How to Achieve the ‘Bookshelf Wealth’ Design Aesthetic


As social media–obsessed designophiles, our ears basically start burning as soon as there’s a newly minted home trend or aesthetic making its rounds on the apps and sites where we spend our screen time. When the term cottagecore popped up, we immediately dove into the flowery countryside style to share the best ways to decorate using the trend we thought could never be toppled. When ruffles, linens, and bright florals were being seen repeatedly, we coined the term grandmillennial to describe the decorating style. However, there’s a new aesthetic rolling into town and throwing open the saloon doors to challenge our beloved cottagecore, and it’s called “bookshelf wealth.”

Kailee Blalock, the designer who appears in the TikTok above and cofounder of the San Diego–based design studio House of Hive Design Co., says in it that she’s been seeing a lot of videos about the bookshelf wealth style recently, but it’s by no means a new trend—or even a trend at all, really.

“Now [the style] has cachet because we call it something, but it’s something that’s been around for a long time,” interior designer Louis Duncan-He of Louis Duncan-He Designs tells House Beautiful. When we sent him the TikTok, he said, “Oh, that’s actually what that’s called? Because you see it so often.”

That said, the bookshelf wealth style hasn’t always been popular enough to trend on social media like this. It’s essentially a rejection of the perfectly manicured, clean-cut homes that have been so popular in recent years. Bookshelf wealth style essentially means displaying a curated (but not too curated) selection of things that are meaningful to you, like books, art, and objects you’ve collected, most likely over years. It doesn’t revolve around the amount of stuff you have in your home, like long-reigning minimalism and maximalism, or blend the aesthetics of several regions, like the popular Japandi style, but instead stems from your own life experience translated into home decor. It’s a lived-in, acquired style that draws people in and feels personal.

It makes sense why the bookshelf wealth aesthetic started gaining traction in the new year—it’s cold outside, people are staying in and not wanting to leave the warmth of their homes. The idea of making your personal space into something beautiful while also being comfortable, safe, and familiar perfectly encapsulates this style of decorating.

What Is the Bookshelf Wealth Design Style?

As Blalock says—referencing where the aesthetic gets its name—bookshelf wealth style rooms have bookcases filled with volumes the homeowner has actually read. They’re authentic, not props. They’re not arranged by color or size. They look casual and somewhat haphazardly arranged, as if someone has pulled them off the shelf recently and stuck them back without too much thought; a to-be-read stack only adds to the appeal. This idea of beloved items intentionally taking up space in the home shapes the bookshelf wealth style.

Other common characteristics of bookshelf wealth style are art hung in unconventional ways (including over bookshelves), a mix of patterns that look more traditional than maximalist, and a focus on historical features like built-ins, wood molding and paneling, and stained glass windows. However, it all comes back to authenticity, which is why there are no specific decor items you can buy to capture this broad aesthetic.

“I think the main thing is to buy what you love and what makes you happy,” says Melinda James, an interior designer at Melinda James Interiors. “It doesn’t have to be museum quality or this or that. It just needs to be what makes you smile and strikes a chord with you.”

a chair in a room

Eymeric Widling

Duncan-He referenced filmmaker Nancy Meyers’s iconic set designs—like the coveted cottage in The Holiday—to describe bookshelf wealth. Meyers’s homes always look lived-in, not messy, yet beautiful and curated. Somehow, they’re all almost a mix of cottagecore, grandmillennial, and bookshelf wealth. “I think there are different variations of [bookshelf wealth], because it can seem a little bit more eclectic and a little bit more maximalist in some ways, which is not for everyone,” Duncan-He says. “It’s really about making sure that spaces feel kind of authentic to you and part of your story is being told.”

How Can You Decorate in the Bookshelf Wealth Aesthetic?

James says that acing the bookshelf wealth style in a way that looks rich and stylish, not cluttered, comes down to balance, especially when choosing art pieces. “One thing I notice that sometimes clients do when they’re out buying art is buy the same shapes and sizes without knowing it,” she explains. “Variety and mixing, overlapping, all that stuff—I don’t really think there’s rules. It’s mainly about making it pleasing to the eye and keeping movement going, where you don’t just look at one place in the house or a bookcase or wall.” The goal, as she describes it, is for everything to look like it came about through “happenstance.” So spend time layering patterns, hanging prints, and sprinkling in textures like velvet and grasscloth to see what works for you.

a statuette of a hippo is kept on the books on the center table in the living room

Pieter Estersohn//Getty Images

TikTok makes built-in bookcases look essential to the bookshelf wealth style. You’ll find us drooling over good built-ins any day, but you don’t need to spend all your “wealth” on them to get the look. If you don’t have built-ins, Duncan-He suggests working with any molding or different wall textures you do have to capture the aesthetic’s warmth, familiarity, and imperfect accessibility. “If you want more of that feeling, it’s almost like you want to treat the molding in the same way that you would treat a wallpaper or texture. You have it there to add visual interest, and then you ignore that it’s there,” he explains. “If you try and start to play within—Oh, does this frame go within the molding? But it’s two inches off the side—it starts to look very planned and calculated, and you can’t really achieve that feeling.”

James and Duncan-He agree that the things you’ve collected over the years that may not seem to fit into any other design style present in your home can still find a place when it comes to bookshelf wealth. As Duncan-He puts it: “That’s really the fruit that makes all of the designs look more authentic and look distinctive and look real.” It’s the pieces that already have a story that make bookshelf wealth so rich and accessible for anyone.

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