Storage Tips

A $0 Simple and Impressive Design Trick for Any Room

January  4, 2018
Photo by Posie Harwood

I'm not an interior designer. I don't have an eye for pulling together the perfect curtain and rug combination, or mixing prints on sofa pillows. But I appreciate good design, and I could (and often do) lose myself poring over design magazines and Instagram accounts of beautifully put-together lofts and apartments and homes.

Photo by Posie Harwood

Not only is it challenging to execute great interior design without an innate sense of style, it can also be expensive. It's easy to feel like you'd have to invest in lots of new furniture or art or textiles in order to change up how your home looks. As a recent first-time homeowner, this is particularly relevant. We have a new, empty house to design and I've struggled with how to achieve maximum impact with minimal investment (both time and money).

Photo by Posie Harwood

Happily, I've picked up one excellent interior design trick that I'll be using for the rest of my life. It's the most commented-on aspect of our apartment in New York, and I've used the same method in our new home to similar effect (although as you can see, the bookshelves at our house are very much a work in progress and still quite bare!). Both of our spaces are similar in style: white, clean lines, modern. But it'll work in any space and with any sort of style or personality that your house or apartment has.

Photo by Posie Harwood

Best of all, it's incredibly easy and uses what you already have: books! All I do is rearrange all of my books by color. That's it. Your bookshelves will have the most impact if you keep them pretty streamlined, so I suggest doing away with as many little tchotchkes and decorative objects as possible. As you can see, I have a few (candles mostly), so it won't necessarily detract from the overall look, but it's smart to try and group those things together with other like items.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I had many books in floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, piled on bedside tables and kitchen shelves. Now I have one bookshelf of my favorites and ones I'll read soon (novels, non-fiction, and cookbooks) and usually find book club books at the library. I often pass books I enjoyed along and love the lack of clutter! (I love reading and even when I had tons of books I could find any book easily.) ”

You might be thinking that you don't have enough books of each color. Here's a tip: Try removing the jackets from your books (I always save mine so I can switch the color theme later). Often the actual book cover is a different color from the book jacket.

Photo by Posie Harwood

Your color organization can be loose; try and keep similar hues together but don't stress about making it perfect. When you step back, the look is striking even if it's more of a shaded ombré effect. Another smart technique is to switch up the direction of your books. Keep some stacked on their sides, and others vertically arranged. This helps to break up the shelves visually and makes the arrangement by color even more prominent.

And there you have it! The perfect project to revamp your home for the new year.

Do you have a favorite way of organizing your bookshelves? Share your tips with us here.

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[email protected] June 27, 2020
Great idea, Posie! I just rearranged my books this way and love it! A few years ago I moved from a big house with tons of storage in MD to a summer cottage with 1 closet in California, using Marie Kondo's book as my downsizing bible. I had many books in floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, piled on bedside tables and kitchen shelves. Now I have one bookshelf of my favorites and ones I'll read soon (novels, non-fiction, and cookbooks) and usually find book club books at the library. I often pass books I enjoyed along and love the lack of clutter! (I love reading and even when I had tons of books I could find any book easily.)
Camille W. January 21, 2020
I have a very large collection and tried this method a couple of years ago. I LOVE IT! I consistently get compliments on my decor now - been told that it looks like a magazine. I keep subjects together and then do them by color. So I have multiple sections of black, red, etc, Those sections are arranged to be pleasing to the eye! I have Ikea shelves with the square cubes so they make nice defined spaces for arranging color themes. I have loved this one simple change more than any decorating tip I have tried. Give it a shot and see if you don't love it too!
Anne J. January 18, 2020
With respect, one of the looniest methods of storing books that I have ever seen unless they are purely decorative objects in which case, have at it. Years ago in France all paperbacks were yellow which was hideous but again the French. Personally I do not even care for the look. I own thousands of books, most of which have been read at least twice, they are like a millstone around my neck. I have them stored in boxes in my garage, gasp of horror. The only books which are in my house are reference books and dictionaries at this point, and a couple or more of hardback novels I have been given. I include cookery books in the reference genre, also sewing and knitting books. For the first time in my life I have empty shelves in my built-in in the den and I rejoice. I actually have a bar there which is an excellent substitute for books. I have many Neurological reference books as well for the day I might look at one for a consult. They live in my drawing room, on very low shelves barely visible.
Best arrangement I have ever had, much less dusting and dust formation from paper degradation.
I now use electronic readers unless the books are what are known as coffee table books, and I have a few of those, ironically on interior decoration.
I thought I could never live without all my books, I can easily. More empty space on shelves and more truly meaningful objects seem to be my interest now, and as I have admitted, many bottles of alcohol and some really lovely Scottish crystal tumblers from which only guests drink.
So bottom line, a nay for the color coding of books on shelves for me.
rainbow G. January 17, 2020
I did thos to my cookbooks, and it works great! For some reason, my dessert-type books are brown, my favorite bread books are orange to gold, my vegetarian books are green, grilling are black... Etc. So it categorizes them and looks great!

