Turn Your Bookshelves into Art
March 4, 2008 8:31 AM   Subscribe

Brilliant bookshelves by color. What's that? You can't find The Scarlet Letter? Did you look under lipstick red?

Colourlovers is a design blog where color-crazies go to peruse palettes, make their own swatches, and find color combination inspiration. The site also features posting capabilities (not unlike MetaFilter) where members can bring the brightest and latest to the attention of their colorful constituents (like this chess set.)
If you're as into color and organization as me, you probably let out a hefty sigh after seeing the shots of these shelves. It's beautiful but it's also... comforting. Like the way a Germaphobe must feel after opening a pantry full of perfectly-lined spray bottles, rolls of paper towels, and rubber gloves.
Or maybe your first thought was "is this practical?" Or "my books aren't that colorful."
As some of the pictures show, this organizational structure allows one to station a book by any present color, whether it's the predominant color of the cover, the text of the title on the spine, or even the little red house emblem of the publisher. Hues allow for much flexibility and even whites are varied, some having a hint of green to them, some a whisper of yellow. There doesn't have to be a white section; these frosty shades can slide seamlessly in and out of the regular rainbow. And if you do judge a book by its cover, this could be an even more efficient method of cataloging than alphabetical.
posted by thebellafonte (53 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Sorting books. By color. I think this thread is not for me.
posted by goatdog at 8:42 AM on March 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

I just bought 300 copies of "The Color Purple".
Please advise.
posted by Dizzy at 8:48 AM on March 4, 2008 [5 favorites]

I see a red shelf and I want it painted black.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 8:59 AM on March 4, 2008 [15 favorites]

It almost makes we want print custom book jackets on color paper so I can keep them organized by title/subject and yet have pretty colors on my bookshelves. At least O'Reilly books are fairly consistent on color schemes. Those always look good in bookstores.
posted by inthe80s at 9:11 AM on March 4, 2008

*adds this to list of reasons people will be sent to re-education camps and enrichment centers after the revolution*

I actually like the visual noise of normally-shelved books.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:13 AM on March 4, 2008

If your copy of The Scarlet Letter is lipstick red instead of, say, scarlet, then you own the wrong printing.
posted by Plutor at 9:15 AM on March 4, 2008

A friend of mine does this with her CDs. It looks quite wonderful. She does many things just by color. I once asked her what flavor gum she was chewing. "Flavor? I don't know. It's smurf blue."
posted by dobbs at 9:18 AM on March 4, 2008 [5 favorites]

I have a copy of Generation X that is an almost fluorescent pink. No matter which way I organise my books, it stands out like a pink elephant. It's like SEO spamming for books.

Also, everyone knows that the only proper way to arrange one's library is autobiographically.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 9:19 AM on March 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Wow what rational responses.
I thought you guys would dig this.
Does it seem silly or superficial? I'm curious.
Don't worry goatdog, maybe it's me who's in the wrong place.
posted by thebellafonte at 9:22 AM on March 4, 2008

To sum up: I would organize my own shelves this way, but wouldn't shop at a bookstore (or patronize a library) that did it.
posted by DU at 9:23 AM on March 4, 2008

It's art, not just decoration.

Q: And tell us what it is that you're going to be making.
A: Well, I was thinking a lot about places I've been inside dreams, where I'm familiar with a building or a room, or like when I'm in a house in a dream and there are combinations of things in the house that don't exist in reality. So I wanted to do this project, where I have a giant bookstore full of books, and instead of them all being organized normally, they'll all be organized in rows of color. Through some kind of herculean task, some kind of massive effort, to change the entire space into something that you would see in a dream.

posted by lucia__is__dada at 9:23 AM on March 4, 2008

I love it. If I want to find something specific i can google it faster anyway. And currently my books are organized by size anyway, due to the contraints of the crappy ikea bookshelves i've had since '98. So for me, this might be the way to go once the bookshelves are upgraded.
posted by condour75 at 9:26 AM on March 4, 2008

Lucia, that's great. It really is dreamy.
posted by thebellafonte at 9:26 AM on March 4, 2008

Here's a related post.
posted by leesh at 9:28 AM on March 4, 2008

I think it's very pleasing to the eye. I probably wouldn't organize my books this way, as I have far too many old beaten up paperback for it to look nice.

