Booking Style

Over the years, I’ve always enjoyed collecting beautiful antique books. My first acquisition was a 1937 edition of Margaret Mitchells‘, “Gone With the Wind,” although it’s first printing was in 1936, fiddle dee dee and la di da! I’ll think about that toMARrow. It is a prized possession. Books are meant for reading, but they also can be quite decorative and provide visual interest in your home.

Bookshelves, bookcases, mantels, hutches, side tables, coffee tables and tops of dressers and cabinets are all appropriate places for displaying wonderful books. Placement will, of course, always be determined by their size and shape.

When it comes to bookshelves, I have some simple sMARt tips for the perfect way to showcase your favorite reads, pictures, and brick-a-brack.

First and foremost, whether a bookshelf is inexpensive, a built-in or a high-end antique, the principles of design are the same. A bookcase should never be confused with a storage bin or junk drawer. Unfortunately, I’ve all to often seen bookcases crammed with more junk than books. And some unsightly junk at that!

When arranging books you have two choices: most often books are placed horizontally from end to end. This is okay if you’re going for a “library” look, but keep in mind that the books should not be crammed so close together that they cannot be pulled out easily or allowed to breathe. They should also be clustered together based on size. Each shelf should be dedicated to a specific size. Also, never segregate books based on color.

The second choice in to arrange the books vertically: by this, I mean laying the books flat on their backs atop one another, with the larger books on the bottom and the smaller ones ascending upwards. I love this look and proudly showcase a collection of rare books this way in my guest room.

The width of your shelf will determine how many stacks you can fit on one shelf. A 36″ long shelf, for example, can hold three stacks of books. In this case, the center stack should be slightly taller. The stacks on either side can be shorter but both outer stacks should be about the same height.

For larger books, it is certainly acceptable to create two stacks. Focusing these larger volumes on the lower shelves anchors the bookcase and creates a foundation for your design. This way you can rotate your coffee table books and have them easily available should you need them.

Most hardcover books come in paper jackets. In the course of daily use, these jackets often become torn and tattered. Many hardcover books have beautiful bindings. What a shame to cover them up in your shelves! I prefer to remove the paper jackets and feature the beauty of the book.

When I was deciding on the cover design of my book, “Life on Mars, A Four Season Garden,” it was extremely important to me that my book is as beautiful on the outside as it was on the inside. I chose a chocolate brown with silver lettering. It is stylish, masculine and sophisticated. I wanted people to have choices in their decision to display it with or without the cover.

Just like any good library, purging is required if you’re an avid reader unless you are creating a resourceful collection. I love to purchase books, enjoy them in my home and donate them years later. Friends, family or my local library can be the recipient of these books. While they are in my possession, I will properly care for them. Books are precious commodities and there’s nothing like the smell, look, and feel of a well-made book.


This design process can be intimidating to some people but can be extremely easy and rewarding if you keep some things in mind.

Overpower, overwhelm and overdesign are the most common mistakes made when stacking a bookshelf. A bookshelf should be perfectly balanced with layers, openness, and visual interest. When creating layers, pick an item that can sit atop a short stack of books. This creates a pop, breaking up the lines and showcasing the item.

When stacking books horizontally, balance them by stacking books vertically on either side of the horizontal stack. Larger books should be on the outer edges of both sides, descending to smaller books as they meet the horizontal books in the middle. Use the horizontal stack as a platform for a decorative item such as a trophy, a piece of coral or even a small family picture.

I encourage you to allow some books to lean either against each other or against the horizontal stack. This creates another area of visual interest by breaking up the monotony of too many vertically stacked books.

Large picture frames and other larger decorative items should bear the weight alone with no other competing decorative components, other than books. They should have their own real estate. You can place a thick book as a base for it, or lean a vertical collection of books to either side.

Always distribute the decorative items throughout the bookshelf for a cohesive overall look. Putting all of these items on one shelf looks like a display of collectibles in a store rather than an expression of your own unique style.

One last sMARt tip: A bookcase can be a great place to hide keepsakes. I love to use faux books because they simulate the look of a real book but can hold whatever little items you feel are necessary to tuck away out of sight. They come in various sizes and can often look like antique books.

A bookshelf should be a dynamic focal point in your home that speaks of your personal style and literary interests. Combine that with cherished possessions and you’ll be booking your own style before you know it.

And there you have it.