(CNN) — Once upon a time, bookshelves were just for books, a spot to proudly show off your full set of encyclopedias before the advent of Google.
These days, homeowners have a more open-minded approach to their shelving. The books are still there, but decorating enthusiasts are using them as elements of decor. HGTV magazine Editor-in-Chief Sara Peterson said that's because finding colorful and affordable home accessories is a lot easier than it used to be.
As a result, "restyling your bookshelves can be a fast makeover that can totally change the look and feel of a room," Peterson said.
In addition to being a collection of well-loved stories, a stack of books can serve as a base for decorative objects. "The key to styling out bookshelves is to have a wide variety of objects to play with," she said. All different sizes of books, vases, boxes and framed photos bring a bookcase to life.
Not only that, but the shelves themselves can be part of the arrangement. "We're also seeing people line the backs of the bookshelves with wallpaper or even painting the backs, which gives everything on the shelves more of a cohesive look," Peterson said.
The possibilities seem endless, and therein lies the problem, said e-designer Jana Bek.
Communicating via Facetime, phone and e-mail, Bek provides interior designs and blueprints for her clients around the world to implement on their own. When it comes to decorating shelves, the instructions she provides come with an encouragement to be patient.
"Styling bookshelves is always a tricky process," Bek said. "It looks easy but it takes finessing."
It's about balancing the size of the objects placed on the entire bookshelf, she said, paying attention to scale and shape. For example, Bek places larger decorative items on the top and bottom shelves while keeping items with intricate detail on eye level. And since books and picture frames are often rectangular, she breaks up all the angles with other shapes to keep things interesting.
Here's what Open House contributors learned about decorating their own bookcases:
-- "I learned that large bookcases eat up accessories. I had what I thought was more than enough to fill the shelves. It turned out I needed more!" -- Lori Evans, Gainesville, Florida.
-- "I love seeing bookcases packed full of books, pictures and collectibles in other people's homes. However, I prefer a cleaner, simpler style in my house. When there are tons of objects in a bookcase, it can overload the senses and not be relaxing." -- Tiffani Stutzman, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
-- "For this bookshelf, I found it helpful to have a wide assortment of objects on the floor in front and then start placing objects (on the shelves). That way everything is easy to reach and move around." -- Sarah Dorsey, Pismo Beach, California.
-- "Antlers are natural and sculptural, and I like to showcase them as art. I found mine at a flea market. They are definitely a conversation starter when we have guests. They also look really cool at night when the library lights are on." -- Kristin Cadwallader, Rock Island, Illinois.
"I was pleasantly surprised by how finished the shelves looked when we added the glass doors. We'd originally planned to add molding to them to give them a built-in look, but we found we preferred the modern feel the glass doors gave them." -- Gretchen Holcombe, Roswell, Georgia.
-- "We have a lot of books, so we need to use our bookshelves for real storage, not just a place to put pretty things that need to be dusted. I found everything looks a little less busy if you loosely organize books by color and mix in some meaningful, pretty things." -- Kelly Marzka, Atlanta.
-- "The thing I learned when I set out to decorate these bookshelves was an important one: That with a little bit of effort you can transform something that may not be your style, or in this case, may even have lingering memories associated with it, and make it truly and uniquely your own." -- Andrea Trbovich, Hilliard, Ohio.
"I really try to consider how much I love something before I display it. Using the rule of thumb, 'if you make everything special, then really nothing is special' " -- Tracie Stoll, Prospect, Kentucky.
"I love playing with (the bookshelf). ... I will be making small changes to take it from Halloween to more of a Thanksgiving theme as November approaches." -- Sarah Macklem, Detroit.