Expert Takeaway Tips for Organizing Your Bookshelf
There’s way more to book organization than sorting by color.
Updated Sep 29, 2021 7:39 AM
A stylish library or polished nook filled to the brim with books is one way to bring a house from drab to artsy, but there’s much more involved than stacking books in an empty corner or on a coffee table. Christy Smirl, owner of Foxtail Books—a curated library installment and book organization service in Jackson, Wyoming—explores different ways to organize books that go far beyond trendy rainbow color schemes and the like.
“There is no right or wrong way to organize or arrange books—only you can choose what you like to read,” Smirl says. Nicknamed a “book therapist,” she dives deep to find out what her clients are passionate about, and assesses how to bring a room to life via how clients plan on utilizing the books in their everyday lives.
“It’s okay to shelve Victorian history next to your erotica next to your interior design books if the look or simply miscellany of it inspires you—it can look fun, and remind you of the layers of interesting things about your life,” she says. Ahead, check out a bevy of unique tips to help you organize books at home, based on how you plan on using them.
Keep favorites front and center.
“You’re a Francophile, you’re an Austen fan, you adore science or poetry—if they’re favorites that you re-read, they should be in an accessible place for practicality. But maybe they’re a part of your identity, and you want to show them off,” says Smirl. “Either they’re your favorites, and that’s a nice way to show people what you’re interested in, or they’re your favorites, and you want to see them across from your bed when you wake up because they make you happy.”
Determine your “what I’ve read” books.
If your books fall evenly into a bunch you’ve read and many you haven’t, divide them into separate shelves or rooms. “Some readers like having the books ordered by the date they read them, left to right—a sort of ‘what I’ve read’ journal on a shelf,” Smirl says. “If you acquire more books than you can read, use the new ones as decor objects. They’re newer and may have more modern graphic designs, which look great beside art objects and bookends.”
Information-based books should be easily accessible.
Books used as tools and for referencing information constantly should be organized in a specific manner—in a practical area where you can easily find what you need. If you have more books than you can manage to keep up with, Smirl suggests using apps like LibraryThing and Goodreads to catalogue them.
“Having a categorized list that corresponds to different shelves can help you keep track of a large number of books, especially if your collection has become unruly,” she notes. This is handy for writers, teachers, or scientists— basically, those who rely heavily on books for information. “Much-used reference books can become worn and torn, and might not make the best style pieces. Keep them by a desk, or perhaps tucked away using closed shelving,” says Smirl.
Organize by family member.
“I’ve worked with many couples who have filed their books together because they read the same things and share books, or because they just care more about organization than about his and hers,” she says. “Others have strong opinions of having each person’s books in a separate room, or on a separate wall of shelving.”
Children’s books can be a stylish way to decorate their space. “If you have room, face the covers of children’s books out as their colors and covers are so great,” she says. “You can put them on easels, and they’re artwork for the room. The first step to raising readers is having all sorts of books around to inspire them on a rainy afternoon when the iPad or video games get old.”
Organize books in different rooms.
A unique way to separate books by interest and genre is to showcase them in different rooms and spaces. Smirl suggests novels in the bedroom, history books in the living room, cookbooks in the kitchen, and so on.
Arrange books according to their size.
“Organizing by size can provide more uniformity,” Smirl divulges. Try short paperbacks on one shelf, hardcover novels on another, and hefty coffee table books or art books on the biggest shelf—or stack them flat on available surfaces throughout a room. “The uniformity and balance of size feels good to the eye.”
Use paperbacks to add height to a room.
Truth be told, paperback books are not that aesthetically pleasing to the eye, but they are “good for stacking to add height to a space or surface,” she says. “Give yourself permission to get rid of books that don’t serve a purpose in your life or make sense with your interiors.”
Color coordinate books in fun ways.
The rainbow scheme is fun and all if you have a completely white theme going on in your house—but if not, break up rooms by warm and cool colors. “Librarians and booksellers know how often people come looking for a book, but can only remember it by color: ‘It’s a mystery, and it’s blue.’ If you’re a visual person, organizing by color might be the best way for you to be able to locate your books.”
Make sure you have your coffee table standards.
Coffee books are one of the easiest ways to instantly add zest to a room while simultaneously showing off your favorite books. First off, decide how much coffee table real estate space you have versus space that will be utilized for coffee, cocktails, and so forth. “It’s an area you can change often—put books on the coffee table for events and parties, or change books when you get a new favorite,” Smirl suggests. “Pull out different books for different occasions, or something that makes the room feel different.”
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