Design Tip of the Week: Bookshelves Tell Your Story

Irvington designer Renae Cohen shares 10 tips for making your reading material be the star of any room.

Recently, I moved into new offices with spectacular floor-to-ceiling windows highlighting the Hudson River and New York City skyline. When designing the interior, I knew that bookshelves would play a large part of the design scheme due to the fabulous ceiling height. To maximize my picture-perfect view and space, I first created a private office with glass walls so that not only could I enjoy the breathtaking views, but my visitors could as well.

To personalize my space, I created an entire wall of bookshelves to showcase cherished personal items and collections, from pieces of art and sculpture to magnifying glasses and hidden office supplies. Each and every day I walk in, I value the dimension they add.

I like to think that bookshelves, whether in an office or home environment, tell a story of who we are. They let our clients or guests get a small glimpse into our lives, what we care about, where we have been, and who we love.

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So when arranging your bookshelves, here are some tips:


1. Start with a blank slate. If they are existing shelves, take everything out and start fresh.

2. Arrange books in both a vertical and horizontal plain to create more interest, using them horizontally as bookends.

3. Display items (e.g. vases, sculpture, boxes, or anything with varied shapes and color) on the top of the horizontal books for added dimension. 

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4. Collections should be grouped together for maximum effect.

5. Place photographs randomly throughout the shelves, as they tend to draw people’s curiosity, and visitors will enjoy everything on those shelves as they scan from pic to pic.

6. Use a mixture of frames on your photographs. I like to use a lot of silver, but also mix in wood and leather textures and interesting lacquered frames in a variety of sizes.

7. Highlight a small painting or interesting mirror. It serves as a bit of a surprise and can be leaned against the back of the bookshelf.

8. A bookshelf with some closed cabinets allow us to hide functional items we can organize and arrange for easy access and use.

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9. Add a dash of color on the back of the bookshelves with lacquered paint or a textured wallpaper. Both are always a great eye catcher.

10. As you arrange your shelves, take your time. Step back and look for balance, a variety of color, and different shapes on each shelf. And don’t forget to rearrange and freshen from time to time!

Most of all, have fun with your bookshelf. Make it personal, be creative, tell your story, and invite your guests to engage in your story of life.

Renae Cohen is a local designer in Irvington. You can contact her or see more of her work here.

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