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Stylish Ideas for Arranging and Organizing Bookcases

Showcase your personal style with organized arrangements of books, collectibles, and art

From the Editors of Traditional Home
  • You’ve come a long way from the days when you stored textbooks and music on metal shelving units from the hardware store. Today your beautiful home deserves bookcases that showcase your personal style with their organized arrangements of books, collectibles, and pieces of art. Browse some of our favorite designer rooms for inspiration.

    Interior Design:  Tim Clarke

  • Idea: As you’re organizing  a bookcase, leave some empty space for the eye to rest.

    This example: The bookcase’s original dark finish was lightened with a taupe-gray paint that blends with the white walls. As a result, the burnished brown leather of vintage volumes glows against the neutral background. Changing the orientation of books from shelf to shelf makes the display more interesting, as does the addition of artwork within and on top of the unit.

    Interior Design: Michael Del Piero

  • Idea: Add interest to your arrangement by stacking books horizontally as well as vertically.

    This example: Creating a library as comfortable as it is handsome, the designer paired warm wood bookcases (original to the house) with contemporary club chairs and an Egyptian Oushak rug. Grouping books by color and alternating the directions of the stacks adds interest to the display. Uppermost shelves on the right and left include objets d’art arranged to follow the ornate contours of the openings.

    Interior Design: Frank Ponterio

  • Idea: Vary the placement of art objects and collectibles to create a visual rhythm.

    This example: Colorful book jackets pop against the warm glow of stained wood used for the bookcase as well as the furniture. The alternating locations of framed artwork and polished wood objects keep the eye moving from shelf to shelf.

    Interior Design:  Tim Clarke

  • Idea: Create a clean look by choosing a tone-on-tone scheme for bookcase contents. Add interest by mixing up shapes.

    This example: This designer created a reading room with a European ambience rather than the handsome look of a traditional library. She placed hundreds of beautiful old books and artifacts at eye level within the taupe-painted bookcase, taking care to keep the contents’ proportions in keeping with the height of the shelves. An antique wood paddle hangs above the bookcase, calling attention to the display’s warm patinas.

    Interior Design: Michael Del Piero

  • Idea: Carry a room’s color scheme throughout bookcase contents to unify an interior.

    This example: A palette of moss green, gold, chocolate and paprika warms the wood-paneled library, where a recessed bookcase displays rows of handsomely-bound volumes dressed in similar hues. Gilt-frame hunting scenes decorate two of the shelves, while up above, an amphora jar draws attention to the bookshelves’ arched opening—one of the gracious touches that highlights this early 20th-century home.

    Interior Design: Janet Simon

  • Idea: Focus attention on favorite pieces of art by letting them fly solo on separate shelves.

    This example:  In this Georgian home, the designer was careful not to overwhelm the airy rooms with visual clutter. In the master bedroom, white walls, woodwork, and upholstered furniture let the artwork and books take center stage. Matching sets of built-in bookshelves feature vertically stacked books on the left, and small pieces of art on the right, each piece centered within its own niche.

    Interior Design: Larry Laslo

  • Idea: Take advantage of deep shelves to display smaller objects in front of larger ones.

    This example: White walls and woodwork wrap this office, creating a neutral base for a kaleidoscopic collection of art and books. Artwork leans against the back of shelves. Small pieces of pottery stand in front of paints and stacks of books. The bookcases’ niches are filled with visual drama, yet never feel cramped due to the liberal use of white space to give each object or group of objects its due.

    Interior design: Kerry Howard

    See more of a “House Designed for Serious Collectors”

  • Idea: Increase visual appeal by stacking books horizontally to create pedestals for other objects.

    This example: Within this bookcase, sleek shelves showcase books, seaforms, and architectural salvage against a neutral background. On the bottom shelf, a stack of books props up a large antique gear whose job it is to keep books vertical.

  • Idea: Use containers to keep small objects -- from paperbacks to paperwork -- grouped together and/or out of sight.

    This example:  Handsome dark-stained furniture dominates the landscape of this bedroom-turned-office. A round table -- the dining table in the designer/homeowner’s previous residence -- doubles as a desk for working with clients. Wall-to-wall shelves hold client files in linen binders that create a pleasing rhythm while serving as a backdrop for artwork.

