Fun ways to decorate with books

Books really do furnish a room. The less necessary they become as useful objects, the more important they become as decorative objects. We no longer need that dog-eared paperback from college to look up a quote from Hegel, and yet books are physical manifestations of our histories, our interests, and our passions. They are also beautiful creations of design and typography that evoke their era. There are plenty of anachronistic things that are essential for a comfortable home: we certainly don’t need candlelight or blazing fires or antique mirrors but we love them for how they make us feel. Our books allow us to be surrounded by things we love and admire, and allow others to share in our interests without our even having to mention them.

Books make a room feel like a room. They are reassuring not just climbing up walls; rare is the horizontal surface that doesn’t seem a little better off with a stack upon it. You can even pile books on the floor. There are many schools of thought on how to organize one’s books—by color, size, subject, or author. To me, treating them just as color blocks takes the bookiness out of them, but to each his own. Regardless, shelves full of books definitely need to be broken up a bit with a few objects, pictures, and maybe some horizontal stacks.

Creating Diversity in Dense Walls of Books

Create cohesion with these recommended “smalls” by repeating certain colors, forms, or materials.

• Mix in some horizontal stacks of books among the vertical rows.
• Top a low pile of books with a small object—a vase or a little bowl.
• Intersperse objects, like candles, bowls, boxes, or sculptures, among the books.
• Interrupt rows of books with framed pictures.
• Hang framed pictures on the shelf fronts.
• Put a table (long and narrow or a demilune) in front of floor-to-ceiling shelves (topped with more books and a lamp) to break up the two-dimensionality.
• Set one or a pair of chairs in front of the shelves (holding, you guessed it, more books).
• Clip lights onto the shelves or add library lights at the top.
• Leave a shelf empty of books and put a bold object in it.
• Top the bookshelf with a collection of urns or baskets.

Excerpted from The Perfectly Imperfect Home: How to Decorate and Live Well by Deborah Needleman. Illustrations by Virginia Johnson © 2011 Deborah Needleman. Excerpted by permission of Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. All rights reserved.