Judging a Book (and the Shelf) by its Cover



What is it about a bookshelf in a space that immediately draws people in? Curiosity about the owner’s interests, perhaps, or just curiosity about the books’ topics themselves.Regardless of why many of us are so drawn to books intellectually, I think we can agree that books also have the power to create very impactful, pleasing vignettes in a space. And not just in home libraries, either. Consider the following strategies for arranging and displaying books on shelves throughout one’s home, whether the space is a hallway, living room, bedroom, or elsewhere:

Reading room, living room or dining room ? Cozy ..

In this library, books are organized in sets wherever possible and color-blocked everywhere else. Notice the stately serenity of an entire shelf comprised of identical book bindings. Darker, warmer colors are housed close to the ceiling to bring the eye upward and balance the warmth of the wood floors.

Study room decorated with an antique table

At first glance, these bookshelves seem to have no real rhyme or reason. Ironically, however, this laissez-faire vibe is not typically accomplished without some degree of structure. The pale blue-grey color of the shelves themselves is a perfect subtle backdrop to the bright books. A few pops of cobalt blue throughout the shelves actually harmonize the space, while height loosely dictates the placement of other books. Few non-book items are used within these shelves to highlight the visual impact of the vertical bindings’ color variations.

Built-in shelf under windows for books.

Architecturally, these low bookshelves establish a horizontal line in the space. It only makes sense, then, that several large chunks of books are housed horizontally (but at the same height as the vertical books) for consistency and aesthetics…however subconsciously this detail might register.

Hang art on bookshelf

In a multi-functional space such as a living room, floor-to-ceiling shelves of books may not fit the bill. Colorful hardback books are integrated with neutral artwork and larger-scale solid sculpture to create a pleasant balance that is especially appropriate for non-library bookshelves.

Country library room

If you own enough beautifully bound hardback books, this is a powerful way to display them. As a unit, the solid mass of gold-lettered bindings becomes a piece of large wall art, just with more depth on many levels. This is a lovely counterpoint to the simple, casual décor of the rest of the room.


Last but not least, look at the stunning impact that can be created simply by arranging all books by color in rainbow! This arrangement is very forgiving of more casual book bindings (i.e., paperbacks) that can otherwise look out of place.

Books not only contain useful information; they are also incredibly useful in creating a powerful visual focal point in a space. And best of all: they can be rearranged anytime for a fresh, new look.

Picture sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.


Published by in How To, Tips, and Advice, on October 22nd, 2012

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