Home & Design

Green Acre #185: Shelving Ideas . . . to Shelve

I OPENED my office door this morning and . . . WHOOSH! . . . a billow of orange and jasmine perfume smacked my nose, wafting in from the open door to my little greenhouse, a step away from my desk. It is a most delightful, if distracting, way to work. Though it normally keeps me focused on what I’m supposed to be producing—a garden column, of sorts.

Today it will definitely be a column of sorts because I have just completed the gardening portion (see above). 

This morning’s email brought a batch of stories from Domino, the web version of the cult lifestyle magazine, including a treatise on shelves and what to do with them. Is this an issue? You put books on the bookshelves, dishes on the dish shelves, what-nots on the what-not shelves. And so forth. 

My books are organized in sections: fiction, mystery, biography, cookbooks, art, gardening, etc., etc. And within sections by author. With a few thousand books weighing down our three-story house, this seems logical. If I’m looking for Vonnegut, which I seem to be more and more, I look under V in the fiction section, and if the book is not under the bed it will be there. 

This is apparently not cool, or not cool enough for Domino. There is no art to my bookshelves—though I do mix in the occasional photo or beloved tchotchke. For shame. But Domino will rescue me. The text is brief, the photos large, as befits bookshelves that are not meant for readers. 

From Domino, posted February 22, 2020:

From Domino. Photo courtesy of Bespoke Only.

Pick a Color Palette and Stick to It 

“Before you even think about curating your odds and ends, select a few complementary hues you want to feature. Not only will this make for a seamless shopping experience, but the resulting collection will look cohesive.” 

To illustrate the concept, there’s a sleek walnut bookcase topped with art and artsy stuff in various shades of wood. To get around the pesky issue of book jackets—I never realized how disruptive all those colors can be—the books are lined up here spine-in, so only the white paper edges show. Only five books are shown spine-out, four in tasteful shades of earth and, in a show of witty rebellion, perhaps, one is pale blue. This makes finding a book an adventure. I don’t know why bookstores have never discovered this.   


From Domino. Photo by Cody Guilfoyle.

Color-Code Your Books

“Simply reorganize your tomes by color, and you have a bookcase that doubles as an art installation.” 

I have seen and hated this idea before. Shelve all your white-jacketed books together, all the black ones together, and all the red ones together. How does one find anything? This artful nook is accented by what appears to be an uncomfortable-looking midcentury-modern bucket chair with brass or copper legs and channel-quilted peacock blue shantung upholstery. You wouldn’t want to sit there and read anyway. So. So.   


From Domino. Photo courtesy of Studio McGee.

Add Depth With a Strategically Placed Coat of Paint

“ . . . paint the back wall of your unit black to make the shelves look especially deep. Stick to just a few white accessories to further highlight the contrast.”

Bottom line? Only black and white book jackets need apply.


From Domino. Photo Courtesy of Bespoke Only.

Cluster Similar Objects

“ . . . each ledge seems to have its own theme. One sill is devoted entirely to glazed canisters, while another is exclusively home to coffee-table books.” 

A story similar to picking the palette, but here only white books and books covered in what looks like brown paper bag wrapping are permitted on the skeletal metal bookshelves with their industrial vibe. Surrounded by neutral tones, of course: White walls and, for that trendy old/new mix, what appears to be a walnut library table of some vintage under a pressed-tin ceiling. Terribly chic.  

Clearly, we’re not supposed to be reading our books, they have devolved into purely decorative items. 

My sister Jean used to have three books on display. Two covered in red paper, one in yellow. I believe one was a typing manual from 1955 and the others were Reader’s Digest editions. It lent an air of erudition to the desk, and was very easy to dust, her primary complaint about hoarding books. 

Have you noticed all those libraries on British TV, with their floor-to-ceiling books? Who dusts them, I wonder. That’s an aside. Maybe they don’t have dust in England. This is possible. It is a rainy climate—does rain eat dust? Or maybe it damps it down into a firm, unnoticeable crust. That was also an aside. I could keep thinking this way but won’t.


