Monday, February 13, 2012

Look book: Colour-co-ordinated shelves

My dad used to work in the National Library and I'm sure he won't be too impressed when he sees how I have categorised the books in my living room. 

Not by author, genre or publishing house (as one of my friends has done!), but by colour. When Eoghan's parents enquired was there anything in particular we might like for Christmas, he joked: "Maybe some more grey books, we don't have many of those."

SHELF LIFE: A selection of our books sit on white Lack wall shelves from IKEA.

Forget the Dewey classification model preferred by libraries, displaying books by colour has a pleasing effect. I began with the shades of white, beige and yellow before orange turned to red. Purple gave way to blue and greens, then grey made its way to black. Luckily, my favourite author David Lodge's books come in every shade, helping to provide markers.

It is quite pedantic and took a good two hours, but I think the effect is quite striking (just don't expect me to locate a particular book in a hurry). When using floating wall shelves, it's probably best to stick to books of roughly the same height. The majority of our bulky books live upstairs in a Billy bookcase from IKEA and on our beside lockers, which meant I could pick and choose which ones would be placed on the Lack floating shelves, also from IKEA. 

Random point: I was surprised by how many books have a spine in a different colour to the rest of the cover! 

READER'S RECOMMENDATION: This photo of a Georgian flat in Bristol (spotted on the Living Etc forum) inspired me to try colour-coordinating. It provides a focal point in a room otherwise dominated by more neutral tones. Check out the apartment's stunning before and after! Image: kbspitfire on Flickr

Should you choose to colour-block (and be slagged by friends when they come to visit), here are my recommendations:

1. Kill the clutter
I had attempted colourr co-ordinating before on the shelves to either side of the fireplace, but they were too narrow (and cluttered with photo frames and other decorative objects) for it to be effective.

BEFORE: The colour blocking was lost among the clutter on these shelves, which I've since had removed during my before and after living room makeover.

2. Go wide if you can
Colour co-ordinating works best on wide shelving, particularly when the storage spans the length of a wall or where shelves are arranged in a grid-like pattern, as seen in the image below:

GREAT SNAKES:  Apartment Therapy shared this photograph of Eccentric Scholar's book collection. He explained: "I aligned my books in honor of the Rainbow Snake of Australian mythology. (Hence, the colors move in a zig-zag pattern, from top left to top right, then right to left, and so on)." Image: Eccentric Scholar on Flickr

3. Tall and narrow also turns heads
Graduating colour and height can also work very well, particularly on a narrow book case.

BEDTIME STORY: The graduated heights create interest in this arrangement and includes space for books of the same series on the bottom shelf. Love the little white rabbit too! Image: ashleyg on Flickr

4. Stack 'em high
Stacking books on top of each other according to colour fills out the gap normally left above books, allowing space for other items.

FILLER PIECE: Packing some sections with books allows for 'feature boxes' in this bookcase on a houseboat (the house tour is well worth checking out) on the Thames. Image via DesignSponge
TITLE WINNER: This image (via The Inspiration Blog) shows how to colour co-ordinate using limited shelf space space by stacking. I'd like to have a flick through some of these books, particularly the Helvetica: Homage to a Typeface by Lars Muller 

5. Don't be afraid of the dark
Although white shelves provide the perfect back-drop to colour co-ordinating, it is also very striking on wooden and black shelving.

LIBRARY'S FINE: The arrangement of books by colour has transformed these dark wooden shelves. More importantly, there's a gorgeous pug in this photograph! Image via The Inspiration Blog which is packed full of examples of colour-co-ordinated books!

6. No shelves? No worries
You can also get the look by simply piling books according to colour and never be accused of being messy ever again!

PAGE TURNER: Create your own mini skyscrapers with colour-coded books. I like how they graduate in height also.  Image via HomeShoppingSpy

7. Apply to other media
Colour-blocking can extend to other collections, such as films, records and other media.

CINEMA CLUB: DVDs are arranged by colour on the top shelves of this bookcase. Be warned though, most have either black or white spines, which doesn't make for great colour-blocking. Image via The Inspiration Blog
COVER STARS: A collection of comics and kids' books are put centre stage by displaying them face forwards. Image: Craft and Creativity on Flickr via LilSugar


  1. Love me some coloured booksheleves! Can't wait to move out and give this a go again.

  2. Lovely post! My sister (who, as a London-dweller is clearly cooler than I) calls this a 'Hoxton Rainbow', denoting that it is a cliche amongst trendy but sheep-like East London dwellers. Sod them I say, I like book rainbows.

  3. Hi BT! Had not heard of the 'Hoxton Rainbow' before! Trendy or not, I agree, they do look like book rainbows. Love your boards on Pinterest, especially 'The Cliché Room'.