:

Shells look beautiful when stored in varying sized glass vases. Another Dollar Store vase contains my leftover sea urchins from this bathroom art project.

A larger glass vessel (leftover from our DIY wedding salt water taffy bar) holds larger shells:

Consider mounting a single shell or starfish on decorative scrapbooking paper (you can get sheets at Michael's for around 50 cents per sheet). I framed one white starfish on this linen scrapbooking paper:

3) Avoid unnatural and/or overly theme based decor and/or decor that is "trying too hard."

This Next
Ugly House Photos
Budget Dream Weddings

S Distefano

Ocean Styles
These pictures all feel (to me) like the look is being forced and it's just too much. It's over the top. Plus, these items are all so specific. What happens if you decide to change your style from beachy bookshelves to barnyard bookshelves? You will have wasted money on highly specific items that will have to be thrown out  because they don't translate well to any other style. By using inexpensive, natural items with a mix of strategically painted items you won't incur much of a cost should your style change...and you may even be able to repurpose the items to fit your new style. A lighthouse statue lamp, though, no matter what color it's painted...really can't be remember, go for natural and "indirectly" beachy items.

4) Consider going easy on the amount of family photos. Limit yourself to a few treasured photos and save the rest for albums. Also, consider printing your photos as black and white or sepia. These colors give off a more vintage, beachy vibe, regardless of where/what the actual picture is. In our living room, I have our save the date photo (this shot was taken in NYC's Battery Park - no where near the beach, but the black/white colors go with the theme and give it a more vintage feel). Framed along side the save the date is our wedding invitation (of course our wedding had a coastal style - see more pics and even a short video clip here):

I have our wedding DVD propped up next to a shell and a simple, white vanilla frosting-scented candle gifted to me by my lovely friend Jackie. This candle works because it's not plastered with logos (ie, Yankee Candle) and is crafted in a simple white jar - perfectly (and indirectly) beachy:

In our family room I framed my favorite wedding picture (a few favorite shells from our honeymoon coordinate well with the colors of the picture and help to instantly transform the shelf to a beachy and sentimental vignette):

I personally prefer sitting down and looking through my photo albums in a book, rather than framing numerous photos around the house. In fact, each year I have a digital album printed with many favorite images from the year. I love this tradition because the books cost only around $100 yet include hundreds of pictures. There's no way I could frame hundreds of pictures of important moments I want to capture each year, so the albums provide me with a way I can easily access and look at my memories whenever I want to...and put the albums away when it comes time for Open House. Why, you say? Displaying pictures of yourself and/or your family can definitely turn off potential's hard to imagine yourself buying a house when you're surrounded with pictures of people that currently live in the house. If you do enjoy framing and displaying a sizable amount of family photos, I suggest framing your pictures in frames with the same finish (all black, or all dark wood, etc.) or several coordinating finishes.

5) Don't fill your bookshelves to capacity. Even if you have plenty of items (beachy or not) to display, prioritize which items are most important and begin placing them first. No matter how great your individual items are, once you start crammin' them in like sardines your pretty, beachy bookshelf will take a turn for the worse, guaranteed. I feel like I did a good job with just enough accessories on my family room bookshelf:

 But the living room is at capacity - I may even need to go back and remove an item or two:

6) Use a variety of sized items on your bookshelf to provide balance. See how I've balanced the size of items on a shelf in my fam room:

I have one tall, thin item (sea fan frame), one medium, fat item (metal basket with starfish) and one mini item (decorative ball). It's okay if there is still some space leftover on your shelf - don't feel the need to cover every inch with "stuff." Yes, something else could fit to the right of the decorative ball...but that one more item would also cause this shelf to be filled to the brim and it would probably look cluttered. BTW, these three items were all random items I had around my house...some were repainted to fit my color scheme of blue/brown/white/tan...but no purchases necessary here to create an understated, beachy feel.

7) Invest in wicker baskets to store necessities that aren't decorative, yet still need to be easily accessible on shelving. Rather than just plopping our mail down on these shelves, I purchased large baskets from Walmart (I don't remember the exact price, but I'd put money on them being under $10 each). Mr. C has his own mail basket and I have my own:

I also use several baskets to store paperback books that I've read or will read one day (the paperback basket in the living room is the wicker basket on the left):

I find hard cover books to be beautiful and can be displayed on their own as art (check out pics below).....but I prefer to keep my paperbacks stowed away.

8) If you're feeling crafty, create your own coastal art for your bookshelves. There are tons of talented bloggers out there that are posting great tutorials every day. Check out my blog list on the left side of my site to see lots of my suggested sites. Or, keep reading for some of my tutorials. Last week I made this sea urchin display, which would be great on a beachy bookshelf....and I also framed a vintage coastal menu from our hometown, which again would compliment a coastal bookshelf. I found (free) vintage fish prints (all with expired copyrights) and I printed them out and framed them in our bedroom (but they could totally work on a bookshelf).

