Should You Organize Your Books by Color? Experts Weigh In

Books organized on built-ins by color

Laura Cattano

In the design world, strong opinions abound. Our homes are, after all, highly personal spaces, and what works for some might not appeal to others. But few things are as intensely divisive as how to organize your books. If you check out the comments on post of a shelf adorned with a colorful rainbow arrangement of book spines, you’ll see just how much ire such an organizational system can invite. And don’t even bother to read the comments on a photo of a spine-in display (which, to be fair, is visually neutral but functionally useless).

Even so, is an in-home Dewey Decimal System realistic? We turned to the experts to ask their advice for organizing a personal book collection at home.

Meet the Expert

  • Tanya Willock and Temidra Willock-Morsch are the creators and owners of the Hamptons, New York–based design and gift shop Hidden Gem.
  • Louise Wickstead is the design director for interior design firm Sims Hilditch.
  • Sahar Saffari is an interior designer at Hi-Spec Design.

It’s OK to Use Your Books to Add a Color Pop

“Color-organized bookshelves are like a work of art,” say Tanya Willock and Temidra Willock-Morsch of Hidden Gem. “We do admire them, and they look fantastic. If you have tons of books that you don’t really use or you have a love for bright colors, we say go for it.” 

“Having books organized by color really helps them to stand out and make a statement, and it’s an excellent way to add pops of color to a living room or study,” note Willock and Willock-Morsch. “To us, there is something so satisfying about seeing colors nicely placed together.”

Bookshelf with rainbow assortment of books


Don’t Rely on Roy G. Biv

In organizing your books by color, consider alternative arrangements to the rainbow look: Louise Wickstead of Sims Hilditch thinks there are better ways to connect the colors of your spines to your room than going with rainbow-order.

“An interior should feel relaxed and comfortable, rather than over-styled or sterile. With this in mind, we tend to arrange the spines of books on shelves to pick out accent colors in a room, as opposed to meticulously ordering them by color,” she explains.

And if you find that your books aren’t a perfect match for your room of choice, consider removing the dust jackets. The hardback underneath is likely to be neutral enough to work in any space. 

bookshelf with cohesive color scheme

Stephanie Perez

Consider Your Needs

Color-coding your books might look great, but as the sisters at Hidden Gem note, it might make your shelves less usable. “If you are constantly using your books, we would imagine that it would be a pain to place the books back in order every time you use them,” they say. “[In that case], we would skip the color-organized bookshelf and lean more towards another aesthetically pleasing way to organize them.”

Sahar Saffari, interior designer at Hi-Spec Design, agrees. “[It] really does depend on the point of the bookshelf!” she says. “If your book collection is huge and you don’t know what’s in it, then of course it would make no sense to use color to order them. On the other hand, if your book collection is small or you know exactly what’s on there, then there’s no problem with it being color-coded.”

As Saffari notes, however, there is another potential downside. “A problem that people might come across when ordering their books in this way is that the sizes throughout the shelf might start to look messy,” she says.

Bookshelf with books of cohesive sizing

Studio Peake

Add Plants and Knick-Knacks

If you’re concerned that organizing your books for reference reasons might make for a less-than-visually-pleasing display, Willock and Willock-Morsch suggest breaking up the rows of books in interesting ways. 

“Try breaking up the books on the bookshelf with some fun plants,” they suggest. “We love using long hanging greenery and succulents to add texture to a bookshelf; use orchids if you want a clean, sophisticated look. If plants are not for you, choose other knick-knacks that can act as a bookend to display between rows of books.”

Bookshelf with knick-knack collection

Stephanie Perez

Arrange the Books to Create Visual Interest

Coordinating by color isn’t the only way to create a visually interesting display. 

“Another option that doesn’t require anything but the books themselves is to lay the books vertically and horizontally,” say Willock and Willock-Morsch. “Make sure to layer your vertical books by size, so they don’t topple over. By creating different space heights, it adds more dynamic to the shelf and allows for the space to not seem overcrowded by a heavy bookcase.”

Bookshelf using horizontal and vertical orientations

Stephanie Perez

Pick a Quirky Bookshelf

If you’re still not loving the display, then perhaps the problem isn’t your books—it’s the shelving. 

“One of our favorite bookshelves holds books vertically, and it’s a great alternative to your traditional bookcase,” note Willock and Willock-Morsch. “It’s very sleek, doesn’t require a lot of space, and acts as a sculptural piece.”

Do What Works for You

In the end, you have to ignore the comment section and do what works for you. “For us, it all boils down to what makes the most sense for you and your home,” say Willock and Willock-Morsch. Take a function-first approach to your books, and you’re sure to be happy with the final result.

Full bookshelf in living room

Studio Peake