Loi Thai is the owner of the Bethesda antiques shop Tone-on-Tone and an expert at displaying accessories.

We asked for his advice on decorating a piece of furniture most people have in their home, a bookcase.

"At my home and shop, I like to style bookcases with cherished as well as everyday objects in a thoughtful and unusual way," Thai says. His guidelines make the most of your shelving space using things found inside your home. Just keep in mind, he says, "You want to make the display pretty and practical."

Not just for books

Alternating shelves of books with shelves of objects makes things more interesting. Look around your house for items that are pretty or meaningful to fill in gaps between books. Or use the space to display your collections. Items with rounded edges are a nice contrast to all the books. Remember to rotate your display every so often to keep it from getting stale.


Thai organizes his books first by subject matter, then by size, then by color. Organizing by color is prettier and a little more pleasing to the eye, he says. Stacking books of the same color together or grouping similar objects together has more visual impact.

Stack books vertically and horizontally

Alternating the way the books are placed is more interesting and gives the display more personality, says Thai. And, he says, sometimes you just don't have enough books to go vertically across. When you stack books horizontally, put an object on top to create a still life.

Think about layers

Layering objects from front to back can make the shelves appear deeper, says Thai. He likes to use something special, such as a signed book or a book he likes the cover of, as a backdrop to the rest of the items on a shelf. A watercolor, botanical or photograph would also work. Give it importance by framing it. Set it in the back or have it in the front, leaning against the books.

Don't overdo it

Don't cram everything you own onto your shelves, says Thai. Limit your selection to three or four types of items. On his own shelves, Thai mixes books and his collections of antique creamware, silver pieces and marble objects. If you have too much going on, it can be overwhelming to look at. Remember, books have color.

Pay attention to scale.

Put bigger items at the top or very bottom of your bookcases, says Thai. Place smaller objects at eye level. (Top shelves are especially good display spaces for things you want to keep away from young children.) Don't be afraid to incorporate items of very different scale on different shelves. Big objects take up volume and can help keep the shelves from looking cluttered.

Consider the back

Painting or applying wallpaper to the back of bookshelves brings color and pattern into a space and pulls the eye in. Most people have white bookshelves, says Thai, so painting with a dark color can make them look bigger. The contrast of light and dark is also very nice, he says.