Organize & Clean

In Defense of: Organizing Books by Color

published Apr 6, 2012
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

No, this post isn’t intended as an invitation for a full-on throwdown in the comments section (entirely). I’m just feeling feisty today, and decided that it might be fun to play the devil’s advocate on that most controversial of design decisions: organizing books by color.

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Whether you love it, hate it, or just love to hate it, if you’re a design fan then you’ve definitely noticed the trend toward color-coded bookshelves in recent years. What began as a styling trick for magazines and catalogues now pops up in homes the world over, and not without debate.

While I’ve been surprised and amused to see people get so passionate about the way others sort their home libraries, I think the idea is worth a closer look. Here are three reasons why you just might want to consider sorting your books by color (or at least ignoring it when others do so).

1. It can be practical.
Believe it or not, traditional organization methods like alphabetical by author, fiction/non-fiction or subject matter don’t work for everyone, all the time. Some people just don’t have a head for names or titles, and some books don’t fit neatly into a defined topic (a travel memoir which includes recipes, say).

For the visual thinkers out there, organizing their books by color might just be the easiest way to find what they’re looking for. You might not remember who wrote that great novel you read last summer, but the bright blue cover could easily stick in your mind.

2. Admit it: it looks good.
The whole point of this look is to make a visual impact with your books; to make art out of everyday items. A full bookshelf organized in a more traditional way can seem chaotic, particularly if you have a large or very colorful home library. Organizing books by color looks more streamlined, vibrant, and conscious.

I recently reorganized the bookshelves in my sister’s home, at the request of her partner who wanted to try the color method. In a room which serves as both a living and dining space, and is full of art and various textiles to boot, the effect was instantaneous. Pre-color-organized, the bookshelves were chaotic and fought with the art and TV on the same wall. Now, they look serene and orderly, and the room actually looks bigger.

3. Books are things, too.
The most common complaint about this organization method is that it looks like the people who use it don’t read their books, and view them merely as decor. I’ve even heard that it’s offensive because it “treats books like things”.

Well, news flash… books are things. Interesting, informative, wonderful things to be sure, but objects nonetheless. Surely we can appreciate their beauty while still enjoying their purpose; my forest green Dutch oven is among the most useful things in my kitchen, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love the way it looks sitting on the counter.

After all, organizing your library by topic or author is hardly proof that you’ve read the entire thing, is it?

Okay, let’s have at it. Are you convinced yet?