For many, a home doesn’t live up to all the associations of the word without books, so bookshelf ideas that provide space for long-loved and newer volumes are an essential part of an interior design plan.
But books – together with a host of other items – can also be a truly appealing decorative feature of any room, and thus it’s vital that both the shelves in which they are stored and the way these pieces appear on those shelves allow their potential as a display to be exploited.
Our book storage ideas have been selected to give you inspiration for storage that’s aesthetically pleasing in your own home, and they are combined with advice from interiors professionals to assist in your own planning.
Consider both custom joinery and freestanding bookshelf ideas for your home, together with bookshelf styling rules and ideas that enhance the beauty of a book collection and any decorative accessories you wish to set alongside them.
1. Bring personality to a room
When it comes to what’s on show, designing a home library that is fit for purpose is deeply individual. ‘Bookshelves are one of those beautiful details in a home that are equal parts function and decor,’ says Elizabeth Krueger of Elizabeth Krueger Design. ‘They’re the perfect opportunity to add character and personal touches to any space.
‘Whether you use colorful coffee table books, stunning accessories, meaningful family photos, or captivating art to fill them, you’re sure to be left with a space that feels finished and intriguing. Alternatively, hang art on the front of the shelf to add depth, dimension and a unique flair.’
2. Fit multi-tasking shelves
For a room that has to fulfill a variety of needs, opt for flexible living room shelving ideas. The main function of this room, designed by M Lavender Interiors is as a library-study with the table used as a work desk during the day, while at dinner time, it’s a cozy dining room.
To accommodate the multiple uses, the bookshelves have drop-down storage – like a secretary desk – that turns into bars with one side holding glassware while the other side holds drinks.
3. Build bookshelves into a bedroom
One of our favorite bookshelf ideas is that of constructing shelving that allows them to be part of a bedroom – a prime reading spot for many – by fitting around the head of the bed.
‘Our client wanted the primary bedroom to feel cozy and the main attraction is a bookshelf that channels that ambiance,’ explains Meg Lonergan with Meg Lonergan Interiors.
‘We collaborated on this design with architect Kelly Cusimano to create a room that is filled with comfort and wonder, often the feeling you get when reading a good book. The paint colors from Farrow & Ball are unusual and add extra warmth to the room, further enhancing the coziness of the space.’
4. Work around a doorway
If making space for more books along with showcasing decorative pieces is an essential in your home, be inspired by this solution. Here, the living room shelving is built around the doorway from one room to another as well as above the double doors themselves.
These bookshelves are deep enough to accommodate baskets as well as books and porcelain, providing additional storage for items that wouldn’t necessarily be appropriate on display.
5. Pay attention to the back of shelves
It’s not just what’s on a bookshelf that counts in terms of its appearance, and one way of making shelving extra appealing is to add an interesting background to the items on show.
In this room, London and Gloucestershire-based interior design practice Sims Hilditch added a spot wallpaper to the rear of the shelves. ‘Neutrally painted bedroom storage shelves with a wallpapered backdrop behind create a fun and playful aesthetic,’ explains Louise Wicksteed, design director.
6. Bring bookshelf ideas to the kitchen
Consider introducing bookshelves to your kitchen storage when you’re planning their location around a home. ‘Kitchens are often overlooked in terms of bookshelves, however, they come in very useful for storing cookbooks within easy reach when preparing a meal,’ says Louise Wicksteed. ‘The kitchen shelving could be installed on the walls or tucked away underneath an island.’
Kitchen bookshelves are also a great way to add a pop of color to the space, just like picking a range in an accent shade or laying an area rug.
7. Make space for display
A base cabinet below a bookshelf adds small living room storage for items other than favorite volumes and leaves the books themselves locatable and reachable without bending down. But there’s a further advantage to a bookshelf like this one in an interior by Sara Cosgrove Studio.
The depth of the cabinet in comparison to the shelves leaves an area for display without intruding on that dedicated to books, and is especially valuable when there’s limited floor area for furniture within a room.
8. Contrast lines
Consider the lines of the items on show for a beautiful bookshelf. In this room from Emily June Designs the straight lines of the books are set against the curvaceous forms of the decorative pieces and shape of the foliage for pleasing contrast. And the wallpaper idea behind the freestanding bookshelf ups the quota of gentler organic lines.
If there’s only space for books on your shelves? While straight lines will dominate, think about placing some books horizontally as well as shelving them vertically to create a contrast.
9. Combine different shelf heights
Bookshelves don’t have to be fixed at the same height across a wall, and moving away from the expected can result in a handsome accent wall as well as accommodating collections better.
‘Hand-hewn, stained shelves float between vertical Sheetrock divisions,’ explains Sandra Lucas of Lucas Eilers Design Associates of this room. ‘The irregular spacing of the shelves creates an interesting composition and allows for various sizes of books and objects.’
10. Keep the look minimalist
Bookshelves in a minimalist living room need to be as perfectly simple and understated as the rest of it and, in this room by House of Jade Interiors, white shelving continues the clean palette of the room’s walls.
And while turning books around so that it’s the pages that show rather than the spines is a debate that arouses strong feelings, it’s the perfect strategy for a space like this one avoiding a mass of different hues disrupting the soothing white and neutral palette of walls, floor and living room furniture.
What’s the best way to organize a bookshelf?
Organizing a bookshelf in a home is a personal choice and, unless it’s your preference, doesn’t have to follow an established system. However, there are a number of ways you might approach the task.
If finding books speedily is crucial, arranging in alphabetical order, or perhaps alphabetical order within subject-specific sections, is a good idea. Of course, if each section isn’t large, then just putting like with like so, for example, interiors books are together, will suffice.
For a stylish display, arranging by color is a popular tactic and you might choose darker spines for lower shelves with colors becoming progressively lighter as shelf height increases.
At an individual shelf level, meanwhile, arranging by height with taller books on each side of the shelf can create a balanced impression.
For interest consider shelving some books horizontally as well as placing them vertically, and show off decorative objects along with books to give the eye plenty to appreciate.
How do I maximize bookshelf space?
To maximize bookshelf space, use the area from floor to ceiling for the shelves, as well as going as wide as is possible. Go above doorways, too, for extra stash room for beloved tomes.
Need the space on the lower portion of the wall for furniture? You can still fit a single bookshelf or even two or three at the very top of the wall without stealing the area side tables or chairs require.
If you don’t need regular access to particular large volumes, storing them in a horizontal pile can maximize the space you have as it uses the entire depth of the shelf.
Consider, too, creating space within the kitchen for cookbooks to free up precious shelving real estate elsewhere. It’ll ensure these books are readily to hand where they’re needed, too.
Other prime areas that will help you maximize bookshelf space? Below a bench can work, picture shelves with a lip can create a display of books facing forward rather than sideways to make space for extra volumes, and using a ledge alongside the staircase can boost opportunities to keep books around your home.
Sarah is a freelance journalist and editor writing for websites, national newspapers, and magazines. She’s spent most of her journalistic career specialising in homes – long enough to see fridges become smart,
decorating fashions embrace both minimalism and maximalism, and interiors that blur the indoor/outdoor link become a must-have. She loves testing the latest home appliances, revealing the trends in
furnishings and fittings for every room, and investigating the benefits, costs and practicalities of home improvement. It's no big surprise that she likes to put what she writes about into practice, and is a serial house revamper. For Realhomes.com, Sarah reviews coffee machines and vacuum cleaners, taking them through their paces at home to give us an honest, real life review and comparison of every model.
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