Q: My apartment is in a great, old building, and it has some built-in bookcases in the dining room with a fireplace in the middle. How do I fill the bookcase nicely and also use them for storage? I own a lot of books but they're not all attractive.
A: Decorating with books is a wonderful way to add texture and a personal touch to your space, whether you're creating a statement by storing your own books or buying new books and adding art and other accessories. Even just a handful of carefully considered books make a home feel more inviting and lived-in without adding clutter.
Too many books, however, can be clutter. I generally recommend leaving about half to one-third of the bookcase empty; it's too easy to cram it full of books or other objects you don't really need just because you have the space. But there are ways to maximize your storage space and have a beautiful bookcase.
First of all, are there books in your collection you're comfortable parting with? This might be a great time to do a mini-purge.
With the books you're keeping, you can think like a designer and/or a librarian. Arranging books according to subject matter might be very random in color, size and shape, but you'll easily be able to pull out the exact book you want. This could look chaotic and busy, but embrace it, and add artful objects; same-colored driftwood and wooden artifacts create a sense of continuity within the colorful patchwork.
If you're storing your books because you love them but don't use them often, your bookcase will look more calming if they are grouped more or less by color. Think about choosing your favorite color and displaying those books that are similar to that color. They don't need to match exactly — it's more interesting to have some visual variety in a collection, anyway. For unattractive books that you want to keep or that are completely the wrong color, turn them around with the spine in. Or pull those books out of the main bookcase and display them someplace else, perhaps in a bedroom or on the coffee table for a different effect.