I also recently made a few more shell shadowboxes/frames:

The shell shadowboxes are easy and very inexpensive to make. I already had the shadowbox (purchased for $2 at Goodwill - it needed several new coats of paint), and I also already had the shells....I have a ton of shells leftover from our wedding:

If you don't have lots of random shells, and you don't live close to the beach - check out the Dollar Store or Christmas Tree Shop (if you're lucky enough to have one of these nearby)...with Spring/Summer arriving, both stores are currently stocking inexpensive, bulk shells. Or, you can always look online (Ebay would be my first stop).

For my new shell shadowbox, I created a custom background in Microsoft Word to highlight each shell:

 All I did was measure the length and width of the identical shells I was using and I added an inch to both measurements (so, if the shell's size was 2x1", I allocated 3x2" for each shell's box. Then, I simply created a table large enough to hold the shells (3 columns with 3 rows with measurements of 3x2"). I formatted the border by changing its color to match the shells. You can email me for the template if you like. Because it's saved as  Microsoft Word document, you can change the table's dimensions to fit your own shells.

If you don't have a $2 shadowbox from a recent binge at Goodwill, you can recreate this look by using an old 8x10" picture frame. If your frame isn't the right color - recall what you learned in Tip #1 - spray paint it! Then, simply remove the glass, glue your shells to your paper and frame the paper, like this:

It's really that easy!
I also created my own version of coastal subway art (again, in Microsoft Word) by simply typing coastal towns in a variety of different fonts and sizes. This artwork was personalized because I featured NJ beaches in one frame (where I grew up) and MA beaches in the other frame (where Mr. C grew up):

Feel free to email me if you would like either or both of the Microsoft Word templates. I was inspired to create this project by the Bowers' version of hometown subway art. You might also want to recreate the Bowers' paint chip art (the only cost involved is the picture frame) in colors to compliment your beachy bookshelf. Or, you could add indirect beachy style to anything you choose to frame by covering the mat in burlap, like this.

I was inspired by Young House Love's magazine monogram to create my own version of a coastal magazine monogram letter (which is a great way to personalize your beachy bookcase):

To do this, I simply created a large "C" in a Microsoft Word textbox, then I found an excerpt from a coastal book and typed it up to the right of the textbox. I knew that the words would be cut off, but that's part of the charm of this art. I made sure words like "coast," "seaside," etc. were visible enough in the frame to identify what the word actually was. Email me if you would like this template, and once again, it's a Word file that you can fully customize to your specifications.

When all else fails in making your coastal art for your shelves, you can always just buy a big spool of $2 twine and start wrapping items in it. I've wrapped vases, wreaths and empty wine bottles and jugs. I've seen others wrap pictures frames, eggs (Easter decor), pumpkins in the fall, large monogram letters....virtually anything can be wrapped in twine to instantly transform it to beachy decor.

This jug was actually an empty Cognac bottle (Mr. C's).

9) Look around your house to see what you already own that will compliment your beachy bookshelves. I had a small stack of hard cover books that take center stage on my family room bookshelf. They're not blatantly beachy, but the colors provide a subtle beachy feel. Especially paired with the (free) rock Mr. C found found on the beach for me. Going for subtle, indirect touches like this looks more authentic, natural and beautiful than the direct, obvious and "in your face" commercialized beach decor as I was saying earlier.

Mr. C's cigar box doesn't give off a directly beachy vibe; however, the dark color of the wood and the brass dials indirectly remind me of nautical clocks and dials. Give your objects at home a second look for items like this.

10) Remember the old adage, form follows function. For some, bookcases may be strictly decorative...however, if your space is at a premium then it's likely you need your bookshelves to be functional and store a variety of items. But think creatively when it comes to organizing and displaying the functional items on your bookshelf. Remember the mail baskets I described earlier:

Wicker chairs, wicker baskets, wicker anything always reminds me of the beach...and again, it's a natural material and it's not over the top.

I also figured it would be practical to include some note paper and pens near the mail baskets. Rather than using any old paper and pens, I deliberately chose some leftover (yet lovely), letter-pressed sailboat note cards and a waterman pen in a blue case to display here:

 They are highly functional, yet beautiful to look at on our living room shelves. If you have a variety of paper and pens (or whatever the particular object is you need to display) be considerate in which items you choose to display. The sailboat cards and pen match my color scheme and aren't over the top, which is why I chose them rather than the yellow note pad and #2 pencil inside my desk drawer.

