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How to Arrange Your Bookshelf Like the House & Garden Team

The House & Garden UK team shares their formulas for organising their personal book collections

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By House & Garden | February 16, 2024 | Diy

Members of the House & Garden UK editorial team were asked to share how they arrange their bookshelves and there was a lot of disagreement. From alphabetical systems to colour coding, we asked the team for the best method of arranging books.

Mimic Shelves of a Bookshelf

'I tend to think about how I'd expect to find books in a shop, so I put fiction first in alphabetical order of author, and a separate section for mysteries, then plays and poetry. Non-fiction is divided into broad topics: travel, essays, biography, religion and philosophy, music, history, languages and art. Currently each topic has its own shelf or shelves to itself, though that creates slightly absurd situations where I think 'the travel shelf is looking a bit thin, I should buy more travel books', which is probably not a helpful way to think about it.' ― Virginia Clark, digital director

Stack Your Books

'I'm not at all strategic and it's all a bit of a mash of fiction, non-fiction and magazines! That said, we have open ended fitted bookshelves, so I stack a pile of books on the end of the shelf to make sure there aren't any landslides and great collapses.' ― Elizabeth Metcalfe, features editor

You Don’t Have to Be Meticulous

'The way our books are arranged (or not) perfectly reflects how we live... My husband is organised. And I am not. So he takes charge of all art books. They sit on shelves either side of the chimney breast in the dining room.

Though no doubt frowned on in literary circles, they are arranged by colour. Monochromatic on one side of the room (white, grey, black) and then a kaleidoscope on the other side (through the colour spectrum from pink to red, orange, yellow, green, blue). Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the room is a glass fronted cabinet where I shove my novels. Standing up, lying down, this way, that way. Literally rammed so full, that when you open the doors they come tumbling out. It's one of my favourite parts of our home!' ― Jenny Lister, creative director

Display Only Your Favourite Books

'I am rather superficial when it comes to arranging books. All the books I'm happy to show off are housed on the living room shelving unit, ordered by colour group (but never in rainbow order). The books from my family that are counted more as jibes than gifts are stashed in the bedroom between trinkets and behind baskets, then a knee high higgledy stack of 'must finish' and 'must start' lives next to the bed -never shrinking.' ― Rémy Mishon, assistant decoration editor

Organise Books by Colour and Size

‘I love the sense of order that comes from colour-coded shelves arranged by book size. Things started well when we moved into this house. A neat row of orange Penguin fiction, another of blue Penguin factual, one shelf of small white paperbacks above one of larger white, and a carefully arranged shelf of hardbacks in their crisp, colourful covers graduating from lightest to darkest... Fifteen years on it is hard to see what my original plan was. Even though I have bookshelves around the house (and often pass on books to friends almost as soon as I have read them), I long ago ran out of shelf space. The vague rule is that unread books are in the sitting room and books are moved into the dining room once read. Unsurprisingly, the ever expanding piles on the sitting room floor are a constant reminder that it is so much easier to buy a book than to read it.’ ―

Remove Your Dust Covers

‘I usually arrange by size, with some degree of colour balance. Colour coding is a bit too much for me but I think there should be some consideration. I also remove dust covers because I hate them, especially when they are covering up the beauty of a well bound book. Remove them, your bookshelves will thank you.’ ― Davey Hunter Jones, curator, The Calico Club

Spread Your Books Throughout the House

'All my husband's more highbrow books are in the front room while my books (lowbrow detective books) are slowly moved to the top shelf of the back room. My collection of dodgy 1950-70s Pan books with comedy bad covers have been designated to the shelves in the upstairs hallway where nobody will see them.' ― Eva Farrington, art editor

Separate Your Books According Genre, But Embrace the Chaos

'Most people would expect me to have a strictly organised bookshelf, given my Virgoan nature. However, there is simply no order there, other than one set of bookshelves has coffee table books, cookbooks and magazines, and the other hosts all fiction, non-fiction and travel books. That separation only exists because one set of shelves is more generous than the other where large books wouldn't fit. When it comes to a sense of order, cookbooks go together, while coffee table books and magazines mingle freely. On the other side, there is no order except a few guidebooks that have lived together since we moved in but that's because they've (sadly) not been touched. I will occasionally move new books to the lower, eye level shelves and books I've read further up the shelves to encourage myself to read them, but that is where it starts and ends.' ―Charlotte McCaughan-Hawes, deputy digital editor

This story originally appeared on House & Garden UK.