How To Create Aesthetically Pleasing Bookshelves

May 18 2012

You don’t have to go out and spend hundreds on artwork or interior design accents in order to make your place more aesthetically pleasing – just spruce up your bookshelves!

Since bookshelves are often seen as simple storage, most people don’t really put much thought or effort into them. They put them up where they fit best, toss their books on the shelves (sometimes literally), and move on.

But what they’re ignoring is that bookshelves are often the first thing that people see when entering a room, and as such, they can dominate the aesthetic. If you’re willing to just spend a little time – both on the layout of the books and the look of the shelves – they offer a great design opportunity.

Size them up. Do your books look like the “hill” program on your gym’s treadmill, up and down across each shelf? This might technically make them more “organized” if you’re placing them alphabetically, but unfortunately it can also look messy and cluttered. Instead, try placing books from tallest to shortest – or vice versa. You can even try to place all tall or all short books on the same shelf.

Accessorize. Yes, they’re called “book” shelves, but that doesn’t mean you’re limited to books. Why not add that picture frame your grandfather made that shows you and him at his 90 birthday? Or the tchotchke you picked up during your honeymoon in Italy? Or your model of the U.S.S. Enterprise signed by the entire cast of Star Trek? Just a few little touches here and there can really make the shelves pop.

Color-code. One way to make your bookshelves into a work of pop art is to group all of your books with the same color cover together. The finished product will be a veritable rainbow against the wall of your room as you have rows of reds, blues, yellows, and blacks!

Find a few heroes. Everyone has a few favorite books, right? Well, why not share your love of Narnia (or Agatha Christie – or Harlequin Romance novels) by “heroing out” a few of them. Face your favorite books out so that the cover shows instead of the spine, and if you want, you can even put them on a little stand to further set them apart from the rest of the shelf. You’ll really draw people’s eyes to those particular books, and give the bookshelves, as a whole, a nice design motif.

Categorize. This one is more for those guests that look a little closer at your shelves. If you want to go a step beyond alphabetizing by author, a nice (and useful!) aesthetic choice is to group categories or genres of books together. If you have a lot of both, you could simply organize them into fiction and nonfiction books, but most people can go even further than that, creating sections such as biographies, mystery, sci-fi, history, reference, horror, and so on. As long as you have a reasonable number of books for each category, this one often works really nicely.

Dress up the case. So far, we’ve been concentrating solely on what’s on the shelves, but the bookcases themselves can be aesthetically pleasing, too. By doing one or two relatively simple things – like changing the height of the shelves or adding interesting doors to the bookcase – you can hide clutter and smooth out the metaphorical edges.

Mix and match. If you have a large bookshelf, a nice way to break up the monotony is to hang a small photo or piece of art on the outside edge of the unit, between two shelves. This adds interest to the overall look and really showcases the framed art.

-Dennis Steele is a design enthusiast who works for a Chicago interior design firm and practices photography on the weekends.

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