This is Not a Library!
Or, How to Style Bookshelves with Verve
I hate to break it to you but it’s been my experience that people either know how to style bookshelves or they don’t. That’s not to say you can’t get the general hang of it with a few pointers and a bit of practice, but starting “cold” (like not warming up before a workout) is generally not advised.
I’ve already written about the evils of retained dust jackets on books (DATE) and the woeful use of paperbacks in ‘public’ spaces, so let’s instead focus on the other things that make shelves go from storage units to stellar units. I’m going to do these in bullet points as I didn’t get much sleep last night so this will prevent me from writing gibberish and you from reading it…
- Never allow books to overhang the edge of your shelf; it looks sloppy and will cause the world to tilt off its axis. Seriously.
- Books can go side-to-side on a shelf, although I do like the ‘relief’ that a bookend can provide. Try splitting a set of bookends up on different shelves for variety.
- I’m a fan of small collections of identically bound books (think encyclopedias but not encyclopedias) living together. If an exceptionally large number then either split them into smaller groupings or ‘anchor’ your shelves by putting the entire collection on the bottom row.
- Go both ways—books always look more interesting when some are vertical and some are horizontal. Mix them up a bit, especially if you have segmented (cubby-style) shelves.
- If you are stacking books horizontally, consider topping them with an captivating objet. This will add interest to your stack and lend the objet more importance when showcased as such (objets, potentially, if it’s a stack of particularly large books).
- Texture, both visual and actual, is as important in this arena as it is in a room, Try jazzing things up a bit with a mix of matte, glossy and fabric-covered volumes.
- Likewise, consider the texture and finish of the objets you select to display: glass, metal, wood, wicker, bone, shagreen, gilt, etc.
- I also like a mixture of natural and man-made items such as coral, shells, driftwood, geodes, bird nests, wasp nests, lava rock and bark with bottles, baskets, vases, art glass, candlesticks, ceramic pieces, cloisonné, carvings, lacquer boxes, turned wood vessels, framed pictures, small sculptures and tinny paintings.
- Objects always look better when grouped (not cluttered) in odd numbers: 3, 5, 7, etc.
Make sure items have some “breathing room” around them so they can be appreciated (2” is a good rule of thumb) and utilize both the width and depth of your shelves.