I would however, do this with my CDs as dobbs' friend did. It would certainly look cool, and the reorganization would probably help me rediscover stuff in my library to boot. iTunes would help for when I need to hear that certain His Name Is Alive CD right away.

So thank you for sharing, thebellafonte.
posted by Dr-Baa at 9:29 AM on March 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think they're BEAUTIFUL, just not very practical. What if my copy of The Scarlet Letter has a black cover? I need to find my books quickly, and so far my "Subject Shelf, Alphabetical Order" system works just fine.

Even though it's not very aesthetically pleasing.
posted by headspace at 9:31 AM on March 4, 2008

I think we killed it.
posted by Dave Faris at 9:32 AM on March 4, 2008

Books organized by color previously.
posted by languagehat at 9:34 AM on March 4, 2008

Love it, love it, love it! Thanks!
posted by Lynsey at 9:38 AM on March 4, 2008

I thought you guys would dig this.

I do, I love it. I did this once (on a much smaller library, mind). This is pure colour porn for me.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 9:39 AM on March 4, 2008

"I am unpacking my library. Yes, I am. The books are not yet on the shelves, not yet touched by the mild boredom of order. I cannot march up and down their ranks to pass them in review before a friendly audience. You need not fear any of that. Instead, I must ask you to join me in the disorder of crates that have been wrenched open, the air saturated with the dust of wood, the floor covered with torn paper, to join me among piles of volumes that are seeing daylight again after two years of darkness, so that you may be ready to share with me a bit of the mood--it is certainly not an elegiac mood but, rather, one of anticipation--which these books arouse in a genuine collector."

-Walter Benjamin
posted by AwkwardPause at 9:42 AM on March 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

I like my bookshelves to be only loosely organised at all, cos I like the weird connections that sometimes throws up as well as the incongruity of seeing George Steiner next to Reginald Hill next to Nancy Astor etc. However, having said that, I did, and do, totally lust after the Penguin 70th box set, and not just because of the books included.
posted by Hartster at 9:45 AM on March 4, 2008

I have my books organized this way. I not only dig the way it looks, I also find it really easy to find my books quickly. I have a very visual memory, so when I think about a book I have read, the image of the book comes into my mind, and I know the exact color of the binding. So, I know precisely where it is on the shelf from across the room. If I had them organized by subject or alphabetized I am sure it would take me much longer.
posted by honeyx at 9:51 AM on March 4, 2008

The Adobe Bookshop thing linked by leesh and languagehat above was really very cool (and temporary). It's a tiny, overstuffed bookshop where it was hard to find anything before they reorganized by color - at least it was pretty when it was all color-fied. It was weirdly disorienting, though.
posted by rtha at 9:52 AM on March 4, 2008

thebellafonte: "Wow what rational responses. I thought you guys would dig this. Does it seem silly or superficial? I'm curious. Don't worry goatdog, maybe it's me who's in the wrong place."

Not at all. I see you're new to the blue, so please don't let the gentle ribbing, sarcastic comments, and a general lack of "zomg"s scare you off. That's just part of MetaFilter's ineffable charm personality. Any posts with zero direct "this is an idiotic, stupid, hateful post, I'm stupider for having read it, and I'm reporting you to the police" comments should be considered success. I don't see any of those above, so.. success!
posted by Plutor at 9:54 AM on March 4, 2008

I do this, but I organise them by actual colour: The Scarlet Letter is with all the other black books. I find them by, uh, remembering what they look like. I'm much better at this than any other method -- thanks, evolution!
posted by bonaldi at 10:02 AM on March 4, 2008

Does it seem silly or superficial?

To me, it is both. An endeavour more concerned about design and making things pretty and not at all about the books themselves.

I'll take my books organized by subject and author, thank you. That way I don't have some computing book next to a fantasy novel followed by a book on poker just because they all have a similar spine. Books have a lot of data by which they can be indexed, and the spine colour seems to me to be one of the least useful ones.

But then again, I love books, and I care little about design. So there.

Oooh, don't get me started on changing the colours of chess pieces. Why, I oughta...
posted by splice at 10:19 AM on March 4, 2008

I think it is great. Right now I have all of my books organized loosely by subject (hey. When you have four gibongous bookshelves in your tiny apartment then maybe you can tell me to keep it random) and it is helpful to be able to find reference materials in a hurry-

but I think next time I move I'm going to give it a shot. Eyeballing my shelves I think that will give me approximately 2.5 bookcases in red, 2 in orange, 1 in spiral bound black and white, then a few shelves of green, blue, beige, brown, and black.

