The Cleverly Arranged Bookcase

The term “bookcase” is a bit of a misnomer. Sure, the tradition of filling these linear spaces with books is one option, but the possibilities far exceed what the name implies. Bookcases are perhaps one of the most multifunctional storage spaces in a home and that means the styling possibilities for them are nearly endless.

How do you narrow down a collection? How can you make the clutter look clean? And how do you strike an attractive balance between your keepsakes and an overflowing book collection? Luckily, there’s an answer to each of these questions and the solutions might be simpler than you think.

The first step to a sophisticated and styled bookcase is organization. And, as we all know by now, the first step to organizing is purging. Take a good hard look at your book collection. If you haven’t picked up that novel in the past few years, pass it on so someone else might enjoy it. The wonderful thing about books is that there’s always someone who hasn’t read it before, so you can feel good about sharing pieces from your collection with the next generation of readers. Save only the books that are truly meaningful to you and donate the rest.

But what if you have the opposite problem – beautiful, oversized built-in bookcases and no book collection to display? For this, we’ll send you to the very place we send our book hoarder in need of a push to purge: thrift and estate shops are the perfect place to flesh out a book collection. From fantasy to fiction, you’ll find a variety of books on themes of interest to you at unbeatable prices. Hardback books are prettiest, so focus your hunt on those. And don’t turn away from one with a worn dust jacket. Simply removing it might reveal a gorgeous linen cover beneath.

Once you have refined or established a collection of books, it’s time to decide upon a method to display them. Rather than simply organizing your personal home library by category (as in a book store), consider the colors of the books and use them as decorative objects. Try mimicking the colors of the rainbow and arrange books by their graduated colors. Slip the books with red spines in first, followed by those with orange spines, then yellow and so on until you get to violet for a cohesive and organized look in your shelves.

Another place to incorporate color and create a focal point out of the bookcase is on the shelving itself. A contrasting hue painted onto the back wall of the bookcase can enhance the colors of your book and keepsake collection and make them stand out. When it comes to choosing a color, observe your collection, specifically the book spines. What shades are predominant? What colors play well with the rest of the room?

For instance, in a living room full of accents and a collection of antique hardcovers with earthy, burgundy tones choose a toasty cream color to accent the back of the bookcase. Or in a contemporary space filled with rich peacock colors and a vibrant book collection in all manner of hues, paint the inside of the bookcase gray or perhaps a muted mint blue.

With books and a color scheme set, now is the moment to incorporate accessories for a polished look. Because pairs of things seem to look too intentional, keep in mind a general “Rule of Thirds.” Collections of three feel organic and collected.

This thirds-rule also applies to height. For example, set a low stack of books in the center of your shelf. Then to the left, prop a medium-height framed piece of art, and to the right place a collection of tall decorative glass vessels. Three different heights, three different textures and three different accessories. This arrangement will feel natural and balanced. Continue to fill the rest of your shelves reusing the formula, staggering the heights and pieces in various combinations (the neighboring shelf might hold a stack of tall-leaning books coupled with medium-height vessels and a low framed photo).

Don’t get discouraged if things don’t feel perfect right away. For better or worse, styling takes a certain amount of trial and error, and may take two or three rearrangements to look right. Sometimes all it takes is a quick switch here and a swap there for your bookshelf to feel finished.

Whether your home features an industrial shelving unit in the kitchen stacked with cookbooks and pans, or an elegant built-in with crown molding in the formal living room, bookshelf styling is a fantastic project to hone your creativity and express your individuality. This is one of the few home projects that doesn’t require heavy lifting or power tools and can take as little as an afternoon to complete. Have fun with this one!

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