(My reading books are distributed randomly throughout the house in absolutely no order because that is how my husband prefers it and I just didn't want to argue that one.)
Eva C. August 2, 2019
An interesting mix of responses to color sorting. I agree with Amandainmd, if it works for you ~ go for it!
Rather than the colors, I was more intrigued by the objects used as bookends. M's thought of displaying the front cover or using objects related in some way to the book is thought-provoking.
Peter S. March 29, 2019
I immediately thought of taking a photo with my cell phone and using an enlarged view to search titles for finding a book that I want. I also like the suggestion of laying ones I haven’t read or putting the unread ones in front of the upright ones. It would work for me. Thanks for sharing.
[email protected] March 29, 2019
What shelving system is that, where did you get it?
Posie (. March 29, 2019
IKEA! The Vittsjo.
Lexi R. March 29, 2019
Nice to look at but makes finding books almost impossible! This only works if books are for decoration rather than actual reading....
Posie (. March 29, 2019
So interesting reading these comments! I’ve never had trouble finding a book—but see, I now recognize them by color. And also, it encourages me to slowly peruse them which I like to do as well.
btglenn March 29, 2019
I guess you don't have a very large library, because, as you say, you recognize them by color rather than by title, author, or category.
Melissa March 29, 2019
Nope. I, also, arrange my books alphabetically by author within genre. If you’re wanting to read a certain genre (mystery, biography) but have no particular book in mind, how would you browse the genre? Perhaps this idea works for some, but all it would do for me is create frustration.
Marianne H. March 29, 2019
When I first saw books arranged by color I thought how dumb. On a whim I arranged my books by color, looks great. Books that I read are vertical, books waiting to be read horizontal.
breff M. October 15, 2018
I, too, have worked in a library. Maybe colors work for those who don't actually have many books or read much, but books for me are not design but life and passion. That means organizing by genre and then by author's last name! Now, if you organize your clothes by color, I'm with you.
Barb June 8, 2018
No, no and no. I have hundreds of books, and they are arranged by genre and alphabetically by author not title.
M January 4, 2018
Kindly - this is, literally, the only way I've seen pictures of books organized on shelves for many years. Google book shelves, and that's all you see. It's cute for visuals, impractical for access unless you have small libraries or have lots of time to hunt for what you need.

What strikes me from these photos, however, is the potential to be different. This isn't a stuffed-shelves, overflowing library design, where all you can do is have fun with the colour of the spines. The space still left, and the smattering of non-book objects like candles and pans, leave a lot of fun options.

Show the front of the floral editions of Little Women or Heidi and add a potted flower. We always see coloured spines, but not beautiful covers. Instead of putting different salad books on many different shelves, group them with a stack of bowls. Put baking books near loaf pans, the cup and saucer with drink or baking books. You could even play on themes -- Rich People Problems with something frugal.

Hana A. January 4, 2018
This post appeals to me on so many levels! Mind sharing the bookshelf source when you can, Posie? Thanks in advance!
Posie (. January 4, 2018
Of course! The white bookshelf in the 3rd photo is from IKEA--the VITTSJÖ model.
dtremit January 4, 2018
"Books are awfully decorative, don't you think?" -- Gloria Upson
Mackenzie S. January 4, 2018
Seems like a good way to not be able to find the book you're looking for. I organize my books by subject, while my boyfriend organizes them by the author's last name. Unless you have a photographic memory or don't use your books that often, this idea is impractical.
Posie (. January 4, 2018
Hm, I've never had an issue with that! (Then again, before I organized them by color, they weren't organized by any method at all and somehow I survived, ha!) I can scan the spines really easily for titles as you can see in the photo--plus, I sort of love having to spend time looking over the books! It always ends up with me pulling down one I haven't read in awhile.
amandainmd January 4, 2018
As a librarian, I was thinking the same thing. However, so many people remember books by their color (ask any librarian the last time they were asked for a book without a title but just the memory that "it's green.") In the end, if it works for you, then the system works.
Claudia T. January 22, 2019
My bff is a manager of a Barnes and Noble & she says she used to hate on the idea of organizing your books by color until she was thinking of a cookbook and she too could only remember the cover's colors. She was thinking, "I know it's got a blue band with white font, and the two guys on the cover" and not specifically the author's names- she has too many cookbooks to remember every author's name by heart. She also has so many books that she could sort by genre and then by color within that!
I very much want my books by genre, because when I'm reaching for a book I think first of what I want to read. However, if I'm looking for an old book I've read before, I probably could find it by color.
What I can't stand is - I've seen it on a few design websites- displaying your books spine-side in, so the pages face out. Yeah, it makes it all one beige-y textured look, but it also makes you look like the kind of person who has books as props, and doesn't read.
Hudsonpax January 17, 2020
As a librarian, this method makes me kind of sad. If you read books & want to locate a book most likely will have it shelved by subject &/or author. Books DO make wonderful design statements but reading them makes one even more interesting.
Posie (. January 18, 2020
So interesting to see different perspectives! For me, growing up our bookshelves at home were always just haphazardly stacked and there’s nothing I liked better as a young reader than standing in front of shelves and just looking...having to scan through them all is my favorite way to decide what to pick up and read, rather than walking to the shelf and knowing exactly what I am looking to pick out. Now, as an adult, I like the same experience but also like allowing the books to double as art!
Anne J. January 18, 2020
This is not art, as it is usually known. It might be interior decoration but not art. It is books stacked by color not genre or author. Let us be clear.