I like it.
posted by arnicae at 10:26 AM on March 4, 2008

Yeah, I sighed because I had done this back a decade ago when I'd accumulated a lot of CD's. I sorted them by color because I could remember them much better visually (Stereolab's Dots & Loops was Green. Piper at the Gates of Dawn was black. Zamfir whas white. Berlioz was red. Coltrane was blue . . . ) than by looking for artist, title. I never tried it with my books, but I did order them by size.

One day, I gave most of my CD's and books to the library. Unruly trove issue solved, but at the price of a very colorful-looking bookcase. Seeing bookcases sorted like this on the web is neat. Standing in front of multiple 8-foot tall book cases arranged by hue is... well, it made me sigh, this FPP.

I don't even care if I can color-code my mp3 trove. It's just not the same. Thanks for the post!
posted by not_on_display at 10:26 AM on March 4, 2008

Adobe Books in San Francisco used to sort their books this way. Now, they don't really sort them at all.

Also, if these people "love" color so much, they should spell it right.
posted by roll truck roll at 10:27 AM on March 4, 2008

Oh, I guess I was like the 4th person to mention that. Sorry.
posted by roll truck roll at 10:28 AM on March 4, 2008

link to chris cobb's adobe books project of the same nature. i saw this installation and it was deeply perceptually troubling... in a good way
posted by garethspor at 10:31 AM on March 4, 2008

When I began working as a bookseller in the seventies one of my first customers was a woman who didn't care what books we sold her, as long as they matched the swatches her designer gave her for the couch and the drapes. I took cynical pride in filling her bookshelf with the blue Garfield treasury, Johnathan Livingston Seagull, Astrology books, any piece of tripe that matched the swatch.

Years later I discovered that the Strand in New York actually does this all the time.
posted by Toekneesan at 10:33 AM on March 4, 2008 [3 favorites]

OCDconfessionfilter: My OCD tic is organizing things by color. I noticed this as a kid, as Halloween candy was more about making it organize perfectly, than about eating it.
This post kinda triggered a braingasm for me. I know it's terrible and extremely plebeian to do this to a library. But, it makes me so happy.
posted by JimmyJames at 10:48 AM on March 4, 2008

roll truck roll: Also, if these people "love" color so much, they should spell it right.

You're kidding, right?
posted by loiseau at 10:51 AM on March 4, 2008

Alphabetical, by author, ordered by publication date (loosely grouped into different shelves by size). That's all I need. While the rainbow shelves look pretty and all, I want to live in a house that looks like I actually live in it. The careful rainbow leaves me with the impression that it's either (a) a showroom setpiece rather than a living space, or (b) owned by someone who doesn't really care about what's in the books so much as he/she cares about how they look. I know it isn't necessarily the case, but the impression is still there for me.
posted by caution live frogs at 11:00 AM on March 4, 2008

loiseau typed "You're kidding, right?"

posted by roll truck roll at 11:06 AM on March 4, 2008

That site rocks. Thanks.
posted by phaedon at 11:09 AM on March 4, 2008

After seeing the Adobe books "project" I started organizing my DVDs this way. My books are too variously sized to fit the shelves nicely, but the uniform size of DVD cases turns what is a common household staple an interesting visual treat.

It also has the benefit of annoying the hell out of my roommate.
posted by sambosambo at 11:18 AM on March 4, 2008

You're right Plutor, thanks.
posted by thebellafonte at 11:42 AM on March 4, 2008

We did this with our books when we moved house a year ago. It actually makes it easier to find what you're looking for, but the initial setup took forever while we sorted out the spectrum.
posted by 1adam12 at 12:03 PM on March 4, 2008

I'd rather be friends with a person like this than be this person. I mean it looks nice, and maybe it's quite inspiring, but it'd drive me nuts because I wouldn't be able to find anything.
posted by moonshine at 12:28 PM on March 4, 2008

I do not organize or shelve then by color, but often remember them by look, design, size, and color, so sometimes I will look for a book I recall whose title and author I cannot exactly remember, but I do know approximately what the spine looks like.

When I have eventually found the book, I will remember why I was looking for it.
posted by lathrop at 12:44 PM on March 4, 2008

I did this for a while, too, but it became so frustrating. I'm a fellow colorphile (and officially OCD to boot) to I thought it'd be a perfect way to organize my books in my new place.

