How to Zen Your Bookcase – A Quick Fix to Unclutter

A well-styled bookcase can make a room. A messy one can break it, not to mention drive you mad in the meanwhile. This no-brainer fix is effected with a mere flick of the wrist and little else, leaving your shelves in a state of veritable visual Zen until you get around actually to organizing and styling them. Or not.

Bookcase detail, spines up. Zoffany wallpaper.

The solution: Stand them on their sides, so the spines face up and the pages face out. This creates a neutral expanse of texture and pattern, while still allowing you to read the titles from above.

Since relocating from the old 69th Street digs to new, I’ve found the higgledy-piggledy book jackets to be a visual clutter in this particular bedroom bookcase, now against wallpapered walls. Against a former, solid backdrop, the conventionally (if not creatively, ahem) arranged bookcase was acceptable, providing a welcome spot of pattern.

Bookcase, spines out

But jostling against the shimmery pastels of flora and fauna, the colorful tomes clashed.

Short of re-covering them all in some lovely, neutral vellum and lovingly labeling them by hand – a lesser likelihood than say, pigs flying – what’s a girl to do?

It’s an odd assortment to begin with, seeing as how they are plucked from my so-called “library” and its organization that perhaps only the Almighty and I can know – a bibliophilic version of sausage (to continue with the porcine analogy). But these are the books I want by me when I sleep, and just before and after.

Bookcase, spines up, with the titles easily readable

But the important thing is the titles are readily visible from above. I have seen books arranged on shelves with the spines facing in, away from the peruser, but I’ve never quite understood it.

Bookcase detail, spines up, titles visible from above

Of course in cases of higher shelves you will need a stepping stool or ladder to gain the necessary perspective, but if you have higher shelves you need a lift anyway, correct? For a small etagere, however, none is necessary.

Bookcase, spines up. Wallpaper by Zoffany.

This is but a tiny sliver of advice for attaining bookshelf chic. For a full complement of counsel, see designer Scot Meacham Wood’s superb bookcase styling tips at House here. And you might also enjoy Scot Meacham Wood’s feature in HB a while ago here, written my moi; and the post on him here.)

It is amazing what clearing even one little spot of clutter can do. The whole room seems to breathe a little easier, and me too. Let me know if you try it – and send me a picture.



  1. I love this idea. So many books I can’t bear to part with. The vast majority have hideous jackets. A lot of publishers must have shopped price for graphic artists…Anyway, in the process of choosing lumber to repurpose as floating bookshelves. Was anxious about how the tutti fruity jackets would look on my new sleek’nsexy shelves. Voila, problem solved. Thanks Frances. Sending many XOs
    FYI lots of zen potential here…

  2. Frances, I love this idea! They are all neutral without covering them all in white.
    I would never have the patience for that job. Thanks for the suggestion. I am clicking over to the bookcase suggestions now. Still unpacking here in N.C.!
    xo, Lissy

  3. What a great short-term solution!
    I remove the jackets before shelving our books. The spines of the books are not as “busy” as the jackets and more pleasing visually. I keep the unfolded jackets in a stack, which requires very little storage space, in case the books are eventually given to friends or donated. Books without jackets seem more personal to me and don’t have that book store or public library feel. Just my quirk…
    Your blog is the best. Thank you.

    1. Brilliant, Beth! I think your idea is better than mine, and I believe my mother used to do the same. Then somewhere I came upon the understanding that a book was more “valuable” with its cover if one were ever to re-sell it. It never occurred to me to save the jackets somewhere else. Hmmm. Thank you thank you!

  4. I loved your idea…until I read Beth’s! Fabulous idea. I always preferred the book binding to its covers too. Will now click over for more inspiration. I totally agree, a little organizing and de cluttering does breathe more fresh air into an room. Enjoy your day!

  5. I agree with taking the covers off and saving them. I view books as friends with spines and I’m afraid leaving books the way you have in your bookcase might not be the kindest way to treat a friend.

    1. Hmm, well thank you homebeforedark. I hadn’t thought that storing books this way might damage the spines but it makes sense. I wouldn’t want to hurt a friend either! Thank you so much for writing and for setting me “upright!”

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