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THE GRAND RAPIDS PRESS

G2 SUNDAY, MARCH 17, 2013

HOMES

Filling empty shelves ADD WARMTH TO A ROOM WITH BOOKS, WELL-CHOSEN COLLECTIBLES

I

BY ELIZABETH MAYHEW THE WASHINGTON POST

have noticed over the years that every so often, magazines (and now blogs) feature beautiful spreads of book-filled rooms, with headlines such as “Living With Books” or “The Pages of Our Lives.” Usually, the images feature poetic, far-off places where leather volumes fill 15-foot-tall, wood-paneled shelves, or sparse rooms with gauzy curtains have stacks of books on the floor, standing like architectural columns. As a book lover, I find these rooms transporting and inspirational but totally out of touch. A growing number of people, I think, don’t have books. After all, who wants those heavy, clunky volumes when you can store a seemingly endless library on a device that weighs less than a single paperback? So, this leads me to wonder: In a world without books, what happens to our bookshelves? Unfortunately, bookshelves are suffering from the same fate as television armoires — some of us just don’t need them. Instead of housing our libraries, bookshelves have become the dumping ground for tchotchkes, mail, papers, picture frames, empty vases and, on occasion, an actual book. The empty cavities attract only chaos and disorder. Of course, there are things you can do to improve your shelves’ appearance in the absence of books: Fill them with smartlooking storage boxes (check out colored and patterned varieties at containerstore.com or ikea.com, but make sure you measure the shelves before you buy), display a well-edited collection of ceramics or other objects, or use pictures — either leaning or hung over the shelf — to fill voids.

Keep in mind that, unlike closets and closed cabinets, open shelves reveal everything, which means one must take more care in their styling. For me, a world without actual, tangible books is a sad reality. Books give a room warmth and character (not to mention the positive effect educators say just being in the presence of books has on our children’s learning). When books are authentically collected, they highlight your interests and passions. (I am against decorators who buy books by the foot, with no interest whatsoever in the book itself other than the color of its spine.) My good friend Benjamin Wallace, author of “The Billionaire’s Vinegar,” once described the books on his shelf as “tombstones,” each one like a postcard from a virtual literary trip that he has taken. I am on his page. I look at my books in the same way that I look at my photos — each one recalls a moment in time, a story or a place that I don’t want to forget. So, although I have a Kindle and an iPad, I still buy physical books, as does my husband. We have a lot of them. They spill over our bedside tables

and coffee table, fill four walls of our foyer and line walls in each of our children’s bedrooms. Call us old-fashioned; they are the objects we can’t live without. I recently decided to repaint our bookshelves, which meant I had to remove every single volume. It was quite an endeavor, not only because my books were organized by category, but also because I had styled the shelves with objects “just so.” In order to remember where everything went, I took photos of the shelves with

ANNE SCHLECHTER | THE WASHINGTON POST

my phone before dismantling them. Here is how I put them back:

shelves and breaks up the monotony of rows upon rows of books.

1. Edit

3. Conceal

Artwork nicely complements the titles on Elizabeth Mayhew’s bookshelves. Photographs or collectibles go a long way toward personalizing a bookshelf.

4. Embellish

and prevent it from looking too staged.

Remove everything from your shelves and sort books by size and subject matter (i.e. fiction, cooking, gardening, reference). Remove and discard ripped dust jackets.

Maximize unused space with attractive boxes. Boxes allow you to neatly store anything, and their solid blocks of color break up the rows of books.

2. Line ’em up

Add ceramics and other objects for visual interest. Photographs or small works of art leaning against a stack of books personalize a bookshelf

Line up books on shelves, stacking them horizontally and vertically in a rhythmic pattern. This adds visual interest to the

Mayhew, a “Today” show style expert and former magazine editor, is the author of “Flip! for Decorating.”

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Grand Rapids Press - 03/17/13 - G2