Wednesday, July 18, 2012

One Room Challenge, Week Four: the bookshelves

The One Room Challenge continues.  I am decorating my living room, along with a number of other bloggers completing one room in six weeks. See Week 1 (moodboard)Week 2 (curtains)Week Three Part 1 (art options), and Week 3, Part 2 (splatter painting)

This post is ridiculously long, but this bookshelf is one of my favorite projects in the house.  Although it is probably the least “designed” project in the house, it is a project that brings my values in line with how we live.  

I grew up in a house full of books.  We would frequently go to used bookstores as a family and spend entire afternoons there.  Asking for toys was usually met with “No”, but asking for a book was usually met with “yes.” I tend to follow the same trend as a parent.  I have zero problem saying “nope!” to whiny requests for the four thousandth Ninjago toy, but I am helpless against a “please buy me this book Mommy please please please?”  (Even if said book is Ninjago: Legend of the Golden Warrior.)

I have always wanted a Library Room, with wall to wall bookshelves.  No knickknacks, just books and a comfy sofa.  My parents have had wall to wall bookshelves in every house we have lived in for as long as I can remember.  Currently, my father’s office is lined with six bookshelves, and every single one is full.

For twenty years I have carted around banker boxes of books from apartment to apartment and house to house.  Although my book collection has grown, my bookshelf collection has not.  We have lived in a succession of not-very-large houses, and somehow there never seemed to be the right spot for rows of bookshelves. 

In our condo I lined the loft with low sideboards and crammed all the books in two and three deep, and I did the same in the attic of our sidehall colonial in South Jersey.  I didn’t have enough room for all our books, so many remained in banker boxes in the basement, and then we lost about eight boxes of books in a flood in our basement.  In our apartment in Fort Lee I bought a large bookshelf and stacked all the books three deep, but then figured out that I could put bookshelves in the bumpout in the living room

Two months after I bought those bookshelves we moved to Westfield, and again, the books outnumbered the bookshelf real estate available.  I also wanted a place to display knickknacks in our tiny living room, so the books went up to the attic.   

Now we are here in California, and yet again, not enough room for bookshelves, beyond the bottom of the two we had in our last house, with the remainder stuffed in a cabinet in the garage. 

Recently, however, I began to think about how our house reflects our values.  I've been inspired by Pancakes and French Fries's William Morris Project, where Jules posts every week about a project designed to make her house a more intentional and meaningful.  In a similar vein, I am trying to make our house a simpler, more meaningful place for us.  And one of the things that is important to us is books. 

I have made books a priority for my kids.  Their rooms all have multiple bookshelves.  The playroom also sports a large selection of books.  And yet, when it comes to books for me and Mister, I have them crammed in boxes and stored in the garage, where they are difficult to access.  This is hardly paying proper respect to household items that are important to me.  It is not paying respect to myself—why am I not worthy of having my important items in my living space?  

I decided yes, I AM worthy.  I will pay respect to my important items.  Now I just have to figure out how to work my books into the space.  And then: a brilliant idea.  I will cover up the pass through from the living room to the dining room with bookshelves.  

I hate the pass-through; it is wasted wall space.  If I owned this house, I would hire an architect to deal with the load-bearing wall issues, close up the pass-through, move the doorway about two feet to the right, and put in built-in shelving on the left wall where the mirror is.  But I don’t own this house and don’t even plan to stay that long, so….cheap fixes it is. 

We bought two Ikea Billy bookshelves and put them in front of the pass through.  I lined the back of the bookshelves with foam board covered in navy fabric.

Behind the bookshelf I hung a curtain so that from the dining room we are not staring at the back of crappy Ikea furniture. 

All the books that were out in the garage have taken their rightful place in the living room. So have our photo albums, and our cookbooks.  

I recognize that this bookshelf is hardly "styled".  I debated arranging the books by color (like these), because I think it is so visually appealing.  However, the whole point of this exercise is to access and enjoy my books, and thus my inner librarian insists that the books be grouped by author and subject.  I can't have Sookie Stackhouse was mixed in with Harry Potter or the cookbooks.  Its not what a designer would do, but its what works best for me.  

The other "this was obviously not done by a designer" problem is the furniture layout.  As you can see in the pictures, the bookshelf is partially behind the sofa, and not in a "I will walk behind my sofa and peruse the titles" sort of way.  No, the sofa is pushed right up against the bookshelf, and the lower two shelves on the right are blocked.  

At the time of writing this (Tuesday afternoon), I rearranged the furniture a few different ways.  I'll save that post for another day.  

In the end, although this bookshelf does not look like something out of Secrets From a Stylist, it is my favorite piece of furniture in the house.  It puts the things I love front and center in our main living room.  It really makes me happy.    

See what the other bloggers have done this week:
Lauren - The Cottage Mix
Lindsay - Everything LEB
Barbara - Hodge:Podge
Tiffany - Living Savvy
Jessie - Mix & Chic
Danylle - Nana Moon
Jennifer - The Pink Pagoda
Emily - Rue de Emily
Lindsay - Sadie + Stella

Edited to add: I am linking up to Pancakes and French Fries's William Morris Project


  1. Love it and you are exactly right ... houses are to be lived in ... the way we live in them and enjoyed! That is the best style there is!! They look fantastic! At first, I am a little slow, I thought you were going to put the bookcases in the top passthroughs!!

  2. What is it about the backs of the Ikea bookcases that makes us cringe...maybe the folded cardboard? The foamcore was an excellent choice.I am glad to know that I am not the only one who needs all the cookbooks together. This was a great solution.

  3. Ah, a booklover after my own heart! There was a room in our house that we tried for 5 years to figure out what to do with. It was added on before we bought the place, but it was done cheaply. It was way too long for the width of the room, which we finally fixed by adding a wall and making it into a square and giving ourselves a tiny office. An office which, by the way, I don't like working in due to the lack of natural light. But that's a whole other issue. ANYWAY! In the square room, my talented hubby built a wall of bookshelves which I FILLED, and I'm now working on getting a second wall. We call it our library and it's my favorite room in the house. :-) I hope that someday, YOU get YOUR personal library room!! Every bookworm should have one, in my humble opinion. :-)

  4. This is an amazing post with such an amazing idea! I love that you are using your house the way YOUR family needs to use it. And that nook now created in the dining room is so amazing. What a fun little spot to decorate with more things you love!

  5. Lisa - you dont have to worry what a designer would do... its designed because its functional to you. and it looks fantastic! and i love your pretty new window of fabric :)

  6. what a lovely collection of romance novels you have ;)

  7. Great idea! I too LOVE books and think they make a home more personal! I had no idea you rented as well, phew, I am not alone! Good luck with the rest of the space!

  8. oh wow, i have never thought about using foam board with fabric for the back of a bookshelf. What a great idea and what a great transformation! Great progress!

  9. This looks great AND is functional- nothing more stylish than that.
    Looking forward to reading more of your posts.

  10. This was so from the heart. Love it! I think fabric is always a lovely addition to the backs of bookscases because it sews up two of my addictions: fabric and books!

    I agree with you about putting the books in a manner that you can find them. I'm still not over that my university library went from Dewey decimal to Library of Congress and every semester books went seemingly willy-nilly to new homes. I have bookcases in every room of my house (except for bathrooms!) and I call my book collection "my friends with spines". Great job for your family.

  11. Great idea! We love books at our house too! Thank goodness for Ikea. Looking forward to your furniture arrangement!!

  12. I love this! Maybe its the teacher in me but I love, love, love books. I say all the time that I don't want a kindle because I love having a book in my hand and of course I have to buy them so I can keep them as opposed to return them to the library. I would love to have a wall of bookshelves one day but like you we lack the bookshelf real estate.

  13. Great solution to the pass-through, and I appreciate how you completed with the curtain to camoflage the back side.

  14. I too, am trapped in North Jersey (happily). My family are also big readers. My parents had a stand set up w/ a big dictionary (always easily available to look it up!) Maybe set up an angled shelf to do the same?

  15. Great post! I'm a book lover as well. I cringe at the pics and blog posts of people who buy books for decoration or arrange according to color. Books are meant to be read and read again. I have to arrange my books together by genre or I will never be able to find what I am looking for.
    On a related note, my heart soared when my 8 year old niece asked Grandpa (my dad) if he could take her to the library to get some poetry books; I recently bought her a Shel Silverstein book and an Alan Katz Book. I love how much she loves reading!

  16. Your new bookshelves look great, what a wonderful addition to your living room.

    Looking forward to see next week's progress!


  17. The blue background on your bookcases looks great. I have read and reread that Ninjago book to my Sophie who is watching a new episode of Ninjago as I write this. I so get that! Your room is looking great!

  18. I was an English teacher for 10 years and LOVE books. What you did here is so awesome for your kids! Obviously for everyone, but it's so great for parents to emphasize reading, and the best way is modeling. Okay, sorry -- I went off on a teacher tangent. I love the navy backing! Your house looks so happy!

  19. Oh, and your white chairs are FANTASTIC!

  20. Good call on the placement! And I love the fabric on the back!

  21. I love your bookcase and the fabric was a great idea for the back...happy someone else has as many books as I do!! Looking good...

  22. Very nice!! I love that idea, and the curtain is genius.

  23. Confession: I hate the whole arranging books by color thing. Because it's a dumb way (for me) to find books! I've pared down my book collection a lot the past two years, and I don't buy as many as I used to, but I love books. I love to read them, and I love them as objects. When Cane and I moved in together, they were the only point of contention. As our moving day stretched late into night, he began sort of shoving those boxes at me in the back of the moving van.

    "Do you really need ALL these books?" he asked.

    Yes. Yes, I do.

    LOVE this post.

  24. Nice! Looks like the math error with the curtain fabric worked out well for you after all!

    We're book lovers here too. I have been weeding out quite a few that we were mindlessly keeping for no apparent reason, but still plan on maintaining a nice collection of worthwhile reads! I'm the same way about buying books for our kids too.

  25. Rock on - I love bookshelves, and your solution is genius!

    I, too, have made books a priority for my kids - but not for me. That needs to change! Thanks for the inspiration. ;)

  26. Oh, those books are a bear to move too, aren't they? I love how you didn't even neglect the back of your shelves adding that great fabric.

  27. First let me say this is awesome looking I love everything about it including that curtain and that the couch is close enough to grab a book and not actually have to get up.
    My hubs, who did not grow up in a bibliophile fam, is always scowling at me and my million books so i have to hide some in a pull out malm headboard from ikea in which i have tetris-stacked about 75 books waiting to be read and a floor to ceiling shelf in the dining room.

    Second you have excellent taste in books as it mirrors my own, i think our bookshelves could be bff's LOL

  28. I love that your inner librarian took over. I organized my shelves a few months ago and really wanted to do it by colour until I realized that it would defeat the purpose of being able to find something quickly. Sometimes the practical has to win out.

  29. This is such a fun post! I am currently working on quite a few of my own tweaks to our apartment and thought this was a great idea. It's hard when you don't own the place to get inspired, but this is lovely!

  30. What a beautiful sentiment. I grew up with that same family relationship to books, and this makes me consider how to incorporate that into our current home. I love the thought of intentional design that reflects your values vs. what just looks good in a design magazine.


Yay! You're commenting! I love comments!