By Erik J. Martin
Chances are that, if you have a bookcase, the paperbacks and hardcovers shelved there are collecting a lot more dust. But just because you may be reading less or collecting fewer books than you were years ago doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from handsome bookshelves that are neatly organized and adorned with eye-catching items, the pros agree.
“The era where bookshelves are exclusively reserved for books is long gone. Nowadays, bookshelves serve as a more laid-back version of etageres and provide a great display option to showcase your favorite decor items, such as vases, plants, travel souvenirs and more,” says Sarah Correa, an interior designer in San Diego. “A bookcase today is a carefully curated furniture piece that displays not only the books that define you as a person, but also unique items you’ve collected throughout your life.”
Sporting a bookcase in an attractive and organized manner provides plenty of benefits, according to Julio Arco, an architect and interior designer with Bark and Chase.
“An appealingly arranged bookshelf can elevate the visual appeal of a space, acting as a focal point or complementing the overall design scheme to create a cohesive and harmonious atmosphere in the room,” he says. “Moreover, a tidy bookshelf contributes to a sense of order and tranquility. Studies in environmental psychology indicate that clutter can adversely affect mental well-being, leading to stress and anxiety. Maintaining an organized bookcase can alleviate these negative feelings and foster a sense of control and accomplishment.”
Indeed, an orderly bookcase not only offers easy access to tomes and stored items, thereby encouraging better reading habits – it also saves time and effort when trying to look for a specific book or object, especially if you place sortable items in alphabetical or grouped order.
“An aesthetically pleasing bookshelf can also serve as a conversation starter during social gatherings, providing an opportunity to share interests, experiences and stories,” continues Arco.
To make your shelves appear neat and appealing, try sorting your books and items by theme or coordinate them by color, size or shape.
“You can create some contrast and interest by alternating horizontal and vertical piles of books,” suggests Artem Kropovinsky, an interior designer and founder of Arsight in New York City. “Use stylish bookends to keep your books in place and add some charm, too.”
Correa prefers to style her bookshelf by dividing the width into imaginary one-third rectangles, with each rectangle holding a decor piece or a book either vertically or horizontally.
“It’s important to consider the height of each section and balance it accordingly. For example, if there’s a taller vase in the center, the side rectangles should have shorter items,” suggests Correa. “When layering decor pieces, always keep this one-third practice in mind to ensure that nothing is too tall or too short in relation to each other.”
A similar approach for organizing items is the rule of three, which promotes grouping objects in sets of three for a visually appealing arrangement.
“Balancing visual weight across the bookshelf is also essential and achievable through symmetrical or asymmetrical arrangements. Leaving negative space prevents overcrowding and creates an open, inviting atmosphere,” Arco notes.
Another strategy is to apply the “two, one, two, one” method.
“For example, a shelf can have two sets of decor items – one on each side – while the shelves below it can have only one set in the center. Each set typically consists of three items of varying colors and textures that complement one another,” says Correa. “You could, for instance, place a book lying flat, a candle on top of it and a taller vase with greenery next to it. Just remember to layer items of different sizes and avoid placing items of the same height next to each other.”
Lastly, steer clear of displaying books that you dislike or never read, cramming all your books on one shelf, neglecting the color scheme of your bookshelf, aligning everything on your shelves or overcrowding your shelves, Kropovinsky advises.