By the Book
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Enrich your décor with the perfect private library

By Nicole Barr for

Public libraries can feel vast and overwhelming, and for good reason: their whole purpose is to house reading materials for a whole town or neighborhood. Home libraries, in contrast, are more intimate and special; they only contain the books that interest you and your family members, so a private home library need not be immense or contain an exhaustive collection of books in all genres on all topics.

What’s more, private libraries can add a personal touch to your home: the types of books you read say a lot about who you are, so showcasing your favorites is never a bad idea. When designing your own library, then, there is a lot to consider. The collection should be both attractive in terms of book design as well as expressive of who you are. Are you a successful professional? If so, finely bound legal or medical books are never a bad idea. Likewise, a shelf full of the classics is perfect for the lover of literature. The main thing, whatever your tastes, is to consider your volumes’ subject, size, color, display, and adornments, as well as the shelves they will appear on–and the following tips will help you do just that.

Assess your entire collection

Take all the books in your home and remove them from the bookshelves to start with a blank slate. Then choose the books you want to include on your shelves and get rid of those that donate or store whatever doesn’t make the cut.

Organize by Subject

Cataloging and organizing your library is important because it allows you to track where each title is. First, group your books by genre, then by topic, then by author’s last name; this way, you can determine how much space is needed and how the books should be organized.

Vary Size

Some like the uniformity of displaying books all of the same dimensions, but to get a uniform look, you will often have to limit yourself to a particular series from a particular publisher and this will necessarily limit which title you can have in your collection since no publisher publishes every book out there (in fact, it’s the nature of their business that they can’t!) That’s why the better idea is to vary the size and height of the books on your shelves intentionally because doing so can actually create greater visual interest.

To get this sort of look, simply mix tall, medium, and short books of varying thicknesses throughout your shelves. Of course, books from a particular series should always be kept together, as they will look out of place and sloppy if scattered among other books. Also consider placing some books vertically and others in horizontal stacks, and lean some books loosely against each other on some shelves while keeping other shelves snug. This will further attract attention by showing that someone is actually using your library, not just looking at it.

Finally, depth can be created using decorative objects. Larger objects can be used to provide a backdrop for smaller objects in the foreground. Place larger items such as stacks of books or vases on opposite sides of shelves to allow one’s gaze to move across the shelf. Also balance this by avoiding too much visual weight from similar items all on one side of the same shelf.

Coordinate Colors

Decide if color should be influential in how you organize your personal library. Mixing the colors of your books’ covers can create a homey, relaxed feel, while organizing whole shelves by color can provide a visually striking, modern look. This can make your bookshelf look more harmonious. Of course, finding books with the same cover color can be difficult, but one expert trick is to remove the dust jackets of hardcover books, as many such covers are black or dark blue.

Add Sculptural Objects

Break things up by placing decorative objects throughout a bookshelf. Sculptural pieces such as ceramics or metal figures add a soft, organic look to the bookshelf. A mixture of sculptural objects creates a more appealing shelf that also tells a visual story.

Incorporate Art

Allow the bookshelf to provide a backdrop for art. Consider placing artwork towards the back of the shelf and layer smaller decorative items in front to create depth. Alternatively, hang artwork on the frame of the shelves for added dimension and interest. If you have a few books that have especially attractive covers or have sentimental value, display them so they become, in a sense, a form of artwork.

Complete with a Personal Touch

Objects with special meaning to you are key to creating a bookshelf that reflects you. Use framed photographs, diplomas, souvenirs, collectibles, and other personal effects to decorate your shelves. This will make your bookcase stand out and invoke happy memories. For a more dynamic quality, arrange stacks of horizontal books to serve as pedestals for these objects.

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