    Interior design: Paul Corrie

  • Idea: Paint or wallpaper the back wall of built-in bookcases to showcase contents.

    This example: Architectural details give this dining room its aesthetic oomph, especially the bookcases that display a collection of white and ivory ceramics. Individual pieces are given room to breathe within each blue-painted niche, allowing their graceful curves and simple ornamentation to shine through.

    Interior Design: Tom Stringer

  • Idea: Silhouette colorful objects against neutral surfaces.

    This example: For this home, the designers paired neutral touches with fresh hues that are instinctively right for each space. In the breakfast room, a white-painted bookcase with rounded muntins houses a collection of Lettuce Ware whose vibrant green glaze celebrates the sun.

    Keep clicking to see 8 more examples of inspired bookcase arrangements.

    Interior Design: Lee Bierly and Chris Drake

  • Instead of the predictable rich, deep tones found in many libraries, the designer decided to make a book nook both sexy and smart. Cranberry red accents include insets that highlight each bookshelf and its contents – framed art, sculptures, sports trophies, and the occasional grouping of books. The informal design of the contents keep the eye moving from shelf to shelf—when not looking at the shimmering lake just outside the windows.

    Interior Design: Joseph Pubillones

  • A wide assortment of accessories -- from photographs to small statues -- fills the bookcase in this breakfast room inspired by nature. Covered with European combed white oak veneer, the bookcase softly frames artwork ranging from a late 19th-century photograph to a bas-relief bird made out of wood. Each artifact gets enough space to invite visual exploration. Adjustable picture lights aid in the effort.

    Interior Design: Jennifer McGee

  • A complete design overhaul of this 1970s-style home included the addition of pale-blue ceilings, antique-white trim, and rich bronze hues in every room. Framed by organic mohair-covered walls, a bookcase lined with autumn-hued volumes echoes the home’s chosen color palette. A lower shelf displays a collection of vintage trophies that offer a whimsical touch of history.

    Interior design: Roger Higgins and Ann Shipp

  • Lipstick-red bookshelves set the stage for a colorful combination of books and vintage treasures. Top shelves are reserved for pieces of art that can be seen while seated below. Lower shelves combine books with finds from the designer/homeowner’s travels as well as items found at antiques fairs. Together with the tabletop collection of embroidered tribal hats from Thailand, Laos, and Burma, the bookshelves help visitors feel as if they’re traveling the globe without leaving home.

    Design: Su Harr

  • Conceived as a personal gallery of natural materials and organic forms, this foyer is largely neutral: weathered wood, silvery metal, gray marble, and natural sisal. One wall of the foyer holds a tall bookcase that is an artwork itself, completely covered with strands of rope. A symmetrical arrangement of leather-bound books give the bookcase a pleasing rhythm created by the repetition of shapes and colors. 

    Interior Design: Nate Berkus

  • Inset around the windows, the floor-to-ceiling bookcases provide both storage and architectural interest. They also reveal the homeowner’s personality by being stocked with books she had already read or still wanted to read. Most shelves display straightforward rows or stacks of books, but the top shelves include accessories collected from traveling and antiquing that add to the living room’s character.

    Interior Design: Jon Hattaway and Martin Potter

  • Rectilinear books suit a room designed with geometry in mind. The library wall grid is planned to within 1/16th of an inch, the designer says, with nail heads trimming each square of faux leather above the mantel to reinforce the precision. Framing the faux leather grid is a matched set of recessed bookshelves whose contents are not precisely alike. But their similar arrangements of vertical books and the occasional clock or piece of sculpture look balanced just the same. 

    Interior Design: Skip Sroka

  • Teal blue walls act as a foil for an inviting mix of furnishings that demonstrate a passion for collecting. Because the built-in bookcase is painted the same color, the objects within – whether books or mirror-image dragons -- gain stature. In addition, each niche features a unique arrangement of objects that keeps the eye moving from shelf to shelf.

    Interior Design: Bob Williams

  • Looking for more ways to give your home character and style? Peruse our slideshow Bedroom Decorating Ideas: From Arty to Exotic

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