Using BOOKS as a Design Element in the Interior Design of your Home

Jenny Dyer Living Room As Seen In Elle Decor

I LOVE everything about books… the way they feel in your hand, the colours of the spine, the knowledge or mental voyage they take you on, the way they look grouped together both visually and conceptually, the ability to stack them to display other objects or to be used as furniture and most importantly, the sense of magic they give a room (each book has its own world within).  Books have a power that when used in your Design, can give a grounded and deeper perception to your interior space and environment.  Books truly are powerful, in that they can teach, illustrate, inspire, and explain.  However, when NOT displayed or organized correctly, they can also take up a lot of room in our homes. If stacks of books are threatening to overtake your home or the lives of loved ones, consider some new ideas for display and storage solutions as well as INCORPORATING your collection of books into the very fabric of your interior design, NOT just as a collection but as part of the flow, feeling and sensibility of your space.  To achieve this effect consider additional shelving, categorized display, or perhaps even removing a few of the books from a collection and using some as actual furnishing pieces or stands to display other items.  Remember to weed out the unused and the unloved, think about keeping only what you are passionate about and what you use.  When working with books with your interior design plan, take into consideration their colour and the power of grouping their coloured spines to the maximum visual effect.  (Don’t feel as if you need to keep the dust cover…often the book is MUCH more beautiful without the little wrapper)

For the rest of your book collection, here are some tips on arranging, displaying, storing  and creating DRAMA with your books.

1. Use them to Prop Up objects – A great tool in creating a sexy and dramatic grouping is learning how to create different elevations.  Stack three chunky hardcover books on a side table to use as a raised display area for a sexy sculpture, a crystal lamp and potted urn or orchid (in a waterproof pot of course) on top of the books. This is a great way to raise another accessory that may be too short as well as create some interest in a display.

2. Create a DRAMATIC and colourful Wall of Reading with a floor to ceiling and wall to wall built-in of books – For those of us lucky enough to have a large book collection this solution is both practical and visually stunning.  This look can be achieved to amazing effect both by having custom build bookcases or purchasing “off the rack” book shelves and then grouping them together (units from Ikea or Sears … etc. )  The trick is to group them tightly and to measure the wall where they are going so that the end result is one that it looks as if it was custom created for your space.  When using pre-built units try to find thicker sided and heavier construction to sustain the weight of the books.  AS WELL… consider removing the back “faux wood panel or white panel” and paint the wall area JUST behind the book shelves a dramatic colour like a rich red, vibrant orange, sun-kissed yellow or a dramatic black.  This will allow your collection and your built-ins to read as one stunning unit.  If your are going to go this route, make sure to have enough bookshelves to fill one wall of a room, or one side of a wide hallway.   THEN when filling it with your collection...DON”T just stack them vertically in all boxes or shelves… break it up with books, some of your favourite objects or smaller art pieces and stack the books both vertically and horizontally.  Also, for a few of your favourite books, place them on book-stands on your shelves… its stunning as well as a great conversation starter.  The end result is something visually breathtaking as well as amazingly utilitarian (You’ll get lots of storage in only 10 to 13″ of floor space).

3. Use “found” space – Think outside the box… what about that space over the doorway into a room?  (or better yet, why not ALL the way around a room, 12″ below your ceiling or crown moulding) The shelf can run along one wall or even all the way around a room or simply over the doorway, the options are endless.  However, be sure to use thicker shelving, heavy weight drywall plugs and if you are not “handy” call a local carpenter to install them (the last thing we need is someone wearing your book collection).  The end result is sexy, fresh and especially well suited for modern spaces, condos or loft style livi

 4. Capitalizing on “Dead” wall space for custom Built In Shelving – We all have those small, difficult walls where nothing really works, or windows with space beneath or near them that isn’t fully capitalized upon… why not opt to create a small yet superbly functional built-in that incorporates both seating (such as a window seat or banquette) as well as Book storage, shelving and display.  A banquette looks so much bolder and sexier when the space underneath the seat is used for bookshelves.

 5. Consider going DEEP… Really Deep (instead of 1 row of books deep, what about 2 rows of books for those of us who need serious storage) –  Instead of the standard shallower 10 to 12″ bookshelf depth, if you have the space, try Many deep shelves of about 16″ can hold 2 rows of books. Place one stack against the back wall of the cabinet, and another row along the front edge of the shelf.   Remember to use the front row for the taller books so the ones behind are hidden.

6. Get  NOOKY with it – Instead of the usual flat surface or wall of books…why not create a nook area by a window or  fireplace by constructing your shelves to leave a recessed blank area with the shelving flanking the space to create a nook that would be the perfect spot for a desk, love-seat, or a pair of sumptuous chairs.  The end result is something that creates a deeper and more unique Design as well as creating a spot to nestle up with a good book or for brilliant conversation.

After you have planned out your space and figured out the best configuration for you shelving… try a few of these tips as well on arranging, displaying, and storing books.

Make a Book Side Table – Stack a set of very large books on the floor next to a chair, then top with a small piece of glass to use as an end table. Place the books in a column starting with the largest and thickest book on the bottom of the pile and work your way up to the top accordingly.

Keep cookbooks together in the kitchen – You won’t ever make that Martha meal unless the book is readily handy… make a shelf or unit in your kitchen and actually USE them.  Try getting a counter top book holder with protective screen so you can keep it by your range or sink as you cook.  Remember the power of your book display can work beautifully in any room, especially the Kitchen.  Why not use the space above the kitchen cabinets (if yours don’t go to the ceiling) and build in a custom bookshelf with ladder. 

DON”T just have your Dining Room be a Dining Room… make it work overtime and also be a LIBRARY when not being used for sit down dinners.  You will find you will use the space SO MUCH MORE and enjoy being in the space more as well.  The walls of books in a dining room invites you and your guests to linger in the space, to enjoy it and it stimulates conversation.  You can opt to do built-in cabinets, purchase cabinets like the Billy series from IKEA (but take the backs of them to get rid of that collegiate look) OR simply find a stunning old Armoire or large cabinet and FILL it to the brim with books and objects (use the top of it as well).  Then add books to the other surfaces in the room and use them to prop up your accessory objects or Art work. 

Try thinking outside the box and take a stroll through your home and look at every space…nook and cranny.  Try thinking about how you can fit your own home library into your Design…What about:

Above a door

In a stairwell

In a freestanding stack-style bookshelf

On a low bookcase, underneath some BIG art

On an entryway tabletop

On shelves in the niche formed by a fireplace

In a custom built “Book” Doorway

Behind a sofa in an oversized console library

In bookcases that wrap a “room” in a loft


 Once you make the decision to actively incorporate books into the planned Interior Design of your home you will find it adds a richness, conceptual depth and warmth and visual thrill your home never had before. 

  1. Mary BethMary Beth09-28-2011

    I have ALWAYS wanted a secret passage hidden by a door of books! We have books everywhere, in every room of our house. Unfortunately, they are not as nicely displayed as your pictures. However, until April, I had them pretty well organized. Then we stole several of the bookcases to use in the store as display and now we have artistic piles of books 6 feet high:}

  2. Toni JonesToni Jones10-19-2011

    Great Article! THanks.

  3. stevesteve11-14-2011

    Robin I like your style real good.

    Case-in-point: I was inspired by a photo similar to the cubes in your leading photo and built bookcases into my dining room wall and if I do say so myself they are spec-tacular. There is nothing better than a wall of books.

    Case 2: any time a multi-thousand dollar trimmed-out wall is painted a blue like that (in the “book doorway” photo) is a time to celebrate the triumph of beauty over stuffiness.

    Thank you for the inspiration.