Another necessity in our living room was our Internet router. Last time I checked, those things aren't very beachy - directly or indirectly. They're just plain ole' ugly. I didn't want this blinking black box to stick out like a sore thumb on my shelves, so I purchased a large white cardboard box from the office section of Walmart to house the router. Then I cut out the left and back wall of the box and placed the router inside the box with the lid on. Cutting out the sides provides plenty of ventilation and also provides space for all the wires that need to somehow make it to an outlet:

*IMPORTANT NOTE - When I first crafted this router house, I examined the cardboard box and the router numerous times the first few days to ensure it wasn't getting warm. I highly recommend doing this for your safety if you choose to do something similar. Form (and safety) follow function. This idea was inspired by Young House Love's version of router storage.

Another way to balance form and function is by being strategic with your placement of decor. In the pic below, I placed my 3 newly sprayed-silver bottles in front of an outlet. You can hardly tell from this picture, but there are wires dangling down from the upper outlet to power our Internet router. The bottles keep the dangling wires out of sight, and they are also easy to move if I need to get to the lower outlet.

Whether or not you crave beachy style year round, or you're just looking to add a bit of the beach to your bookshelves in honor of the (finally) approaching warm weather, I hope these tips will help you organize and style your bookshelves to be indirectly (and beautifully) beachy. Who else can't believe I made it through this entire post without accidentally typing b*tchy in lieu of beachy!?!?

Cliff's Notes for Beachy Bookshelves: Less is more. Go natural. Stick within a color scheme and vary the size of your items...and at all costs, avoid:
Robin's Dockside Shop

Robin's Dockside Shop

Linking to these great parties!


  1. You really scored on your bookshelf find. I like the way you grouped the three together.

  2. I just picked my jaw off the floor. We just got married in Cabo about a month ago, and i have been looking all over online to find some ideas to re-do our bathroom "beach" themed. I love these bookshelves, all the captions you included...and your sonoma recreation. I am going shopping tonight. THANK YOU THANK YOU!!

  3. Hi Erin...

    Ohhh my gosh...I can't believe that you found those awesome shelves for just $29! What a great treasure find, my friend! You're right...they look very similar to PB's shelves for a fraction of the cost! Girl, you did GOOD! Erin, your living room is sooo beautiful! I love all the colors that you have chose and the sweet coastal ambiance!!! I studied and studied how you decorated the shelves....just fabulous, my friend!!! I love all the crafting that you did...very creative and there looks gorgeous!!! Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful living room with us...and the tips and tutorials! What a fabulous post! I sooo enjoyed it!

    Warmest spring wishes,
    Chari @Happy To Design

  4. Looks outstanding...I'm a COASTAL GAL!!!


  5. Nicely done and very beachy indeed! Great find on the open bookcases also!

    :D Lynda

  6. Beautiful beach inspired decorating and so many helpful tips. Great post! :)


  7. Thanks for all the great tips! I love the post!


  8. I would love to have the Microsoft templates. All of them.. I'm new to blogland.. How do I email you for them???

  9. Wow, I could hang out here for a while- GREAT ideas!

  10. Hi Becky! I just replied to your facebook message on Stillwater's FB site. You can email me at for the templates, and I will reply back with the attached word docs. I can totally relate to being new at blogging - I just started about a month ago and am still figuring things out day by day! :-)

  11. Very beautiful!!! Thanks for linking up to Mad Skills Monday!

  12. I LOVE this! Its PERFECT for you to Link up at my Linky PAR-TAY,

    Whassup Wednesday!!!

    And I have a party button you can grab so your friends can come too:)



  13. Beautiful!!! There is plenty of breathing room so it doesn't feel cluttered and the neutral colors are so soothing to the eye! Great job!!! :)

    OH...and I ADORE the Christmas Tree Shoppe! That place rocks! :)

  14. This looks so pretty. I love all your beach themes. Great deal on teh shelves too!

  15. What a great post - so many good ideas & lots of inspiration! New follower from HoH blog hop, hope you will stop by & follow me back!

    Aimee @

  16. I love all these ideas! Your shelves look light, airy and effortless.

  17. The shelves were a fabulous find and I love your tips for decorating them! Hope you're having a great weekend.

  18. Wow- gorgeous shelves and gorgeous inspirations! Thanks for sharing at FNF! :)

  19. Thanks for posting the ten tips for beachy shelves, I just got back from Jamacia and brought back a few things now I can refer back to this post when I'm ready to decorate with those itmes.


  20. You have great pictures on your post. It is also cool to see a bookshelf without any book in it! Your ideas are really great and these would really help me design and arrange my books perfectly in a nice shelf or customized closets Bergen (for instance). I am looking forward for more tips. Thank you.