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Bookshelves: A Love Your Home Story

Loving the home you’re in, whether an apartment you rent or a home you own, isn’t always a guarantee for each home dweller. Compromises are made and promises to fix them in the future can quickly be turned into a settling of ‘it’s good enough’ and ‘never.’ Just because you have a home doesn’t mean that you love it, but what happens when the home you have doesn’t serve you or the people living there? What happens if walking through the door can sound more like ‘meh’ than ‘hooray, I’m glad to be home.’ I would suspect that most people fall into either one camp or the other and if you, reader, don’t fall into either then I think the internet rabbit hole has spit you out into the wrong realm. If you fall into the camp that says ‘hooray, I’m glad to be home,’ then hooray for you – celebrate that feeling and share the love (and your skill) with others. But, if you find yourself in the first camp - the camp that is ‘meh’ and a bit uninspiring, I hope this is a place that serves you well. I hope it’s a place that nudges you away from never and into the now. I hope it’s a place that encourages you to see that progress doesn’t have to be perfection and that beautiful really is in the eye of the beholder. So let’s get started.

Today let’s talk book shelves shall we? One of the most common decorating faux pas I see are lovely book shelves disguised as modern-day curio cabinets. Do you know curio cabinets? Think china display case with figurines on display. You know – the kind you’d see on your visits to Grandma’s house. Got the vision? Now, let me put this plainly. There’s nothing wrong with a curio cabinet. There’s a whole generation of lovelies (aka Grandmas) who still have them in their homes and it’s part of the wonder and the magic of Grandma’s House – all the treasures ready to explore while your senses are enveloped in the scent of sugar cookies. And if that’s the look you’re going for, then awesome (and please invite me over because I love the welcoming scent of sugar cookies!), but if you want a styled bookshelf that equationally has more books than curios, here are some things to think about.

Sorting into like piles

Arranging your books into like sections will limit the frustration of finding them later. There’s nothing more frustrating than knowing you have something on hand and spending hours searching for it to no avail, then buying a replacement because you can’t do without, then finding the original three months later. Raise your hand if this has happened to you. See? It might not always be books, but it’s something: spices, scarves, your favorite soccer ball. No need to establish your homemade version of a Dewey Decimal System for organizing, just dedicate a section of your book shelf to the category of your choosing. In my house I have several categories: travel, childrens, classics, education, collectibles, spiritual, memory keeping, you get the picture. What ever sections make most sense to you in your home, go for it.


You’ll most definitely have books of varying heights. Arranging them gradually in height order (I really hope you’re picturing middle school athletic pictures right now, cause I sure am!) will be most visually appealing to the eye. Having staggering heights – short, tall, tall, short, short, tall, short, tall, etc. will look as choppy as that sounds. Whether or not you choose to have the taller books on the left or on the right will greatly depend on you and what looks good to you. My rule – you guessed it, I don’t have one, but I find that I’m most drawn to taller books being on the left then gradually getting shorter as they move right. But, will you find a graduated row of books going right to left on my shelves? You betcha!

Height doesn’t always have to do with the size of the books. Let’s think now about stacks.


Having your books arranged both vertically and horizontally serves a dual purpose – visual eye candy and practicality. When you stand back and look at your bookshelf from afar, having books that are stacked horizontally next to books that are shelved vertically allows the eye to rest a bit. If you think of it in art terms – a stack of books creates some white space. Now whether you choose to fill that white space with something other than books is entirely up to you. Practically speaking, stacked books placed near a row of vertical books serves as the simplest form of a bookend.

Curios aka accessories

Erase any visual of Hummels or crystal figurines from your mind here, unless those are the types of accessories that you like to have on display. When I think of accessories I think of plants, picture frames, candles, vases, art, bookends, handmade trinkets from kiddos, etc. Placing every accessory you own on the bookshelves would be a mistake, so take some time to think through which ones you’d like hanging out with your books. Would any accessory make more sense displayed in one section of your bookshelf than another? Take this for example - this sweet watercolor painting of Washington State makes more sense displayed in my travel by foot (aka hiking) section than in my classics section.

Depth and layering

Creating depth on your bookshelf can happen by layering art at the back of your shelf behind, yes behind, your stack of books. Placing art behind your books changes the landscape a bit from the horizon that was created from your stacks. It’s a bit unpredictable and surprising. Not such a bad thing if you ask me. Now, how do you elevate the art? If you don’t mind hanging it on the back of the bookshelf, use a tack or a Command Strip. Not a fan of that? Use the stack of books. You’ll have to play around a little bit to find the right balance using books within the stack to stabilize the art, but the extra effort is worth it, I promise.

Now that you have a great start at styling your bookshelf that displays both books and accessories, let’s talk about bookshelf trends that will compete with the above advice. Bookshelf trends – are they worth trying?

Books with spines facing backward

You’ve seen the pictures. They’re all over Pinterest and Instagram. This is a lovely look, it really is. It’s monochromatic and in being so, is very neutral. The look can calm the senses and be very still and rather peaceful. This style is, in my opinion, for people who have books, but don’t read them; who have more time on their hands to find the book they’re looking for if they do want to read them; or are simply wanting a staged home, rather than a styled home.

Want to try the trend without committing to an entire bookshelf of backward facing books? Try a small stack on the top of a credenza or your fireplace mantel. Have a small bookshelf in your master bedroom? Try it there.

Rainbow sorted books

This one feels to me completely opposite of the backward facing book trend. Instead of eliciting a calm, neutral, rather peaceful landscape within the room, a rainbowed bookshelf screams ‘let’s play, I’m fun! Like not your average fun, but Fun-Fun!!’ It also screams ‘I still can’t find the book easily, but at least I can read the titles on the spines and if my memory serves me correctly I’ll be able to remember the color of the book I’m looking for before I sprout any more grey hair!’ Ok, I’m being a little harsh. It is equally a lovely trend, but it’s a trend none-the-less and will soon fade into the depths of decorating archives.

Want to try it? This one would be really great in a playroom, just keep in mind that the little ones who use the playroom will be the ones looking for the book. Chances are those little fingers grabbing the books will find them much easier than you or I, but I would bet my last dollar that having those same kiddos putting them back would undoubtedly end up looking like a gaggle of monkeys came in and took over! Probably not the look you’re going for.

Whichever style of book shelving you choose to try in your home, choose it with confidence and remember…your home, and therefore your bookshelf, don't own you. You own them. So go out there and show them who’s boss and make those changes, one small one at a time, to create a home when you walk in you say 'hooray, I'm glad to be home.' But be careful - changing one little corner of your house will undoubtedly be contagious and you’ll want to change another corner. Or two. Or three. Just do me a favor, and tag me on Instagram when you do, cause I can’t wait to see it!! @figandfarm

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