A wall of books can enliven a room and add color and texture to a space while showcasing your personality. Bookshelves should be organized in a way that’s functional — so you can easily find a particular book, of course — and also in a manner that’s aesthetically pleasing.
Whether it’s a formal living room library or a playroom, a bookshelf is a focal point. If you find you have more reading material than you have shelves, consider donation. Otherwise, here are a few different methods that independent bookshop owners and professional organizers use at home.
Arrange by color and height
Charlotte Berlin, professional organizer and founder of Simplified By Charlotte, likes the tried-and-true method of organizing books by color and height. “My process includes grouping the books by color, shades within the color group, and then by height,” says Berlin.
Berlin organizes based on the color of the book spine, not the color of the cover. “After my color groupings are complete, I place the books on the shelves in rainbow order, alternating between vertical and horizontal stacks.” This orderly and streamlined method creates an attractive visual patchwork and makes it easy to locate and return a book.
This method is popular among Berlin’s clients, especially those with children. For a playroom, for example, Berlin separates the books by age group (i.e., board books, pictures books, and chapter books) and color, then uses toys or art as bookends. In an adult bedroom or library, decorative pieces make great bookends.
Ultimately, books are a finishing touch to add a layer of style to a room. “If you can find books that are within your color palette and that have an interesting subject matter, I consider it a win-win,” Berlin says.
Classify by genre or mood
“I want my system to be user-friendly, but only for myself,” says Nina Barrett of Bookends & Beginnings in Evanston, Illinois. She separates fiction from non-fiction, then groups her books into various subcategories. “Books on one subject should definitely be kept together and organized topically so you can easily find them when you are in a certain mood.”
For example, Barrett has a large cookbook collection and she keeps all the baking books together. Within the baking section, the pie books are a subsection. “When you are in the mood for pie, you want to get your hands quickly on all the pie books at once,” she says.
Another example: Barrett has several bookcases devoted to books on Bronze Age Europe, and within those, all the books on Crete are separate from the books on Troy.
“Bookshelves are an expression of their owner’s personality and experience,” she says. “It doesn’t need to follow the Library of Congress catalog organization because no outsider is ever going to need to find something in there. Treat yourself as the curator of your own personal literary museum.”
Spotlight your favorites
Danny Caine, owner of Raven Book Store in Lawrence, Kansas, is the first to admit his method is all over the place, but that’s part of the appeal. “I shelve by genre, roughly, but within each genre there are individual shelves for favorites, classics, and things I haven’t read yet,” says Caine.
Caine believes that the more lived-in a bookcase feels, the more homely it is. “If a bookcase is perfectly lined up, always dusted, and free of any tchotchkes or disorder, it feels unnatural,” he says. “The home library is a living, organic part of the home and it should look like that.”
Caine’s eccentric organizational method allows for growth and change. “There’s no clear definition of what ends up on a favorite shelf, so it can change and evolve as I change and evolve as a reader.” Cain’s bookshelves at home are full, so he avoids a purely alphabetical organizational method, which would force him to shift things around often on already jam-packed bookshelves.
There are no hard and fast rules for organizing your home bookshelves. Some people prefer organizing by color, while others might organize their books alphabetically or topically.
If your bookshelves are purely decorative, quickly finding individual books might not be a priority. Voracious readers will want a clear organizational system that makes sense to them and allows them to easily locate specific books.