This Is the Best Book Display Idea for Anyone Messy, Maximalist, or Just Plain Running Out of Shelf Space

published Feb 25, 2023
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Credit: Erin Derby

If you’re anything like me, you can’t pass up a trip to a secondhand bookstore or help yourself when you see discounted coffee table books. I want to be a space-savvy Kindle or iBook person, but the act of page turning still brings me joy, and some books — like design and art ones, for example — really are better in hard copy. But all those books can, well, pile up, and your square footage probably isn’t going to increase alongside your growing collection to accommodate it. 

Sure, you can give away or donate what you no longer need, but if you do that and still run out of space, what else can you do beyond buying more shelving for book storage? You can arrange your overflow on the ground in tidy stacks, pack them into non-functional fireplaces, or keep them on your mantle. After seeing a certain display technique emerge in several different house tours, I think the “patchwork stack” might be the next great idea. I’m calling it that because books are arranged both vertically and horizontally on the same shelf — and sometimes then piled in that same way atop the first foundational row of books — resulting in a high-impact visual display of spines that resembles a patterned patchwork quilt. This method isn’t totally new, but it’s worth calling out for its utility in truly maxing out the space you’ve likely already dedicated to your literary pursuits.

Credit: Erin Derby

Think about Nina Haines’ East Williamsburg setup shown here, which is serving a strong “patchwork” look. If she decided to line all of her books up horizontally on each level of this ladder-style bookshelf, she’d be dealing with a lot of dead space in between the “rungs” of her shelving. By mixing vertical stacks with horizontal rows on the same shelf though — or in the case of the perch closest to the floor, going with side-by-side stacks — she’s filling the entire unit up so much more efficiently and basically to capacity. 

The “patchwork stack” method of book arranging is particularly useful when you’re dealing with furniture that isn’t adjustable or books that aren’t close in height to the distance between the shelf they’re on and the one that’s above it. What’s remarkable here is how orderly this arrangement can look. If you’re super-mindful about grouping like sizes and you leave a little breathing room in your arrangement, as Haines has on her ladder-style bookcase, this installation method has the potential to be both visually striking and neat. 

A couple of things to keep in mind before you “patchwork” your books. This idea’s a styling solution for stretching space by truly filling up shelves — not a method for maintaining the Dewey Decimal System or a precise genre or author grouping. You can try to layer some other organizing principle onto this arrangement technique, but it functions and frankly looks its best when you either pick books that are similar in size and sized properly to your individual shelf surface(s) — or you just embrace a maximalist vibe, filling shelves up to the brim.

If you hated the trend of colorizing books by the shades of the rainbow or turning spines in for visual unity, you’re probably not going to love the “patchwork stack” either, and that’s totally license to skip it. If you’d like to have a little fun with your books and eke out some extra storage space in the process though, the “patchwork stack” could be for you at least in some area of your home.