From Domino. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Roberts Architects.

Mix In Greenery

“Not all plants like direct sunlight . . . intersperse your favorite shade-loving botanicals with your standard shelving fare.”

Said standard shelving fare does not include books. A whole wall of white shelving in a white room with neutral-colored this and that interspersed with a few plants. 


From Domino. Photo by Jessica Antola.

Go Monochrome

“Sticking to a single hue is the simplest way to make your storage appear intentional.”

The difference between going monochrome, picking a color palette, color-coding and clustering similar objects is so subtle it entirely escapes me. Here’s a free-standing metal bookshelf that has only red-, white- and black-jacketed books; red, white and black art and objects, and white walls—but truly enviable plasterwork.

The design doyennes at Domino really, really like this idea. 

Also featured is a book-free (white) kitchen, with open wood shelving, at which I chortle, imagining the aggregation of grease on the white dishes.  


In truth, I don’t know why I still hoard books, and compulsively add more. I’m spending less time reading actual volumes with paper and ink and spines and jackets and more time on the Kindle, a device I once scoffed at. Scoff. Scoff. And one might also toss in a sneer. Sneer. Never, I think I distinctly recall myself saying. And then . . . 

A Kindle, you know, weighs pretty much nothing. You can hold it in one (arthritic) hand for hours and, with a little practice,  flick pages with a single finger. If you forget who a character is at a climactic moment in a murder mystery, stab his or her name with a finger and all references appear. The older I get, the worse I get at keeping track of characters. 

Also! I can read in the dark. I fall asleep reading the Paperwhite, it drops out of my hand, and shuts itself down in a minute or two

But the ultimate lure is the dictionary. All my life I’ve fantasized about installing a dictionary in my brain so I could look things up as I’m reading. Instead, I would tell myself to remember and look it up later, which never happened. With the Kindle, I can lie bundled under my quilts and, when I hit an odd word or even a phrase, I can poke it with a finger and the Oxford Dictionary or Wikipedia pops up with a definition or explanation. If that’s not luxury, I don’t know what is. 

Come to think of it, blue book jackets do not look good in the living room. Should I turn them spine-in?

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” does indeed garden when she’s not reading or taking exception to the home-decorating  suggestions of others.


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6 thoughts on “Green Acre #185: Shelving Ideas . . . to Shelve

  1. Bonnie Mitchell says:

    Never thought of reversing spines – silly thought – do they look better that way!?? And as for kindles, I agree that they have the best features but nothing is more satisfying to me than the crackling sound a library book makes. Of course I don’t shelve them. Great & fun to read piece as always!

    1. Nancy McKeon says:

      Poking my nose in here: Books with the spines turned in don’t look “better,” they just look neutral, don’t detract from your room’s color palate (your room does have a color palate, does it not? ha!). As for Kindles (or the Kindle app for my iPad Mini), i try for the best of both worlds: books downloaded from the library! And I do love the ability to tote several books around with me without any extra weight or bulk. But that’s for fiction or books filled with information; for a wallow in the visual, nothing can beat a nice, lovely BOOK!

  2. Bonnie Mitchell says:

    Turning book spines around! I don’t read those books on my shelf anyway so why not? However to appear erudite it’s nice to have some educated choices showing… as if
    Loved your kindle notes – much as I don’t want to move away from books – esp the crackle of covered library editions – I do love the perks a kindle provides. Great reading as always!!

  3. JEAN B. GORDON says:


  4. Maggie Hall says:

    Love it’s a magazine called Domino that’s pushing this laughable nonsense
    (which the author of this piece has mocked beautifully)…as we all know the domino effect ends up collapsing everything in it’s path…..

  5. Great piece. I’ve never understood the appeal of turning book spines around, just for the look. Crazy.

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