How to decorate with books: 13 chic options for arranging your library

An inviting and timeless touch can be added to a room by using books as decorative accents. Although books are ubiquitous in the home, they are often overlooked and thrown carelessly into a bookcase. However, when given the proper attention, books can greatly improve the look of a room.

You can use these creative decorating ideas for arranging books to get you started on organizing your bookshelves or displaying your favorite book covers.

How to decorate with books: 12 creative bookcase ideas

Numerous options exist for incorporating books into interior design, so it's important to consider your desired effect before deciding how to arrange your library.

Do you want to find ways to organize your books in a way that makes you happy, or maybe you want to design a reading nook? The standard method of keeping books organized, which involves placing them on bookshelves and sorting them into categories, is fine for a home library, but it may not be the most aesthetically pleasing way to display your collection. If you're willing to break with tradition, however, there are countless other ways to incorporate books into your decor that will do just as much, if not more, to make a statement.  

First, build a library wall.

Bespoke bookcase around a door

(Photo by Future/Brent Darby)

One great traditional decorating idea is to devote an entire wall to a bookcase, which provides a textural backdrop and a timeless feel to any room it is placed in. The best way to make the most of the space and get the look you want is to have a custom bookcase built to fit the structure in which it will be displayed.

Simon Tcherniak, senior designer at Neville Johnson, says, "A big benefit of getting a bookcase specially made is that the size of the shelves can suit the collection." Opens in a new window/tab No dust will collect in the tiny crevices between the wall and the bookcase because it was made specifically for the room. '

In addition, he says, "adjustable shelving might be worth considering" if your collection is likely to evolve over time, "but adjustable shelf holes don't look great in light finishes, so if you want shelves to be adjustable, that might affect your choice of finish."

The brown backboards and terra cotta frame of this bookcase are a great example of a two-tone paint idea for making a feature of your shelving.

2. Use colored books as decor

Books in color order

(Photo by Simon Brown / Salvesen Graham)

Arranging a large book collection in ombre fashion can bring visual harmony and a sense of fun. The streamlined appearance is not only attractive, but also calming to the eye, making it ideal for use as a bedroom bookshelf idea.

We really enjoy repurposing our customers' items to make whimsical accents for their homes. According to Nicole Salvesen, co-founder of Salvesen Graham, "books are a brilliant way to add interest, and whether color-coordinating them or using a more natural organization method, they always manage to add a wide variety of tones to a space." (link opens in a new window)  

decorating shelves with books

(Photo by Netpune)

You can make bookcases more interesting to look at by using decorative items and experimenting with the book arrangement. Although books stored vertically are more convenient for access, decorating with stacks of books is a great way to make little podiums for displays.

Simon Temprell, manager of interior design for Neptune Companies, is an expert on how to arrange bookshelves. In this new window: advices to "open the books" then arrange decorative pieces of art and miniatures at varying heights, keeping in mind that odd numbers of items look better in clusters than even ones. '

Make a standard bookcase row that fills a third of the shelf, he advises; then, prop it up with a small stack of flat books and finish it off with a decorative object or plant. It's equally as crucial to give thought to the blanks you leave as it is to the ones you fill. '

Place a stack of books on a coffee table.

Books on a coffee table

(Photo by Davide Lovatti for the Futurist)

Large coffee table books with stunning photographs are not only a great decorative accent, but also make for great casual reading for visitors. Pick topics that appeal to you, and don't go overboard with the stacking; one or two piles of roughly the same size work best.

Five, display some of your favorite book jackets

Book storage ideas, displaying books cover out

This picture was taken in the future by Paul Massey of Future.

There are many beautiful book jackets out there; why not display yours as you would a prized painting?  

Books with eye-catching covers can be a stunning design element in a living room, and unlike a permanent gallery wall, the display can be easily rearranged for a new look whenever you like.

Sixth, put sculptures on book shelves.

Books used to display sculpture on a coffee table at Asthall Manor

Future/Kasia Fiszer/Future

Since wall shelving is often lacking in smaller spaces, stacking books on a coffee table can be a great way to display accent pieces.  

An artistic coffee table display in this living room features books stacked at varying heights that serve as podiums for small stone sculptures.

7 Use plants and books as decor.

Shelves filled with books and plants

(Photo by: James Merrell for Future)

Plants are widely considered a must-have when it comes to styling shelves, as they instantly transform any space. Plants are wonderful for our health and well-being, as well as being a lovely addition to any room.

Plants, especially trailing plants, will add a touch of gentleness and freshness to any shelf. Simon Temprell, Neptune's interior design manager, says succulents, "have architectural style and demand very little attention, so they can be useful for filling the gaps where objects feel a little too rigid." In this new window:

8 Arrange the books in a pleasing color pattern

Books on a sideboard in a neutral living room

Photo by Davide Lovatti.

