Our Favorite Bookshelf Organizing Ideas
Bookshelves are for more than just storing your favorite reads: They're also a great way to show off your personality and sense of style. Amanda Reynal, a Des Moines-based designer and owner of Amanda Reynal Interiors, couldn't agree more. "When you walk into someone's house and you look at their bookshelves, the things on their bookshelves should speak to them and be definitive of who they are," she says. This can be interpreted in a myriad of ways, from framed memories to showcased sentimental finds—but the real key is in how you bring it all together.
For Reynal, form follows function. "Generally when I'm styling a client's bookshelf or my own, first I would determine the size and scale of the bookshelf and what the purpose of the bookshelf is," she explains. "Is it a more decorative bookshelf in the living room, or is it a bookshelf in a more functional space, like a home office or a library? Do you use the books all the time or are they more decorative? Every single bookshelf we style is different because it's scaled to the space, the room, and the person."
Whether you're settling into a new home and are seeking fun ways to fill up your space, or just want to refresh your current setup, we've got you covered. Here are Reynal's top 10 best tips and tricks for organizing and styling your shelves, from adding colorful backdrops to simple cases and clustering books by color to adding in meaningful objects and creating your own coverlets.
Add a Coat of Paint
"Often we'll paint the back of the bookshelves a different color—or if all of the woodwork in the room is white but the walls are another color, we might consider painting the background the same color as the walls—or a contrasting shade," says Reynal. "That's an easy upgrade you can give to your own built-ins if you want to add another dimension."
Install a Wallpaper Backdrop
Another fun way to play up your bookshelves: wallpaper. Consider adding a fun print or pattern to the back of your built-ins. Reynal recommends incorporating a color that's in your design scheme or from somewhere else in the room, such as a piece of furniture or artwork to help tie the room together.
Whether her clients are fans of contemporary art, fashion, or history, Reynal makes sure their book collections are not only pretty, but personalized. "If they love novels, biographies, whatever it is, we'll mix in their personal collection with additional books if needed, but I really like to make sure the books are indicative of who the people are so it doesn't feel like they just had a designer come in and make something pretty for them," she says.
Cluster Books by Color
There are many ways to organize books, whether you order them alphabetically or group by genre. Reynal prefers a little more pop. "Sometimes what I'll do is organize the bindings by color, which can be very effective," she explains. "If there's three books with pink bindings and three books with green bindings, I'll dot the different stacks of colored bindings throughout the bookshelves and that helps to create consistency for the eye and a sense of organization."
Use a Mix of Books and Objects
It's important to find the right balance of books and objects—not just one or the other, says Reynal. "Decorative items can look a little contrived if you've got some pretty things on the bookshelves but not a lot of books," she says. "If you have too many books, it can get kind of cluttered and claustrophobic-looking, and sometimes a little bit messy. I think it's important to be very judicious when making your selections of how you're going to style your bookshelves to use a combination of both."
Curate Objects by Theme
When selecting objects for display, Reynal suggests curating around a theme or collection. "Maybe you have a collection of picture frames in different sizes that all kind of relate to each other," she notes. "It could be a collection of objects from travels, whether they're sculptures or vases—it's really nice to try and find some sort of consistency."
Organize Objects by Color
Color is another way to curate objects for your shelves, suggests Reynal. "You could choose a color, like everything white besides the books," she adds. "So you could have a mixture of some vases, boxes, plates, all of varying heights and scales but in the same color and that can be a very effective way to style a bookshelf as well."
Add DIY Book Covers
Whether you're on a budget and are looking for new ways to repurpose old books, or are simply going for pure aesthetic beauty, try covering your books in paper or fabric. "I've seen beautiful bookshelves done where every book is covered in white paper—that's a very decorative and visually-effective way to design a bookshelf," says Reynal.
Look to Larger Objects
"If they're smaller shelves, maybe in a living room that doesn't require or have room for books, then we'll try—in some cases—putting lamps on the lower shelf to add a personal touch, and then filling in [the rest of the space] with slightly larger objects," explains Reynal, noting that this "really depends on the scale and size of the shelves."
Start with a Clean Slate
Once you're done rounding up the items and books you'd like to showcase, follow Reynal's foolproof method to begin styling. "For the actual styling, I like to take everything off the shelves and line it all up on the floor," she says. "Then I start with the center at about eye level and work my way out and up and down, mixing books that are both lying flat and standing straight up. For groupings of books, make sure to leave a little air between them. After all the books are placed, then I go in and put the objects around them."