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How many 12-year-olds do you know who ask their parents for a bookcase for Christmas?

I did. And, I still remember my surprise when I found it in my bedroom. The latest Teen Magazine was on the top shelf with model, Pattie Boyd, on the cover. How cool was she with her long bangs, black eye liner and white Slicker lipstick? So cool that she went on to marry George Harrison and Eric Clapton and is the subject of his heartbreaking ballad, “Layla.”

More to the point, how cool was I to have my own bookcase. To this day, it stands in my old room filled with Nancy Drew and an encyclopedia starter set.

My bookcase status took a few hits when I went off to college. I made do with painted grocery crates and stacks of lumber on masonry blocks for my books, succulents, turntable, and collection of Eddie Money albums.

My first home purchase was a condo in Marin where I replaced my one and only coat closet with, that’s right, a bookcase. A nice unit, custom-built with an arched top, glass and wood shelves, and recessed lighting. Since I was transforming my condo into an old Spanish bungalow, I stained the wood dark brown and painted the inside back tomato red—a nice background for my mustard yellow pottery.

Built-in bookcases and floating shelves usually create stronger visual impacts than stand-alone pieces. They can, at times, also take up less floor space while providing more storage. How are your shelves looking these days? Could they use a makeover?

Start by assessing their contents. Create throw-away and donate piles. Create a keep-but-move-to-different-room pile. Remove all that remains and separate into other categories such as books, framed photos, ceramics et al. Now check your house for any hidden treasures that you want to include in your new display.

Next, analyze your items to see if there are common themes. That is, you might see a repetition of the same color or a number of sea shells, baskets, boxes, or basenji statuary. Group these common items together on their own shelves starting with the bigger pieces. Now strategically move one of your basenji to a different shelf to shake up the order and add a little interest.

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Set a partial row of books vertically and then switch to horizontal on the same shelf. Use the horizontal stack as a pedestal for a small accessory. Once all items have a home, step back to see how things look. If you can’t pinpoint the imperfections, check to see that each shelf is a complete vignette in its own right. This usually means having an odd number of items with one being the main star and the others being the supportive cast. If anything is fading into the background, bring it forward and place a more vibrant color in back of it.

Think about adding molding to the face of your shelves to dress them up. And, if the molding is wide enough, add a strip of lights to shine either above or below.

Futz and tweak until you are satisfied. You’ll know you’ve successfully styled your shelves when each item can be seen, has importance, integrates well with all other items, and you’re so happy you can’t take your eyes off them. Well done.

Twenty idea-loaded bookshelves will be in my upcoming newsletter. Send me an email to receive it.

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Patti L Cowger is a Napa-based interior designer and owner of PLC Interiors. For more information about her design services, visit her website at call (707) 322-6522; or email Demystifying Design appears every other Saturday.