Too many bookshelves in the living room can make the space feel claustrophobic. You can achieve a relaxing atmosphere by selecting a small number of books with spines in colors that complement the room's decor.

Books with muted spines make for a lovely sideboard decoration, adding subtle texture and visual interest to the otherwise monochromatic living space.  

Pick a book cover for your wallpaper.

Libreria wallpaper from Cole & Son x Fornasetti

(Wallpaper by Cole & Son Libreria; image credit)

Inject some levity into a living room if you have a penchant for color and pattern with a Trompe-l'il book wallpaper.  

This Libreria paper, from Cole & Son's Fornasetti Senza Tempo collection, is a great choice for a playful focal point in a cloakroom, a stylish backdrop above living room paneling, or any room where you want to make a statement.  

10. For a spare appearance, flip the books.

Living room with pale wood floor, white walls and built in shelving, fireplace with TV above, wood chair carved in shape of hand and neutral patterned rug

Photography by Travis J Photography (Image courtesy of House of Jade Interiors)

Keeping books organized in a minimal living space can be difficult, but there are solutions that won't sacrifice aesthetics.

The books could be arranged in blocks of color for an abstract look, perfect for a modern home. As an alternative, you could flip the books over so that the spines are facing outward to create a more textural display—ideal for books you won't need to access quickly. Simon Temprell hints at By covering your books in white craft paper, you can make a chic alternative to the conventional library, which is perfect if you're going for a minimalist look. '

Eleven. Use old books as a textural accent.

Vintage books on a shelf

Future is responsible for the image.

Used books are a great way to add a touch of history and style to your decor. Vintage books have lovely texture, especially those with leather or faded canvas bindings, foil lettering, and timeworn patinas.

Bookcases are a great place to display vibrant artwork.

Home library with blue shelving and ladder, sofa and armchair

Picture by Sims Hilditch.

When considering the use of books as decorative elements, it's important to choose hues that complement the existing furnishings and paint colors. Contrasting colors on the color wheel, such as those shown here in Sims Hilditch's design, create an interesting visual effect. In this new window:  

"Books are a wonderful way to add a touch of individuality to any room." Louise Wicksteed, head of design, recommends "a selection of favorite coffee table books styled on an ottoman, or old classics slotted into a wooden bookshelf."  

It's possible that books could be used to add splashes of color to a room. In the study of our Regency townhouse, which faces north, we stocked terracotta-spined books. These look great against the smoky blue we painted the joinery. ’

Use your imagination when designing a bookshelf.

Ladder made into a bookshelf

(Photo by Polly Eltes for Future)

Why not creatively store your books without the use of a boring bookcase by repurposing unusual items.  

Here we see how a repurposed ladder can be transformed into a charming bookcase that would look great in a rustic country kitchen. An additional option for achieving a country look is to hang old wooden apple crates on the wall.  

The proper method for decorating with books

Stacks of books are a great way to add visual interest and structure to a shelf, and they can serve as a starting point for a display. Place piles in an odd number and in ascending size order for the best results.

"I really enjoy making neat, symmetrical piles of books, both horizontally and vertically." Interior designer Tina Ramchandani of New York City says, "I first fill the shelf or shelves with all books, in different directions, organized in a few different ways, in a few groupings." Opens in a new window/tab , "Then I add in all the fun stuff—accessories, picture frames, art, and plants." '

"I always take a break after styling, and then come back to look at my work with fresh eyes." The project is rarely finished with me. Always strive for the minimally effective solution. ' she adds

White books in a freestanding bookcase

Photograph by Joanna Wood

If you have a lot of books, how do you arrange them for aesthetic effect?

Visually appealing book storage can be difficult to achieve if you have a large collection. A custom built floor-to-ceiling bookcase not only provides a functional solution for storing and displaying books, but it can also serve as an attractive accent wall, adding warmth and character to any room. To make the shelves more pleasing to the eye, you might sort the books by size and color.

Alternatively, as Simon Temprell puts it, "mixing decorative objects and plants in with your books will help to create a more casual feel and will bring a lot of interest to the shelves." Or, as he suggests, "if you are short on space and your shelves are already crammed with books, try adding artwork that can hang in front of the books, treating the bookshelves as wallpaper."  

Covering the books is one solution interior designer Joanna Wood recommends for making a large book collection more visually appealing. (link opens in a new window)  

When I want my books to look uniform, I cover them with cartridge paper, but you have to be very organized and have a great memory to pull that off. Every time I've done this, I've assigned each genre of book a unique color. '

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