How to Build and Style a Book Wall (or Keel Over Trying)

Being an unabashed book geek, I’ve acquired more than a few (dozen) bookshelves worth of reading material. Each time the hubs and I move (which is frequently), one of our first concerns is “where are we going to put the books?”.
Sometimes we are lucky and the house has a logical or even build-in book storage area. Other times, we’ve had to create our own.

In the current house, I’d picked out a particular wall for the books long before we moved in. The only thing to do was to fit enough shelves to house all the volumes.

We started out with three basic bookshelves, but these were quickly joined by two more when we realized just how many books we really do have — for the record, in the region of 1500, not including all the kids’ books.

Once we’d unpacked all the books, the challenge was to organize them.

We started off with the idea of organizing by size in order to fit the most number of books into the space, and then alphabetical by author. The result was ok, but did seem like a hodgepodge of shapes and colours.

As is increasingly typical in these situations, I consulted Pinterest for inspiration …

… which was a terrible idea. It’s akin to consulting Google for a minor ailment: a thousand possibilities and each of them problematic.

The first image I clicked on when I looked up ” dream library” was this one.
It’s pretty much my idea of heaven. Except there are no dogs and no coffee machine.
But who wouldn’t want to scoot around on that ladder!
Sadly though, we don’t own a house with a two-storey library space.
Ah well, a girl can dream, right?

Scaling the search parameters down somewhat, my next search was for “how to style a bookshelf” and I was rewarded with this little slice of inspiration:

It’s a wonderful balance of books, photos and curios. I like the contrast of the darker background against the white shelves and I particularly love the basket for magazines as I’m always stuck for places to put older editions that I know I’ll want to look at again but don’t necessarily want on display.
The only problem? There are perhaps 50 books here. What would we do with our other 1450?

Back to the search bar.

With this next image, I felt that we were getting closer to the mark. There’s a lot of room for books with some fun items mixed in. The simple white frame highlights the different sizes and textures of the books. But knowing our propensity for descending into clutter at the first opportunity, I could imagine that this would quickly devolve into randomness, with a few bits of lego mixed in for good measure.

This library wall was the first one I saw that I genuinely thought “I could do that!”. There are a fair number of books plus a few nooks and crannies for interesting objects. Despite all the storage, it still feels clean and bright. How did they do that? I wondered. If you look closely, a lot of the books are stored horizontally so that the pages rather than the spines show. It’s a clever way to reduce the visual noise from differently coloured books. I tried this out on a few shelves. The problem, as I soon discovered, becomes finding a particular book you’re looking for when all you can see are pages and no titles.

What about, I thought, instead of trying to erase the colour, we embraced it? Though it’s much maligned for serving form over function, the rainbow bookshelf trend does have some advantages: it adds a pop of colour, which in our mostly grey and white house is quite welcome; it turns the random collection of colours, shapes and sizes into an organizational scheme; and for people with small kids, getting them to re-shelve a book becomes a game rather than a chore — a big plus!

So off the shelves came all the books to be sorted into piles on the floor according to colour.

This was when we discovered that to any organizational scheme there are always outliers, the platypuses of the bookshelf. Just like in the picture, we have a few shelves-worth of oversize books that won’t fit into a pattern and a series of leather(ette) bound books that take up a lot of space and form a large brown smear in an otherwise colourful picture.

So we did what we always do: we went back to IKEA!

We picked up the half-glass/ half-solid door fronts for the frames and opted to showcase just the best parts of our book collection. The lower portion provides storage for all books we don’t necessarily want to display plus space for the kids’ games and crafts.

Doors closed – keeps things safe from small hands
Interior – lower (clutter) storage

Looking for more bookwall inspiration? Check out my Pinterest board here!










You may also like


  1. Ugh, we need to move already so I can set this up in the new house. Also, the idea of pages out makes my eye twitch. That would bother me 24/7, lol.

Leave a Reply