So you've been staring at those messy rows of books for days now. But styling a bookshelf so that it looks cool, calm and collected is actually relatively simple.
There’s something deeply satisfying about well-arranged bookshelves, so take some time to make sure yours are as pleasing as the stories contained on them.
In a world where multiple screens fight for our attention at all times and we are urged to be constantly connected, there is something calming and meditative about the unfleeting, sturdy presence of a shelf of books. It’s an implicit invitation to select a volume and spend time leafing through its pages, to delve into another world.
Whether you believe a bookshelf should be teeming with as many titles as possible, or you favour a more restrained, minimalist approach by keeping only those you truly love, there are ways to ensure you present your beloved collection in the best light.
Even if only very loosely, a good place to begin is to sort the books you want to keep, and then display. Size is a good category to start with, and you can then create sub-groups by colour or subject if you’re so inclined. They don’t have to match up exactly, but a slim little paperback is always going to be overshadowed, and somewhat invisible, if placed between two huge reference books.
Once you have organised them, the next step is to start placing your books onto the shelves. The shape and size of your shelves will partly dictate how you do this, but begin with larger books, as they are more dominating, and try to balance their placement so they are not all in one line.
You can also create interest with how they’re displayed. Vary between books stacked on top of each other horizontally, and traditional vertical rows. We all have a few books that we bought solely because they are beautifully bound or particularly visually striking, so make the most of these titles by displaying them flat with their covers facing out.
Another way to create variation is to think about things other than the books themselves. For a very precise, minimalist look, include distinct spaces between groups. You can add variety with decorative objects like vases, jugs and ornaments, which can also be used in place of bookends. If you’re grouping them remember that, on a visual level, we’re more drawn to odd-numbered collections: think threes or fives rather than the overly symmetrical twos or fours.
Art can also be incorporated, with smaller pieces sitting on shelves, or larger ones propped against them. It doesn’t have to be an epic piece: anything from a beautiful print to a favourite vinyl cover or postcard collection will instantly add some personality. Potted plants also add contrasting shapes and textures to the straight lines of book after book, but don’t forget a saucer, unless you like soggy books.
Finally, take some time to edit. Stand back and look at the shelves as a whole. Taking a picture can be a good way to see how it all works together. Is there anything that sticks out too much, or does it all look a bit cluttered? Add, remove and rearrange things until you’re happy. Then, the only thing left to do is select a title, make a cup of tea, and retire to a nearby chair.
This article was originally published in February 2023.