The Art of Accessorizing Bookshelves

I have a client who came to see a show house that I did recently and said, “That’s what I want! I want solid colored, paper covered books on my bookcases! They look amazing.” I quickly told her that I couldn’t allow her to do such a thing and we entered into a lengthy debate over why not. And truly, there is not one reason why I wouldn’t allow this, and I’m not sure if I ever convinced her, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot since that day.

In this room of the Show House, I used all white paper covered books and all white accessories, to accentuate the drama of the darkly painted room and the black background of the bookcases.

What I came up with is this: the items on your bookcases are more like clothing than space fillers. A truly beautiful display created in bookcases is akin to a phenomenal outfit donned by a celebrity at the Oscars; it starts with the dress, then the shoes, then the hair, the bracelet, the earrings, the necklace and lastly the makeup. Now, just as in the case of clothing, not all bookcases need to be “Oscar-worthy’! Sometimes they need to be more functional, but still, the stars who go out of their houses not looking the part make the pages of tabloids! So while single colored paper covered books can be stunning, it really says nothing about who you ARE or the storey of your home. Think of your bookcases as an opportunity to “dress” in a style as personal to you as your clothing! To digest this further, let’s look at the two types of bookcases; the formal display and the functional.

In a more formal bookcase, such as ones in a Living Room, there is a huge opportunity to make a statement about your personality. If you are a collector of something, this is where you would show it off; art glass, antique objects, sculpture, clocks, any number of decorative pieces that speak to who you are. However, this is generally not the place for sports trophies. They are definitely more suited to a less formal setting; unless they are sterling silver or crystal, then they can stay! In this next photo, these exquisitely arranged bookcases display a collection belonging to George Cameron Nash, the owner of a fine fabric showroom in Dallas.

The home of George Cameron Nash as shown in Veranda Magazine. Notice the mirrored backs which let you see the entire object on each shelf. Notice also the absence of books!

Notice how in Nash’s bookcases, there are very few books! If you have a beautiful collection that can be displayed well, the bookcases may even be void of books.  For some people, a formal bookcase is solely about the collectibles. When books are used in this type of a showcase, they should be books you adore; books that are sumptuous and that beg people to take them down and look at them! They should be books worthy of the items they are sitting next to. This is not the place for Tom Clancy novels or tattered paperbacks. If you study the image above, you’ll see that among some truly fine vases and artifacts, are coral and boxes.  While the coral is fabulous for its sculptural quality, it is used here for its brilliant color more than it’s rarity as a collector’s object. The boxes are also skillfully selected, but are mainly used to give height to other objects in the shelf. To distill these ideas down a little more, what you are trying to accomplish is a well crafted composition with balance in both color and scale, equally weighted objects both in size and wow factor and plenty of unfilled space around the objects so as not to clutter or hide the objects from view.

In a less formal room, often people simply need to store books! If you are like me and you cannot give books away, try to store your paperback books out of sight. It is nearly impossible to display tatty books beautifully. If you have a lot of hardcover books, but many that are not classics or extremely noteworthy, take the covers off and save them away somewhere for safe keeping. The uncovered bindings of most books are way more attractive than the bright shiny covers.

Try to leave space on the shelves. Wall to wall books are very hard to pull off unless you have gorgeously bound antique volumes with titles in wonderful fonts. “Negative space”, or the space that is not crammed full, gives the eye a place to rest and actually give notice to what is on the shelf.

These bookcases are very successful even with wall the wall books. However, note that the books themselves are the collection! They are beautiful with their differences in size and shape, but likeness in color scheme.

Magazines can also be beautifully displayed in magazine holders. Try to group together like magazines in the holders as the repetition of bindings can make a very cool pattern. Buy several more magazine holders than you need now, as you want them all to match in the future when displayed on your bookcase. Or, if you have a color theme, maybe pick a couple of solid colors and repeat them throughout the display.

Designer Charlotte Moss uses magazines with all red bindings in a gorgeous display that stands out off the taupe walls.

All books do not need to stand up! This is such a funny thing to me. Several years ago, when I saw books lying down for the first time, I thought, “Well shoot! What a great idea. Why didn’t I think of that?” Books on their sides become risers for smaller objects that look lost on a shelf by themselves.

In a less formal setting, both special books and a few less special are well displayed as well as books on their sides to lift another object. Still, all items are carefully chosen and the “overall” composition is most important.

In this last amazing room, taken from Country Living Magazine, they have combined both a living room and a library into one large space! Talk about having a lot of bookcases to fill! However, they have done so artfully and beautifully by using the techniques talked about in this article. The overall composition is very important in bookcase displays. Often, as I am redoing bookcases for a client, I have to get down off the ladder and take a step back. I have to see the whole image as if it’s a painting being created in front of me.

Breaking up books in varying heights can give visual relief to the overall composition. Notice the way they spread “like” books across many shelves instead if all on continuous shelves.

Try to see your bookcases with fresh eyes and compare them with the images you see here. Go for a color scheme, take a few objects out to allow for negative space, be objective about whether a book is really adding anything to your display, lay a few books down and put something small and special on top. Lastly, if you are like me and are always collecting something, don’t let your bookcases be static! Move things around, give a new book or item a chance. Step back, be critical and then, as I like to say, “Viola, a beautifully arranged bookcase!”

By Catherine Hersacher

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *