The 5 Step Guide to Accessorising

Occasionally I’ll find myself missing those days of blissful ignorance. With a wistful pang I’ll remember a time before interiors, before I knew anything about design, posh candles, bespoke embroidered 2000 thread count bed linen or modern art (my husband still rues the day I uncovered Phillips Contemporary).

A bygone age, where the mere sight of a grey wall evinced the persuasion that I was in the chicest place ever. My decorating mindset was Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen. And like most people with questionable taste, I was convinced there was nothing to it. My idea of a stylish bedroom comprised damask wallpaper, a purple headboard, tiny sequin scatter cushions, a polyester throw and a “statement piece” (no one ever tells you that statement pieces should never make a statement).

Fortunately, some costly interiors mistakes and my own property business have since disabused of the belief that designing a home is easy.

And although my style has come a long way from yankee candles and pops of primary colour, I put my faith in the professionals when it matters. One such professional is Taylor Howes, a luxury London interior design practice who happened to have designed the painfully perfect house of a woman whose cushion game is stronger than mine – in spite of this, she remains my best friend.

When Tammy first showed me around, I was stupefied. Room by room, her property revealed itself as the epitome of interior design perfection. Luxurious but livable, refined but confident, classic yet modern. I wasted no time in asking who was responsible. The answer – Taylor Howes.

Fortunately, Tammy’s home is not the only Taylor Howes designed property I’ve head the pleasure of visiting. In fact, I’ve viewed several. Each property was completely unique and exploring something different within the constraints of fabulous taste. As a practice they are versatile and client led – their only signature is dareisay, perfection.

Which is why, I approached Helena Bell Lowry from Taylor Howes for her 5 step guide to that most elusive interiors goal – an impeccably styled bookshelf. Of course, the basic principles of this guide can apply to almost anything – so fix up, look sharp, here’s the professional’s guide to interior styling.

Five Steps to Dressing Shelves by Taylor Howes

1. Clusters and Pairs

When it comes to key shelf dressing principles, the “cluster” is key to achieving a well considered shelving display.

There is no definite rule in terms of using objects in odds or even quantities, as long as it varies from shelf to shelf. Avoid regular repeated rhythm which can look contrived and remember, symmetry although tempting  is not always the answer.

Pairs will always be a firm favourite whether it’s candlesticks or a matching set of picture frames. Whilst the natural temptation is to position one at each end of a shelf, we suggest keeping the pair together, placed either at one end of the bookshelf or slightly off centre. Remember to balance larger displays with smaller clusters on lower or adjacent shelves. A couple of duos on one shelf could be complemented with a trio of accessories centred on the next.

Ideally having a small collection of pieces which are the same style but different heights always works successfully in creating variety. Try to avoid everything lining up in straight rows.

how to style bookshelf bookcase guide interiors Taylor Howes

2. Focal points and stand alone pieces

Special one off pieces are made for display shelves and should be positioned in pride of place. These should be allowed to sit centrally on a shelf and do not need anything too close.

Depending on the size of the items versus the shelf height you want to ensure the items sits proportionally within the shelf; a very tall crystal vase would be wasted in a shelf that doesn’t give it a good perimeter of surrounding space to the sides and the top. Focal pieces shouldn’t look crammed in and need to be celebrated.


3.  Literature- the stack versus the book end?

Books and magazines should have a place on every shelf and surface alike. Unlike traditional accessories however, these are of course functional pieces and not merely for display and decoration. Bookends are perfect for adding interest to a collection of smaller books that are a similar size and not too heavy – so that they will actually stay upright as intended. When accesorising shelves, the Ammonite book end brings glamour and excitement to a potentially uninteresting run of books!

For your magazines and oversize books, a neat stack is far more practical and easier to fit within short shelves. These stacks can be topped off with a small decorative paperweight or box, assuming the books below aren’t for every day reading!

Mix and match between stacks and rows along your shelves to create variety and interest in heights and levels; Arranging by size and colour ensures they complement each other when positioned on an open shelf. This doesn’t mean you should be recreating the rainbow in your alignment of book spines, but merely considering items that work tonally with each other and within the room scheme.

how to style bookshelf bookcase guide interiors Taylor Howes

4. Less is More

Depending on how many shelves you have and the desired effect you are looking for, anything too busy could end up looking crammed and messy. Give space between each item and don’t be afraid to leave lengths of shelf empty, especially if surrounding that feature piece or a special pair.

If you find yourself with too much space then candles and diffusers are a great go to filler, but remember not to light them if there is a shelf above and keep them away from the wall.

Another design trick when dressing bookshelves is to bring items closer to the front of your shelves especially if they are high up. This will make the most of showing off each piece and ensure it don’t get pushed to the back and lost.

how to style bookshelf bookcase guide interiors Taylor Howes

5. More is More!

In a library or study setting it might be that every inch of space is vital and must be used to the maximum potential! If your shelves are definitely intended for the functional side rather than decorative then they can still be arranged in a smart and considered approach whilst using every inch!

Make sure any paperwork is in a smart tray or box, the same goes for any small fiddly items / keys and nick nacks which can be neatly stashed in trinket boxes or a smart leather vide poche (small tray!) and these in turn can sit on top of a tall stack of books or magazines. Find some faux leather box files to hide the messy bits and avoid generic cardboard files which damage easily.  Luxdeco or Oka are great for this kind of thing. Keep anything that is not used frequently at the top shelf and arrange neatly taking into consideration size.

Antiques and old keepsakes should always be shown off to position these centrally between books and out of harm’s way!

how to style bookshelf bookcase guide interiors Taylor Howes



A few suggestions for your shelves

You May Also Like



I found this post completely randomly when searching for ideas for my living room and omg thank you! The LLB reference made me LOL. Not sure I have the budget yet to afford someone like Taylor Howes, but I am definitely blow away by their work. Thanks again for sharing.


Great post H – as always, your writing is impeccable.

Eve xx

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *