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Save the books: how to style a bookshelf for actual book storage

I must speak out for the books.

Someone is hiding them from us! All those volumes mankind has been printing for the past hundreds of years since the invention of the printing press — oh yes I did just bring up the invention of the printing press and no I don’t know when that was without googling it — all the books are disappearing, you guys. It’s an emergency.

All the styled bookshelves are devoid of books! Bookshelves are shelves… for books. I thought?

But if you go hunting for beautifully styled shelves on pinterest, you’ll start to think that in order to create beautiful bookshelves, you must first rid yourself of all those pesky books and replace them with Pretty Things That Need Dusting.
tumblr_m6jkwfOc3X1rw1j0to1_1280

Design by Meyer Interiors

But um. If all our bookshelves are getting cleared of the books and replaced with beautiful tchotchkes, where are we supposed to put… our books?

bookcases1

Elle Decor Magazine
Just asking.

“No worries,” says Pinterest. “You can display your books! …As long as they’re all within your color scheme.”
Bookshelf+bookshelf+styled+black+white+tan+YY6UrVEH0_Xl

Lonny Mag

“Oh, your book spines are not all within the same color palette?,” Pinterest asks, clucking its tongue disapprovingly. “In that case, you may painstakingly recover them all in craft paper. This is your last and final hope for getting permission to store your books out in the open where people might see.”
all-white-bookshelf
Decoist

“Yes, you’ll want to claw out your eyeballs if you ever need to find one of the books in order to read it, but that’s the price of beauty, dahhhling.”

Pinterest sounds like kind of a jerk right now. I didn’t mean to do that. I heart you pinterest, you beautiful, gentle lover.

But for real: what if you need to store books on your bookshelves? Like, what if you own a lot of books and need somewhere to put them? Must you give up on form, surrender to function and replace all your furniture with black pleather overstuffed sofas because Lord Knows, those things must be SO comfortable and easy to keep clean?

I vote no.

To the pleather, and to the Disappearing of the Books.

So what do you do if you own seventy four hundred books, like Jill and her husband do?
living_room_before_3
If you’ve been following along, I just did a surprise makeover for my friend Jill while she was on vacation. You can check out all the posts on her makeover here and the full reveal here.

Jill’s family uses this living room for reading and for entertaining, so the idea of getting rid of all their books in exchange for Pretty Things just seemed like it’d be a silly lack of priorities for their real life. Erin and I painted and restyled their shelves, keeping almost ALL the same books, but in a way that feels a little easier on your eyes and more organized:
surprise_makeover_after_5
It feels cleaner and simpler, but without sacrificing the actual storage of the books. (We had a small stack of books left over, but almost all of them made it back on the finished shelves.)

This is my little process for creating bookshelves that store books but still feel pretty and clean. It’s the same process I used for the bookshelves in our office, which store many, many actual books made of actual paper:
Bookshelf styling tips: How to make your bookshelf beautiful when it has to store actual books

1. Empty the shelves

Of everything. This is a pain, but completely necessary to get a fresh slate and allow yourself to see things a different way than How They’ve Always Been.
Empty bookshelves: how to arrange books on a shelf

2. Call forth the tchotckes!

Collect All The Pretty Things in your house that you might want to display. This is the time to pull out everything you’ve been storing with hopes of displaying it someday: your grandmother’s cool vintage teacup collection, smallish frames with meaningful photos, mementos from your wedding day, spare vases in closets, pretty ornaments, colorful jars, anything that you’d love to look at. It’s all fair game at this point! Make a giant pile that inspires your spouse to think you might have lost it.

Erin and I shopped Jill’s house for anything that might look pretty tucked inside the bookshelves, and grabbed a few things on clearance at target or from our own piles of yard sale accessories. This is a small portion of our pile.
Collection of decorations
We found some beautiful things hidden in cupboards, like this beautiful silver tea set which deserved more appreciation!
tea set 1
When I was doing the bookshelves in my house, all my animals came out to play, which inspired Andy to call out: “WHY IS THERE A ZOO IN OUR OFFICE?!”
Collection of animal statues

3. Sort the books by color

We laid out the books in a rough gradient by color, like this:
how_to_style_books_on_a_shelf
It doesn’t have to be perfect, but just try to roughly group together all the reddish books, all the bluish books, etc.

4. Add small groups of books to the shelves

I like to work in “batches” of books, so I grabbed about 8-10 books from the pile and moved them to the shelves. Here’s a little batch of bluish books:
How to arrange books on shelves like a designer
These are all the little batches from my own bookshelf wall:
The trick to styling bookshelves like a pro!
If I did a batch of books standing up against the side of the shelf on one side, I grabbed another batch and did something similar on the opposite side, basically creating “pairs” of batches to keep things roughly balanced:
Creating a balanced bookshelf

5. Change it up

If one batch of books is standing up, grab another batch – a batch of any color! – and set it on its side. Alternate the way the books are stacked every time:
How to arrange books on shelves like a decorator
**In my opinion, this is the single easiest thing you can do to take your bookshelves to the next level. Just go through and change the way some of them are oriented. It’ll make a world of difference without changing how many books you can fit!**

6. When all the books are shelved, bring on the pretties!

Start slowly layering in your pretty things now. Put some on top of the book stacks. Put some peeking out from behind the books and prop some in front of the books. The trick is to make it feel like there are layers of interest, not just a line of books that are all the same depth.
the trick to styling bookshelves like a pro!
For extra credit, you can even hang things on the fronts of the shelves.
shelves

Elle Decor

7. Tweak until it feels right

Now just start playing until it feels good and balanced to you. This is weird, but sometimes it helps me to squint so everything looks blurry, then see what stands out. If it feels like there’s a lot of pattern and contrast on one half of a shelf, I’ll rearrange until it feels more even.

And sometimes I can’t “see” what needs to be changed until I take a photo. When you think you’re just about there, take a picture of the shelf and see what doesn’t look right in the picture. I don’t know why it makes a difference, but it helps me every single time.

* * *

Aaaand that’s it!
surprise_makeover_after_5
It really all comes down to making it look a way that’s visually pleasing to you. A hundred different designers could come in and rearrange your shelves a hundred different ways. There’s no right or wrong, so give yourself some freedom and some grace!

And let’s all unite to Save the Books! Are you in?

Simple steps to decorating your bookshelves with ACTUAL books, like a designer!




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Comments

  1. Unfortunately my husband won´t let me organize his collection of over 1000 books by color. It could look so pretty that way! Like this is just a big colourful mass. :-/ Oh and putting decor in between the books? Also a no go. Especially because there is no place for such “useless” items there. But after all I´m happy he reads books instead of playing video games or building model trains in the basement or having some other strange hobbies so I just let it be. 😀

    xoxo
    Melinda

    • I wait until my husband is out of town and do it anyway (at least the pretties, but not organizing by color). 🙂

    • I have to agree with you husband. I hate all those small things that gather dust and I would not want them among my books. I love books, I love the way books look. Somehow organising them by colour seems like blasphemy – you know it makes them into an item of decoration. Just my opinion though.

  2. I love this! I’m going to re-do the den bookshelves and put away some prized pottery my kids made – there’s just so so much of it. Then there will be more room for books and I can bring some great doo dads out. It’ll be fun to change it up!

  3. Save the books! I like the idea of layering things behind the books and will try that when we move soon. Grouping books by color just isn’t going to work for me, though I like the look. I get great delight in keeping my novels together (grouped by author, and then original publication date), my history together (grouped by era), etc. Typing this, I just had a light bulb moment. This is what decorating is really about, isn’t it: finding what gives you great delight and doing that without worrying about what everyone else is doing. Pretty sure you have a post about that 🙂

    • Sounds like there are some different opinions about grouping by color! For me it’s the easiest way to find a book, because I have a pretty rough idea of what the color of the cover looks like, so I can jump in and grab a book pretty quickly. But if it doesn’t work for you, do your own thang! 🙂

  4. you know what’s funny? this is the exact process i used with my own bookshelves, but i didn’t even realize i had a process. i just did it. but reading this, i was like , “hey, i have a process! my mind is more organized than i thought!” so thanks for that. and thanks to pinterest, i once thought i would cover all my books with paper and then realized that would be a terrible idea since we actually read them, too.

  5. I am SO IN!!!! Love all your ideas!

  6. I do this too, but I also remove any book jackets. The books underneath are always so much prettier than the stupid jackets. My husband was a little wary of this at first, but then when he saw all his beautiful books together looking so pretty, he changed his mind :). And generally they go from the shelf, to his hands, and back to the shelf again so there really is no need for the ugly jackets.

  7. Save the books! These are some great tips for storage! I find books to be so comforting that I can’t imagine not having them around me.

  8. Oh, Kelly, I wish something this aesthetically appealing would work for me, but it can’t (mostly). It’s much more important for me to keep my poetry books together, art books, travel books, etc. On top of your ideas — I’ve taken a lot of them and will definitely incorporate your idea here of layering — I love your voice and irreverence in your blog. You take your tasks seriously but not yourself or the process! You leave “human” in the projects. Well done (except for books by color — 🙂 — which in my mind prioritizes form over function). I can’t imagine what it takes to keep finding new things to write about over years.

    • haha! Thanks so much Carolann! Funny how our brains can work so differently. To me, it’s actually easier this way and functions better for finding books since I recognize the covers by color, but I can see how if you think about things differently, it would get annoying to have them organized this way. If it makes you crazy, don’t even try it mama! 🙂

    • What I took out of it is that it’s important to create batches or groupings that you can put on your shelf one at a time. It doesn’t necessarily have to be by color. It sounds like your batches will be by topic, which I think would also be my preference, since I’d remember specifically where I put each topic better than what color the book I’m looking for is.

  9. The thought of emptying our bookcases filled with double layers of books makes me cringe, but I see how that could help! Hmmm…

  10. You are a true humanitarian. Libitarian. Bookitarian? They look great 🙂 And I am all for saving the books. Let’s make signs and organize a march!

  11. I see your point but my books gotta be grouped like a library. I want all my fiction together sorted by author and so on. I guess I’m more OCD then I thought!

    • I totally agree with you, Jan. When I go looking for a book, I think about the subject and not what color it is. My shelves look totally together, and I do have knick knacks (easier to spell!) mixed in. My shelves are all a soft white. I do think that makes a difference. Wood shelves just don’t show off the goods like white or cream does.

  12. Hooray for the books! I’m not sure when bookcases which are meant to be storage turned into meant to be pretty. No matter.

    But I did have a small stroke of genius. Instead of wrapping all the mismatched books with covers and gouging your eyes out trying to find them…. what about wrapping a stack of them together with a wide ribbon in the room’s colors? That way you can actually see what books you have AND have it pretty.

  13. Great post. You had me smiling and nodding all the way along. My books have been packed away for two and a half years. I’ve decided August is the time to redo my bookshelves and set everything up. I will definitely be referencing this post when it comes time to “style” my shelves. The books will definitely come first! Thanks for the tips.

  14. Totally agree, well almost. We’ve pared down twice on books we know won’t get a second look and it left room for some baskets and “pretties”. However I draw the line (for our home) on color coordinating them. I much rather group them by subject so they are easier to find when needed. You just have yo do what works for you. Love Pinterest, too, but “they” can get out of hand.

  15. I love this post Kelly and it’s so true! Save the books! I had to style my office shelves with books because I had no place else for them and I actually like looking at the books 🙂 Save ’em!

  16. SAVE THE BOOKS! I’m a hoarder. Of the printed word. I totally admit it. I still have all my Shel Silverstein from 5th grade. I still kick myself that I gave my ungrateful cousin my ENTIRE collection of the COMPLETE Nancy Drew series when I graduated high school. And I HATE that I let my husband bully me into donating a HUGE box of books to Goodwill when we moved into a smaller house. Of course, I still have eleventy one hundred and two books, but seriously?

    I really need to paint out my huge Golden Oak bookcases, and get a pretty stencil going on the backplates. It makes my husband’s eye twitch, so I think I’ll just wait until he’s gone for a week to tackle that one 😉 Then all of my precious-es will be gloriously showcased in lavish (ok, found/vintage/thrifted/kid-made) company that will make me smile like a fool every time I see them.

  17. if me and adam finally do the bookshelf built-ins we both want, i will be organizing away and using your tips! you do such a good job making a boring bookshelf BEAUTIFULLLLL

  18. YES! Display all the books!

    I think books in themselves are beautiful decor. They add color and texture. Plus, when I walk into someone’s home that has a lot of books on display, I automatically think they are smart. So, you can also trick people into thinking you’re smarter than you are by having books in your bookshelves. 😉

    • Linda D. says:

      AMEN, Rachel. Books are beautiful in themselves. I freely admit to being a bibliophile – they are not for decoration, they are for my reading pleasure. We have ELEVEN floor to ceiling bookshelves in my house, organized by subject. A friend recently told me about a device that can scan the ISBN and enter it into a personal library reference table – I may have to invest in that. Since my husband and I both use the books, we can usually put our hands on what we want easily. Our guests, however, can be overwhelmed by sheer numbers until they’ve figured out our system. I’ve actually had visitors request the Philosophy/History room or the Coffee Table Travel Book room when they come to stay!

  19. All I have to say is brilliant! I’m a homeschooler so we obviously have TONS of books, but in my living room I want to pare down and make it pretty! I’m going to follow your tips…….once I get the junk put up in the attic I’m reorganizing in 100 degree heat. Yeah, it’s on the list! Pinning 🙂

  20. Love this!!!! I see so many bookshelves on the internet styled with everything BUT books so it’s hard to know how to actually store you’re books and still make it look good.

  21. Rachel Neben says:

    I would love to organize my books by color and add things to my bookshelf but I think my OCD would go a bit crazy. Haha.

  22. Love this post because, Yes we do have books!

  23. Thank you for this! I never know what to do with books and since our move they’ve staying in boxes. I miss my books. This will come in handy soon.

  24. Yay! I love it! Now, I just need to buy some shelves, so I can release the books from their cardboard box prison! 🙂

  25. Holly Martinez says:

    Thank you for being an advocate for the Lost Books. It’s annoyed me for a while all the pretty bookshelves on Pinterest that housed no such thing! Weird. And good tips for my shelves that I do indeed fill with the written word.

  26. You both did an awesome job! I love how it ended up making the fireplace the focus and the bookcases just accent it. I wouldn’t have believed it until I saw it. Thanks for the great ideas!

  27. Stephanie says:

    Amen! Thank you for writing a helpful post on a topic I’ve been struggling with for months! I was starting to feel guilty about our books and considering having reading materials available to children I want to create a functional yet aesthetically pleasing environment. Thanks!

  28. Save the books! Here here! I’m happy to say my bookshelf is packed FULL of books. The shelves look great!

  29. Hilarious post, and so true. Save our books! Also, you and your friends have excellent taste in books 🙂

  30. Danielle says:

    Oh so timely post! I have been wrestling with the staging of our new bookshelves. With your help I will finish this labor of love.
    I heart books. 😉

  31. Love it Kelly! We we got our new bookshelves for the office, I came home from the store to find that my husband was filling them side to side, top to bottom with books. Only books. I could see him through the front window as I pulled in the driveway and was horrified. Poor guy thought he was being helpful, but where would all the pretties go? Thank goodness he was a good sport and our styling ended up similar to yours. We both love it!

  32. AMEN SISTER! i’m all about bookshelves housing books and am so glad to see you are too!

  33. I agree! Bookshelves should be primarily for books!

  34. Yes! Thank you! We must save the books! We are avid readers and it pains me to see bookshelves without books. As beautiful as those Pinterest bookshelves are, they just aren’t realistic for us. I think I need built in walls of bookshelves in every room, we just have so many! Thank you for the tips!

    And I always sort by genre. I want to do by color but then I think of all the sets that will be parted and I can’t do it. What do you do when you have a series or a box set? Keep them together, despite color, or break them up?

    • I was wondering the same thing. And I don’t know how I’ll cope with books of a COMPLETELY different genre (eg, a Bible commentary and a Gothic novel) being next to each other because they are the same colour. I think I might have to approach this idea with some flexibility. Worth a try though.

  35. This is a very timely post for me. I bought a bunch of old library stacks from a school surplus sale back in the Spring with the intentions of creating some built-ins in my office. I have done nothing on that project. Your post has me back on track. I do have lots of books I want to put on my shelves. Great Job on the re-style
    Evelyn @ threepaintedowls.wordpress.com

  36. Thank you for your tireless and relentless dedication to being a bookvocate. And for the tips! Yay!

  37. I love all these tips. Isn’t it amazing how much new information you get when taking a picture of a space you just spent hours looking at. I love the mix of horizontal and vertical books mixed in with accessories. I think you did that splendidly! This post is definitely one for the books 🙂

  38. As a crazy book lover (half my books are still at my parents’ place since I don’t own) I never really got the whole bookshelves-for-all-the-pretty-things idea. Love that you addressed styling for people with hundreds of books!

  39. I think it’s funny that those of us who are more auditory/word thinkers seem to want to group our books by author/title/series and those that are more visual/picture thinkers group by color. I can always remember a title or author or what series it was a part of before I can picture a cover in my mind! I have one nicely styled bookshelf in my craft room. Then I piled some books on last Christmas and haven’t yet gone and incorporated them nicely. Also, it’s behind the door so you don’t even see it most of the time. I do like the idea of taking pretty stuff to the back of the shelf, also. The bookshelf in my living room has a nice vingette using real on the top but the shelves themselves are a complete mess and it’s mostly storage for other stuff. In fact, if we could move the whole shelf somewhere else and have some hidden storage there it’d work much better but it’s just the way life is right now!

  40. Great tips Kelly! Grouping them by color makes such big difference!

  41. So this is fantastic. But I have a question. What do you do if your books are not only taking over the bookshelves, but the floors, walls, bathrooms and kitchen.

    We have a problem over here. I think it might even be an addiction.

    Thank heavens for kindles or we’d be full-on drowning in paper books!

  42. It’s a valid question and I’m glad someone finally addressed it! I have banished all books to the basement rec room and maybe that’s unfair to them!

    • Oh those poor books! I am sure they didn’t do anything quite so terrible as to be banished to the basement rec room…at least not forever. Please bring them back. It is completely unfair. 🙂

  43. I cringe when I see bookcases with no books. I love the pretty as much as the next person, but they are BOOKcases, hence they require books to be in them. We also have a ton of books and I converted an formal dining room into a library and love the look, makes me feel instantly calmer when I walk in. Save the Books!!!!

  44. Oh, the inspiration! I’m want to start on my shelves now. As in this minute. Bring in the books!

    But since our books are respectfully hidden out of sight in tubs in the attic (lest someone know that we engineers can read as well as do math, gasp!), I guess I’ll have to wait until the hubs gets home to move them for me. What can I say? I’m a weakling!

  45. Kelly,

    I’ve always struggled with this topic since my husband has lots of books and it only made sense to use our built in living room shelves to store them…even if I would prefer to style it with other things. I really like how you grouped the books by color. Currently he has them grouped by type which has given me hardly any options to move them around. Now I’m on a mission to see if he’ll go for the color option…I mean they would still be there and all. Gracias! 🙂

    ~Sarah

  46. I love how organized the shelves look. We recently purged of a lot of our books and the bookshelves look so much better because we can actually rediscover books we truly love. We followed The Minimalists 20/20 rule to help us decide what to keep. If we LOVE it (like loan it to everyone you know kind of love), we kept it. If it was reference we couldn’t part with, we kept it. Everything else we purged. If we really needed/wanted it in the future we could replace it in less than 20 minutes for less than 20 dollars. So far, haven’t wanted to replace anything…besides, support the local library. Great, inspiring post!

  47. Thank you, thank you, thank you!! We are admitted book hoarders in this house so it drives me insane to not see books on styled shelves. And not just the two or three token ones. I want to see lots of books! I want to see that you actually read or collect books on your favorite subjects. You did a fab job of incorporating them into the design!

  48. This is seriously the best post. I am the worst styler on earth, but this I can do. I think. I hope.

  49. Yes! Save the books! As a writer, I have wayyyyy too many books for my own good and they all have to be in my office since at any moment I may want to reference that fantasy book I read when I was 13, right? Right?
    I love all your tips (and use them) except the color-coding. When you read speculative fiction and buy mostly paperback, one spine can have such a variety of colors that it’s pretty much pointless. I try to organize by subgenres instead. But then…that’s because I’m an addict and own so many sci-fi/fantasy books that they CAN be broken down by subgenre…

  50. Yay! Yay for books! I am inspired to try your ideas but I don’t think I will ever put a pretty thing on top of a stack of books. I know it’s what I’m supposed to do, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. I have tried but I am certain that I could hear the book crying out from under the weight of the ornament/frame/dusty-thingy. “Save me!” says the book. It’s just wrong. Loving your blog by the way Kelly. Your voice in your writing is delightful. My husband wonders what planet I’m on as I can’t stop chuckling while perusing.

    • Laughing at the thought of the poor books being weighed down by the intolerable weight of the pretty things. I retract my post!! 🙂

  51. This inspired me to re-think and re-shelve our books–by color. I was amused by the juxtaposition of some titles and my husband was amused by the concept. Still tweaking, but all in all, liking the outcome. Thanks!

  52. Yes, yes, yes! And thank you!
    This really has bothered me all the time … I love to see book shlves that are filled with books, like in a library. But sometimes a little decoration can’t hurt, right? And about the color grouping? Well, I mainly read crime stories and a good 95% of them have black covers! 😉

    Love, Midsommarflicka

  53. Kelly, you missed the “turn all the books with the spines to the wall” version of decorating with books. Or the “go and buy six feet of red books” decorators.

    I don’t think I can do the color thing, but lots of our books are very old and those old bindings all pretty much look the same even when they’re not.

  54. FreethoughtsRose says:

    I don’t know but I always hated the usual stuffed book shelves, maybe it’s because my school and college had these big and scary library with long rows of tall shelves. Hope I’m not giving you a wrong thought that I don’t like book, I do, but I somehow not used to managing them the usual way. I had various wall-mounted wooden or metal frames, of different patterns, on which I keep my books, photo frames etc. In our new home, I’ve designed a pattern-shelf with the help of sheet metal fabrication assistant from Bayview Metals ( http://www.bayviewmetals.com ). The design came out pretty well as I’ve thought it would be, and the design had different shapes like cubes, rectangles, circles, etc. It had a irregular design, but the frame was strong and fixed. Making something unique always attracts, which is my theory, not only in the things I use but for everything in my life.

  55. I absolutely LOVE this! My husband firmly believes that bookshelves are just for books and nothing else and so his bookcase looks like books threw up all over it. I got fed up with mine looking like that a few months ago and actually reorganized it similar to this and it looks so awesome now. I love staring at it. I sorted mine by fiction, business-y books, other non-fiction books and magazines, but the color idea might be perfect for convincing my husband to let me organize his side! Next up…what to do about his hundreds of DVDs he likes to display front and center in our living room 🙂

  56. Thank you! I love this post because this is something I’ve been struggling with. Save the books! 🙂

  57. I couldn’t agree more with this post. I get really annoyed at impractical decor. This is perfect. Good job!

  58. I was browsing pinterest and was put off that none of the BOOKshelves had books. I read one post where the person said she incorporated her entire collection of books… all 12 of them. Seriously? 12? That is not a book person, nor was it a bookshelf. Thanks for making this post! I’m off to redo the set of shelves we keep in the living room (the office collection will come later). This post is great inspiration! I’m not an “organize by color” type of person, but since DH collects old books, many of the sets he has are bound in similar color families. I’m going to use those as a starting point. Thanks again for being a person who fills the bookshelves with books!!

  59. Can I just say WOOHOOOOO?!!!! This was perfect for me — we’ve just moved, so all our stuff is rearranged and now our big bookshelves are in the main living area. The just-cram-them-all-in strategy from the old house (where they were banished to the basement) just isn’t going to work here, plus I have all the pretties from the old house that need new homes. I was feeling overwhelmed, but now I have a plan! Thank you so much!

  60. I absolutely love the shelves you styled. I have tons of books and this will help me decorate our new house! When we were staging our old house to sell, we had all ready packed up most of our belongings. To make the shelves look nice, I took all of the old phone books we had around the house, wrapped them in paper from brown paper bags (the inside part of the bag was the outside of the book). It was free and when we sold our house (within a week) it didn’t hurt my feelings to throw them away.

  61. Jeanne DeShazer says:

    I love it. I am in so much agreement with you! I love books and I hate that they seem to be going away. My books are my greatest treasures. Thanks!

  62. A THOUSAND points for having Boethius on your bookshelves!

  63. I really love that make-over <3 On designer pictures they all seem to buy the books according what goes with the color of the room and looks sophisticated..
    I will try the idea of "mirroring" two shelves. Sadly I can't sort them by color, because most books I own are series and I'd go nuts if all 3-11 volumes were all over the shelves^^

  64. Great makeover of bookshelf! Thanks for sharing this elegant bookshelf storage.Really awesome!

  65. Thank you for standing up for books! (Standing up the books? Every other batch? 🙂

    I love to see bookshelves filled with books people actually read and treasure. I know people who scour estate sales for books… of a certain color, to match their color scheme. It makes me so sad! I really worry about their kids thinking that books are decorative as opposed to incredibly useful and compellingly interesting!

  66. Hi! I just had to tell you thank you SO much for this post! I was so stumped trying to figure out what to do with my bookshelves, and now I’m so so happy with them. I even resurrected my blog so I could show you pictures!

    http://tomiannie.blogspot.com/2014/09/bookshelf-makeover-with-books.html

    Love your blog! Thanks!

  67. Love this! I thought I was the only one left who thought bookshelves were for BOOKS!! 🙂

  68. I love this idea. I did organize by color but more importantly also my subject matter on different sides of an 8 section standing bookshelf. Both of us are happy with it and your blog was the best for arranging bookshelves that I have found.

  69. Finally….. someone who agrees…..bookcases are for books primarily and pritties secondary. Now if only I could arrange by color and not subject matter/authors last name, but my ocd won’t let me…lol

  70. Thank you! This is exactly what I needed! I have been fretting over my bookshelves for a long time, and now I know how to fix them!

  71. Book lovers unite! Although I’m getting to this discussion a bit late, I was so thrilled to hear all the enthusiasm for the beauty of books….both from a reading enjoyment perspective and also as eye catching decor. I’ve felt this way for years and have been creating book jackets (covers) for myself to transform my books as my decorating colors and preferences have changed. (Same old books….given new life with colorful book jackets!) I’ve had numerous friends ask me to help them transform their bookshelves, so I decided to develop my own line of custom book jackets (ArtfulLibrary on Etsy). I’ve found it sounds easy to make your own covers, but it’s quite a project. I’m hoping the custom book jackets I offer will help people more readily tackle this project at home. Perhaps we should organize a social movement to save the books?!

  72. Oh Kelly! I began this article vigorously nodding in agreement. FINALLY! A like minded soul who finds current shelf decorating practices as bizarre as I do. I was all excited about getting some decorating help for my library/home office.

    But you turned on me at the end. Yep – the shelves LOOK great – but filing books by color? Unless the point is to fool everyone simply by *looking* organized – you lost me.

    Methinks your gentle readers have been too kind – or maybe few of them really read the books on their shelves either — but I translate “wouldn’t work for me” as “would drive me BUG effing NUTTY!” You’re saying, by the way you’ve “organized,” that if I can’t recall what COLOR a book spine is, I have to search for it among *all* the books, like some literary scavenger hunt? Really??

    The whole point of keeping books on one’s very own shelves is to have them close and convenient when you need to reread or reference. Otherwise, why not simply use the books in the public library? So THAT means it only makes sense to organize for ease of retrieval, not simply storage or – heaven forbid – appearance.

    It may be hard for non-readers and non-writers to believe (or those who read only novels you rarely reread or something), but my books are reference sources as well as old friends. I reach for a book several times every single day — or glance in its direction to make sure I’m recommending a book to a client by its correct title. That’s a whole lot more often than I would EVER stand back and marvel at how pretty the shelves LOOK!

    One little tip for your readers: Those of you who think this “file by color” thing is going to help you convince your book loving hubby to let you at his shelves, I’m here to warn you not to be surprised when his reaction is to forbid you from coming within ten feet of his books without his express permission and watchful eye. Seriously.

    The girlfriend of a good male friend once surprised him at the door, beaming with pride about how pretty the apartment looked now that all the books were filed by *height*. (I literally gasped when he told me about it.) It took him almost a week to put them all back where he could find them once more. By the way – need I mention that she’s an EX?!

    I apologize for ringing in with the lone negative reaction. I normally find the articles you write wonderful, helpful, and eminently pinnable — but my book-loving friends and I have been driven practically mad by all the helpful hints that totally overlook functionality in favor of decor, and I guess I finally snapped. (if you click my website top-ten link left on the comment form, check out item #5).

    xx,
    mgh
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
    – ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

    • Agree to disagree? This is actual MORE functional to me than alphabetizing by author or title. I know my books by their covers – that’s how I think of them – so when I’m looking for a book, I picture a red cover before I remember much else about it. I’m a visual learner and that’s how I remember. For the way my brain works, this IS putting function first.

      • ABSOLUTELY – different strokes.

        In my experience, your modality processing style (color-first visual) is not the MOST common — nor is mine: cognitive primary – tho’ more common with people who collect books (and engineers lol). Your point is VERY well-taken, however: set things up so that they work for YOU! I believe we can agree on that one!

        Thanks to your response to my comment, maybe the next time I get annoyed at a decorator’s suggestion about “pretty-ing” the bookshelves, I will remember that their processing style is most like HIGH visual (and as decorators, they hang out with other high-visuals). They don’t think that it might not be a great solution for everyone, since they haven’t run into many who don’t agree!

        Still love your blog – and thanks for responding in such a beautiful manner — sorry if I came across snarky!
        xx,
        mgh

        • Oh I thought you were totally graceful and kind — and not snarky at ALL. 🙂 Disagreements always welcome! Snarkiness occasionally welcome too 😉

  73. Bookshelves are such a powerful part of the interior! They bring a very specific atmosphere into a home. I have many books and I try to stay creative in the way I display them on their shelves! I love book storage ideas! Thanks! Greetings, Storage North Umberland Heath Ltd.

  74. I Googled “make ugly books look pretty” because I am a veterinarian with a huge medical library that I cannot live without. As I was staring at my newly purchased credenza crammed full of my “ugly” treasures, I was wondering if someone actually had a constructive method of arranging the madness to look organized (maybe even decorative) while still being FUNCTIONAL. My books thank you! And I love that I get to stuff some of my favorite knick-knacks in there with my books. Adds a very personal touch to my new home office. 🙂

    • P.S. I also agree with you in defending your choice to organize the books by color rather than by author or title or even subject matter. Those of us with color-oriented minds know EXACTLY how each book looks, so recognition is not a problem–regardless of placement. However, for the very small selection of books that I use multiple times per day (of the same title but different editions that are colored differently), I chose to make an eclectic-looking section with some fun knick-knacks to balance it out. Thanks for the awesome ideas!

  75. I just got the urge to rearrange my bookshelf today and I did groupings by color, but I don’t have much room for anything other than books! Good problem to have I guess. Maybe I can get another one and have more space (for books or other stuff). I like that you alternated horizontal and vertical, so I’m going to go back and see if I can make a few tweaks to make mine ever better!

  76. Great tips! Styling a bookshelf is something I always struggle with. This should make it much easier. Thanks for sharing!

  77. To me the most important part of this helpful article is the statement that “bookshelves are for books”. Thank you!

  78. Thank you SO much for this post. We are in the middle of revamping our house and the library/living room/office area bookshelves needed some help. I was getting aggravated with all the posts, as you said, showing book-less shelves. No books or too few books is a sad sight to me, an English major. I took your ideas and ran with them and I LOVE the results! Too bad I dived right in and forgot to take before photos. Ah well. Thanks again!

  79. I just had to comment on here and say thanks. I was looking through pinterest and saw a pin with before and after shots of how to decorate a bookshelf and the before pic had quite a few book and the after pic had hardly any and I just couldn’t stop laughing it was so absurd.

  80. Hey! I just wanted to tell you that this is the best post on styling bookshelves on Pinterest. You break it down so well and I felt like I definitely could tackle this on my own. I styled shelves in our office and I’m getting ready for the great room now. My books are my friends! Covering them up or turning them around so the spines don’t show is cray-cray in my book (pun intended). Thanks again! Great post!

  81. I completely agree with your thoughts on “save the books!”
    I’ve been looking online for so long about how to decorate bookshelves, but most of them are devoid of actual books.
    But I don’t know about arranging by color… I like my books organized by topic or author so they are easy to find…

    I’m still on the lookout for ideas to make bookshelves look nice without sacrificing practicality too much!

  82. We did that while keeping almost all the books!

  83. Aquinas, Augustine, Cloud! nice collection.

  84. Finally! Someone who speaks my language. Oh how I love my books and shelves that actually contain books! While I do appreciate a nice but sparsely decorated bookshelf, it’s just not practical in my house. I recently wrote a post about culling a book collection. I’d love it if you checked it out!

    http://betterdesignbetterlife.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-dos-and-donts-of-hoarding-books.html

  85. wonderful sarcastic treatise from View Along the Way reminding us that bookshelves

  86. Thanks..

  87. Just wanted to say, I love your voice about the book shelves and how the books are disappearing. This is exactly what I was looking for in my search to reorganize our books. Thank you for all the help????

  88. very good…

  89. Bibliophyllis says:

    OK wow. Color colordinate, or cover my books. Uh sooo not going to happen. I would have to say bite me, Pintrest! My books are organized by author & separated by genre. OCD much anyone? I do however put knickknacks here & there to spread things out a bit & break up the look of nothing but books. (I have a LOT of books.) As I get older I think of going to a more minimilast look & have been sloooowly trading in some of my real books if I have not reread them in a year or more. That being said, since I hate to dust, the knickknacks need to go so I can get MORE books!

Trackbacks

  1. […] you put them on your bookcases?  Do you want your bookcases to look pretty?  Then you have got to click on this step by step instructions on styling your bookcases for people who really read books!  This is actually the process I use, but I have never broken it […]

  2. […] Save the books: how to style a bookshelf for actual book storage – * View Along the Way * I must speak out for the books. […]

  3. […] Erin made those curtains! They’re a DIY version of these Pheasant Eye curtains which cost $100 per panel from Anthropologie and I’ll show you how to make your own soon. Let’s talk about the bookshelves! Jill and her husband own ALL THE BOOKS. Every one of them. But you know what’s kind of awesome? Look at the difference between the before and after, how much easier it is on your eyes. We did that while keeping almost all the books! We had just a small stack leftover that got stored in the cabinets below, but doesn’t it just look so much more clean and simple now? You can have a beautiful bookshelf and still store (a lot of) books! UPDATE: Here’s my process for styling their bookshelves. […]

  4. […] show how to make it work with only a handful of books and more accessories than anything else. Read here for a witty take on this sentiment. Banish the thought that you have to get rid of your books to […]

  5. […] A wonderful sarcastic treatise from View Along the Way reminding us that bookshelves are for books […]

  6. […] you a couple of links to other blog posts that talk about the whole shelf arranging process, and one is definitely anti-covering books.  So if that just seems silly to you, and if you actually have a lot of books that you want to […]

  7. […] to style a bookshelf. And many of those are quite lovely—if you don’t have many books. Kelly from View Along the Way has the best tips for styling a bookshelf when you have lots of books but still want to infuse some personality. It’s the best of both […]

  8. […] to style a bookshelf. And many of those are quite lovely—if you don’t have many books. Kelly from View Along the Way has the best tips for styling a bookshelf when you have lots of books but still want to infuse some personality. It’s the best of both […]

  9. […] to style a bookshelf. And many of those are quite lovely—if you don’t have many books. Kelly from View Along the Way has the best tips for styling a bookshelf when you have lots of books but still want to infuse some personality. It’s the best of both […]

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