Decorating with books is a much underappreciated way to bring character to your home, and fill your walls with interesting forms, colors and more. Whether you're a voracious reader with a library of your own, or you just have a small bookcase of tomes collected over the years, there's an opportunity to make these a special element of your decor.
Wherever in your home you're considering introducing books (they work in more spaces that just the living room, as we'll go to prove), you're sure to find inspiration in the arrangements below.
Take a look at these expert-recommended tricks for taking an everyday shelf, coffee table or bookcase and turning it into something extraordinary.
Aditi is a homes writer and editor with several years of experience. Her articles, backed by expert insights, offer suggestions aimed at helping readers make the best home design choices. For this article, she spoke to several designers to understand ways to decorate with books.
9 clever ways to decorate with books
1. Decorate colorfully
When decorating our homes, we tend to gravitate towards plants, art, and decoratives to introduce that final layer of decoration, then why not books? These are beautiful, and bring warmth, color, and character to any room.
'I love using books as styling for areas, and what better way than to display them than in a rainbow, color coordinated fashion,' says Charlotte Sitton, founder of Organised by Charlotte (opens in new tab). 'Not only does it look beautiful but it's also easy to find what you are looking for.'
'The client knew they wanted to open up the wall between the living room and kitchen-diner and asked us to help them work out the best way of creating a clear connection between the two spaces,' says Justine Fernandes, founder of Fernandes Binns Architects. 'We decided to create a line of symmetry between the living room fireplace, the new opening, a new kitchen island, and the range. The bookcases frame this opening.'
In this home, it makes a statement that books are important. 'Our client works in communication, and is also a writer – books are part of family life, and it is lovely to celebrate them by having them in a room that is used all the time.'
2. Consider your covers
For an alternative gallery wall idea, why not consider your book collection instead? The only problem is, unless you're solely buying books for their aesthetic value, you have a little less control over the shapes, colors and sizes you have to work with, however, it's not impossible to claw a little of that control back.
'When styling a bookshelf with existing books or objects, we like to remove the outer sleeve and use the hardcover as a point of interest,' say interior designers Jenna Choate-James and Mariana Ugarte of Interior Fox. 'Stacking them in different directions and organizing by color are nice ways to cluster books as well.'
3. Add books in unexpected areas and rooms
There are some places in your home that you're more likely to find books than others, but don't rule out somewhere less expected that could benefit from the love a stylish, overflowing stack of books could bring.
Have a spare open kitchen shelf? What about the laundry room? Or even in your powder room? The unconventional placement isn't for everybody, but it's the perfect choice for when you want to shake things a bit in your home's decor and layout.
4. Use these as risers
If you have lovely accessories but are a little diminutive, place them on top of a few stacked books to give them height and visual weight. This will also help create more interesting coffee table decor. Consider creating a color clash with muted books and vibrant accessories, or vice versa.
'I often like to use a beautiful coffee table book and complement it with small accessories, like vases and little plants,' says Kashi Shikunova, director of Yam Studios. 'This allows me to build height and draw more attention to the coffee table book. For formal areas, it's nice when books lay next to each other creating a more structured display. This can be complemented with extra accessories to build interest.'
5. Fill up the coffee table with books
In fact, one of our favorite ways to display books is on the coffee table, and this new trend for stacking coffee table books is one of the coolest ways to style your home right now.
'When decorating with books we always like to find out our client's interests and hobbies so we aren't just choosing random pretty coffee table books,' say Jenna and Mariana from Interior Fox. 'It feels so personal and adds an extra touch when we find specific interest books that reflect their personality. For instance, travel to their favorite destination, their favorite artist, autobiographies, collections of artifacts, etc. These details add richness to the space.'
6. Leave a book open
'I find it nice to have a closed and an open book or magazine next to each other, you can choose your favorite page and display it for guests to enjoy,' says Kashi of Yam Studio.
There's a variety of ideas you can try to make this happen. Book stands are a stylish and easy way to add an open book to a coffee table or shelving, and in this space designed by GRT Architects (opens in new tab), the homeowners have even included a small reading lamp over the open book, turning it into accent lighting for this living room come nighttime.
Rise bookstand, Design Within Reach (opens in new tab)
Try this seriously stylish bookstand for your coffee table.
7. Add books around nooks
In a world gone cyber, there's a charm to the look and smell of ‘spined’ accessories. One interesting way of decorating bookshelves is to create one in an alcove with a rounded wall, that adds further interest. Built-in cabinetry flanking a fireplace or television may be common, but one by a window seat lends whimsy and creates a lovely reading corner.
Add children’s books, schoolbooks, novels, encyclopedias, cookbooks, coffee table books, self-help books, and magazines to the selection for a lovely color palette.
8. Mix them up with decorative objet
Books are a window into your interests, personality, and liking. Perusing someone’s bookshelf reveals a lot about a person. Conversations get started around books. Friendships get formed.
This is why giving the bookshelf special curation and care is essential. Books can be displayed standing upright or in varying positions – some piled on their side, others in a row standing up. Consider grouping them by size or color or even by language. And, to create a stylish setup, mix up the books with interesting curios, like vases, flowers, candles to even musical instruments.
Also, while displaying intentionally, another idea with colors is instead of morphing them into chunks of red, green, blue, yellow, which makes them no longer appear to be books, choose color blocking as the goal. This helps them stand out and creates a wonderful home visual.
9. Curate fun vignettes with bookends
Many people feel books are sacred and should be displayed only with intention. But don't miss an opportunity just because you feel you can't have fun with them. Bookends are a great way to not only bring attention to your books but even create a smart or even light-hearted setting.
The key to styling a big bookcase or adding console table decor is by breaking up the elements into smaller groupings. Consider adding a sculptural bookend of animals or objects such as the one pictured above. Choose ones in bright colors to liven up the room.
Concrete bookends, Target (opens in new tab)
Use bookends to bring some color and whimsy to your space, like these $20 bargains from Target.
How do you arrange books for decorating?
For an interesting living room or bedroom color idea, consider color blocking with books or arranging them in the shades of the rainbow so that they immediately stand out in the room. Also, apart from color-coding, if you want to be able to access your books/library daily, opt for organizing the books alphabetically by author or by genre, for easy accessibility.
Alphabetical organization and grouping by subject aside, create a sense of visual balance, by separating your hardcover and paperbacks. Also, bookshelves aren't just for books. Add family photos, bowls, trays, heirloom pieces, or plates along with paperbacks for an interesting visual.
Aditi Sharma Maheshwari is an architecture and design journalist with over 10 years of experience. She's worked at some of the leading media houses in India such as Elle Decor, Houzz and Architectural Digest (Condé Nast). Till recently, she was a freelance writer for publications such as Architectural Digest US, House Beautiful, Stir World, Beautiful Homes India among others. In her spare time, she volunteers at animal shelters and other rescue organizations.
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