For years I’ve been dreaming about colour coding my bookshelves. Moving house recently was the excuse I needed to make it a reality – as well as buying some nice new furniture to accommodate everything!
There are plenty of examples of striking shelves on Pinterest, but it was on holiday in Iceland that I was inspired by the beautifully co-ordinated bookshelves in The Laundromat Café in Reykjavik. A funky little diner known for its brunch and burgers, the café has really fun décor, but the highlight is the wrap around bookshelf that winds around the central counter, with the books organised by colour. It makes a really vibrant focal point.
If you’ve ever considered colour coding your shelves, it does give the room a bright, bold look and it also works as a talking point for guests.
It’s an easy project, but there are a few things to consider before you get started.
How organised are you?
Colour coding is a form of organisation, but it isn’t really compatible with other methods as it focuses more on aesthetics. If you usually organise your books alphabetically or by genre, hell even the Dewey decimal system, then this probably isn’t for you.
You also need to consider that you will probably end up with books by the same author or from the same series placed randomly on different shelves, especially if you’ve amassed them over time and the cover designs have changed.
I never had my shelves properly organised in our old house, so it doesn’t bother me that things aren’t always shelved in a logical way.
What about the rest of the room?
Setting up my library was an excuse for me to buy some new bookshelves. I’ve always wanted to have them built in, but it is an expensive option, and modern houses don’t always lend themselves to it.
Instead I replaced my old Ikea oak veneer Billy bookshelves with some sleek white Hemnes shelves, also from Ikea. Although we have other oak furniture in the room, I went with white because I thought it would create a more striking look against the coloured books. As most of our living room walls are white, it also gives the room a more spacious look.
When I was researching my shelving options, I came across some useful tutorials online. Before we looked at the Hemnes shelves, which are a bit more expensive, although still flatpacked, I had planned to buy the basic white Billy shelves and follow this method to make them look more expensive and built in. But after trawling round the store, I decided the Hemnes shelves were nice enough on their own that we didn’t need to bother with the extra DIY.
Organise your books before your shelves
This was easy for me: I simply unpacked my boxes of books one by one and created a separate pile for each colour. When a pile got too big, I put those books back into an empty box.
This allowed me to assess how many books I had for each colour, before figuring out how they should sit on the shelves.
Black and white will dominate
I have far more books with either black or white spines than any other colour. This means that I have several shelves for each, whereas some other colours don’t even manage a full shelf.
Who knew I would only have half a dozen purple books?
Think about how you want the colours to line up
If you have a look on Pinterest, the colour coded bookshelves fall into two main categories: those that organise horizontally, and those that organise vertically. So you might have all white books at the top, before moving down to yellow, red, green, blue, black etc.
I chose to balance mine out a little more, by starting with a white shelf in the top left corner, then spreading both out and down, but not right the away across the bookcase. The books with black covers begin in the bottom right corner. That way I have some flashes of colour – not just black and white – on each section.
Don’t worry about being too neat
If you’re organising by colour it can be easy to get obsessive. Instead of just green or orange books, you’re trying to arrange by shade. Is the spine on that book a blue, or is it more a purple? Where should I put it?
You’ll also come across a lot of books that have covers featuring several different colours. You just need to decide where it looks best.
Having a bit of variety actually works well and it will make the shelves easier to manage in future. The same applies to the height of the books. I tried to keep the biggest books at the edges of each shelf, but otherwise they’re not stacked too neatly.
Don’t pack your books too tightly
Consider this: whenever you buy a new book in the future, you’ll need to put it in the right place. If you fill up your shelves now, you’re going to have to spend time moving entire shelves of books around just to fit in one new novel.
But if you leave some room on each shelf, just enough to fit a few extras, you can just slide that new purchase in without the hassle of a full rearrange.
I’m really happy with the way my bookshelves turned out; they make a beautiful feature for our living room.