How to curate your bookshelves

From classics to coffee table tomes, books tell the story of your life as well as their own. So why not celebrate your collection and display it with style, says Damian Thompson

Whether you are an avid reader with a thirst for novels, a cookbook collector or a magazine junkie, chances are you have amassed a vast array of publications over the years. Storing them can be a challenge, especially when space at home is at a premium. The trick is to incorporate them into your interior style, either by concealing them or by bravely and boldly showing them off.

how to curate your bookshelves
These beautifully proportioned shelves in a 1960s bungalow area brilliant match for the Eames recliner from around the same era. The white space brings to the fore everything from books to pieces of art. For a similar shelving system, try finnishdesignshop.com

Here are a few hints and tips to get you on your way.

How to curate your bookshelves

TRY FREESTANDING SHELVES

While traditionally these are wooden, modern freestanding shelving systems are often made of metal, which has the advantage of being both strong and lightweight. This makes it ideal for smaller spaces where you don’t want the shelves to look too bulky.

Designers continue to come up with more and more outlandish concepts for the basic bookshelf. A forest of branching trees, a yellow tower that zigzags its way to the ceiling, or a cluster of floating ‘clouds’ that each holds a few books. In a minimal interior, a honeycomb of white hexagons, a scrolling sheet of metal or a rolling shelf made of pink polypropylene make quite a statement.

how to curate your bookshelves
Corridors, staircases and landings are the in-between zones in the home. Often overlooked, ingenious shelving and the creation of reading nooks can turn these dead spaces into places worth lingering in

PERFECT THE ART OF STACKING

An artfully positioned skyscraper of books in the corner of a room creates a powerful vertical accent among beds, low coffee tables and sofas. For stability they should be stacked in size order, starting with the largest book first. Ideally books should be regularly rotated into and out of this arrangement, so that bindings are not crushed over time.

Large books that rarely need to be consulted can form an eye-catching base for a glass table top or a coffee table – likewise serving as pedestals for speakers or telephones.

And don’t forget when creating your stack to keep tech equipment and Ming vases out of the topple radius. Pets and toddlers might want to be kept away too.

how to curate your bookshelves
In this room, the lively patterns of the rug and seating are anchored by the structured grid of the built-in wall unit.
In interiors with high ceilings, you will need to think about how to reach the upper shelves

GET CLEVER WITH BOOKENDS

By using bookends you can transform narrow surfaces, such as console tables, mantelpieces or reasonably wide windowsills. These simple devices work by a mixture of gravity and friction – the taller and heavier the bookend, and the rougher the contact between it and the underlying surface, the stronger the support. You can earn bonus style points for using other heavy objects such as paperweights, doorstops or even typewriters to serve as bookends – they make great conversation-starters, too.

MAXIMISE YOUR ALCOVES

People who live in a house that’s 19th century or older may well have a fireplace and a chimney breast in their living room. The alcoves formed on either side are effectively an open-fronted box and, therefore, an open invitation to build in some shelves for books. To help you decide on the thickness of the boards, bear in mind the weight of your books, and the fact that thin shelves may need extra support to avoid sagging.

Simple shelves supported left and right with wooden blocks screwed into the walls and painted the same colour to blend in area great option, or you could have floating shelves made, which will hide any fixtures and create a series of recesses that appear to grow organically from the wall.

It is good practice to leave around two-thirds of the wall space free, either above or below the shelves, so that all the volume offered by the alcoves is not lost.

how to curate your bookshelves
Placing books behind glass doors diverts the attention to the furniture around them. That’s no bad thing in a dining room. For a similar shelving unit, try neptune.com

SHOW OFF YOUR COVERS

What other techniques are there for showcasing the purely aesthetic qualities of your books? In some units it is possible to display them with the cover, not the spine facing outwards. This can also be done on regular shelves to break up an endless sea of spines; every dozen or so books just turn a handful to face the front.

Keep the most arresting jackets at the front– you’ll find that the books either side will support them. Just like in an art gallery, you can ‘rotate’ regularly those you display. Organising by colour offers a hit of pure pop-art pleasure and the rainbow effect offers a wonderful focal point.

how to curate your bookshelves
When space is limited, you need to layer your belongings and consider the shapes and patterns they form. Here, personal paraphernalia enhances a pleasingly arranged art library

READ MORE: How to create a gallery wall in your home

This is an edited extract from Books Make A Home by Damian Thompson, which will be published on 12 April by Ryland, Peters & Small, price £35*

*TO ORDER A COPY FOR £29.75 UNTIL 18 APRIL, GO TO MAILSHOP.CO.UK/BOOKS OR CALL 020 3176 2937. FREE UK DELIVERY ON ORDERS OVER £20. PHOTOGRAPHS: CHRISTOPHER DRAKE, DEBI TRELOR, CHRIS TUBBS, BEN ROBERTSON