The Singley’s home office houses a large bakery cabinet that Stephanie and I fell in love with. The cabinet has plenty of hidden storage space on the bottom half, and visible shelves behind old glass window panes on the top half. Since we could start from scratch on their shelves, I wanted to do something really unusual. I realize books, even unbound books, are not that unique, but I wanted to fill the entire cabinet with them. In fact, I really just wanted to pile them behind the glass. We located over 250 unbound books, which I strategically tossed inside the cabinet to create a whimsical texture behind the antique brasserie table and cowhide chair.
While my objective is always for each of my design projects to be unique, I have a few bookshelf decorating rules that I follow…
1. Stay Organized
Open bookshelves can look sloppy and overwhelming quickly, when just used for storage. They should be a captivating window into the homeowner’s life… first, meeting functional needs, and second, serving as a gallery of collections or interesting collectables.
Organizing and simplifying the objects on display can go a long way, and placing like objects on the top few or bottom few shelves can help ground the arrangement.
2. Don’t Overcrowd
Each of the shelves does not have to equal. Sometimes, centering a single object on one shelf and allowing it to stand alone adds more interest than it takes away. By simplifying the display, certain pieces will become more visable.
While all of the Singley’s shelves are full, some are more heavily piled with books than others. It’s organized without feeling too planned because the shelves are not equal, and there are only a few miscellaneous objects of interest throughout the books.
3. Create Collections
Collections are most impressive when displayed together. If the items are large enough, the bookshelves could serve as an art gallery for the collection. Such simplicity can be refreshing and charming. Otherwise, a smaller collection of like objects neatly placed throughout the bookshelves can actually help the shelves feel more intentional and organized.
Image Courtesy of Veranda
Image Courtesy of Rhea Crenshaw
Image Source Unknown
Image Courtesy of Suzanne Kasler
Image Courtesy of The Iron Gate Interiors
This is what I love about the Singley’s bookshelves. The massive collection of unbound books fills the shelves with texture and interest, but remains simplistic.
4. Use Books
Books belong on bookshelves, and they add great texture. If possible, simplify the graphics by removing book jackets or even turning and stacking books to reveal the paper edges instead of an ugly binding or stark title. Stacking and leaning books like this also makes the space feel more touchable and livable. It’s even better if the books are similar in color.
One of my favorite accessories in my own home is a collection of law books that belonged to my two grandfathers. Bindings range from black cracking leather, to navy blue, and a dusty faded grey. They are great fillers and risers throughout the shelves and tables in my home.
5. Create Texture
Combining different textures throughout a set of open bookshelves will create a lot of dimension. As I mentioned before, books are a great way to do this. Stacking, leaning, and exposing tattered pages will add interest to book-only shelves.
I used this technique in the Singley’s home office with backless bound books. I also included a few odd objects and photos to personalize the office.
Natural elements can also add unexpected texture. Coral, turtle shells, and driftwood are some of my favorite additions.
So, as you venture into building your bookcase arrangement, remember these tips to create a simple, yet breathtakingly beautiful style all your very own.
Becca Gaines is an Interior Designer in the Memphis area. She lives at Home in Collierville with her husband Jake, and 17 month old Jovie. Becca is a graduate of The University of Alabama (Roll Tide!) and is registered as an Interior Designer with the Tennessee Board of Architecture and Engineering Examiners. She’s also been awarded certification by the National Council for Interior Design Qualification. Oh yeah, and she worked as an intern at Looney Ricks Kiss Architects too.