"Books do furnish a room," according to 20th-century novelist Anthony Powell. There's nothing like a collection of well-loved books to give your home a cozy and comforting feeling. But when your bookcases become a chaotic array of binders, loose papers and outdated textbooks it's time to take action. Why not transform your bookshelf from an overstuffed eyesore into an integral part of your decor?
The three-step process
When you have a lot of books, and you can't bear to let any of them go, you're in a bind (so to speak). But you can keep your books and present them attractively, if you're willing to compromise. Creating a designer-like display of your books is a three-step process: weeding out, varying stacking techniques and adding accessories.
Weed out. For true book lovers, the first step may hurt. If your bookcases are stuffed, you'll need to liberate a quarter to one third of them to give your shelves an orderly and pleasing look. If you can't bear to let a single tome go, you'll need to buy or scrounge up another bookcase to handle the overflow from this process. (Hang on! In my next column, I'll share alternative places to store and display your books.)
You'll be removing every book from the shelves and deciding whether or not to keep it. Set up a few boxes for sorting and label them "give to library," "return to owner," "garage sale," etc. Be ruthless in sorting! As you pull each volume off the shelf, ask yourself if you've touched it in the past two years, whether the information is current and if you'll honestly ever read it again. Set aside binders, spiral-bound books and loose papers for storage on a closet shelf, or in an office bookcase. If you must keep this printed material handy, buy attractive storage boxes that you can place back on the shelf.
Vary your stacking. Once you've narrowed your collection down to books you want to keep, it's time to restack them on the shelves. As you are re-positioning the volumes, leave openings between groups of books. The openings make the bookcase less overpowering and may also be used to display accessories. Select three or four arrangements and repeat them, standing back occasionally to judge the overall balance of the groupings. Try alternating several of these stacking techniques:
• Fill a shelf two-thirds full and leave "airholes" on either side.
• Place a graduated stack of books in the center with books lined up on either side.
• Fill the shelf two-thirds full and use a flat stack of books as a book end.
• Fill a complete row with books, or leave an entire shelf open to display a collection.
Once you have a balanced placement of books and openings, line up the spines of the books. You might have to pull a few smaller books away from the back of the shelf, but your books will look more orderly and tidy.
Accessorize. The openings between groupings of books are ideal for displaying your treasures. Go on a treasure hunt throughout your home looking for objects that reflect the feel, theme and color scheme of the room. These could include teapots, vases, sculpture pieces, musical instruments, boxes, baskets, pottery, framed art or photographs.
When selecting and placing your accessories, keep a few guidelines in mine:
• Don't clutter up the space with too many or meaningless chatchkas. A few truly beautiful objects that have meaning for you will have more impact.
• Keep collections together.
• Use the back of the bookcase; hang a mask, plate, fan, or framed piece of art.
• Group things in odd configurations and keep the tallest item towards the rear.