Slowly, the uncategorization of the books began to really bother me - like a crooked painting or something. Just as I started to seriously reconsider the "by color" organization, I found myself awake at 3am and halfway finished with rearranging all of the books by category. I slept pretty soundly the next night.

And anyway, messy-ish shelves go well with my granny aesthetic and I've never been a fan of something too simplified/designy because it's just not practical.

That's not to say that awesome wall unit picture doesn't freak me the hell out - wow, soooo preeeetttyyy....want to tooouch eeet.
posted by bienbiensuper at 12:54 PM on March 4, 2008

I agree that it's pretty, and probably workable if you've got a wall of books (or just a bookcase) in a living area. Heck, I keep the art history books in the living room because they're the ones with all the nice pictures. But I can't even begin to imagine organizing the main collection that way--without subject divisions & alphabetization, I'd never be able to find anything.
posted by thomas j wise at 1:04 PM on March 4, 2008

This reminds me of a snippet in Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris - where a friend of hers hires an interior decorator to take care of the place, only to return and find the books organized by color and shape.
posted by Xere at 3:15 PM on March 4, 2008

I should do this. Right now, my books are in scattershot order by size and then genre, but often I find myself wandering from shelf to shelf looking for something by the color of the spine. But it would take a long time to organize, I think.
posted by donajo at 3:17 PM on March 4, 2008

Who just spent an hour organizing their CD collection by color after reading this post?

*raises hand*
posted by c lion at 6:22 PM on March 4, 2008

I would do this, if I had all or most of my books on one wall instead of in bookcases spread throughout different rooms. I usually search for my books by color, height, and thickness, anyway because I'm the pits at any kind of order, and that's how I visualize them.

Also, we mustn't forget this important corollary of the internet: if it exists, there's a flickr group for it.
posted by taz at 12:40 AM on March 5, 2008

I've recently started skimming design blogs pretty much every day. And the first couple of times I saw this strategy, I thought it looked pretty cool. But the problem with looking at design blogs every day is that you see more and more interiors of different designery houses, and you start to notice that everyone who seems to fancy themselves an amateur interior designer has started doing this. And it just seems to me that one, a huge rainbow does not belong in every home, and two, once you see a few book-rainbows, it doesn't seem special; it just seems unoriginal.

The problem I have with this is not that it's superficial, or that it would make things harder or easier to find. It's that it makes everyone's book collections look the same. It's like, "oh, you have that book rainbow, too." Like if everyone had the same piece of art on their wall, and that piece of art was all the Benjamin Moore paint chips, in spectrum order, in a frame. It makes a book collection feel like a thing that you either have or don't, and it's always a big, long, rainbow-colored rectangle. When in reality the fun thing about having a book collection displayed in your home is that everyone's is different, and always changing, and it's cool to look and see what kinds of books a person has, and how their collection looks, feels, and is different and similar to yours.

For me, I live in a two-bedroom apartment, and all my books are in the living room because that's the only place where I can fit bookcases. I'm not a super designery person, mainly because I couldn't live with the kind of minimalism required to keep up a really nice looking design. But my living room is pale green and purple, with grayish-blue neutral walls and paintings of natural settings. Even from a design POV, I don't really think a 40 square foot WALL OF RAINBOW would go very well. Most places where this looks good are rooms where there's not much other color. And even then, it's like, a white room (or black or wood or beige or what have you) with a WALL OF RAINBOW.

I think it would be way more fun if I had a big house where I could really decorate it and keep some books in each room rather than all my books in one room. Then I could have a shelf of purple books in my pale green and purple living room, and a shelf of red books in my black and white kitchen and yellow and blue books together in that other room and so on. If I were going to organize by color, it would be more like that. But I don't have that kind of space these days.

In conclusion, my copy of The Scarlet Letter has a sort of peachy off-white spine.
posted by lampoil at 5:26 AM on March 5, 2008

I so want to do this. Like some of the others who have posted here, I'm visually oriented and I typically find my books by their color and size anyway. (And often find a section in a book by remembering, for example, "it's on the left-hand side, about halfway up.") I find the appearance of the book much easier to remember than the title or author. But I don't have enough shelving. Someday, though.
posted by litlnemo at 5:44 AM on March 5, 2008

woah taz!
posted by thebellafonte at 6:52 AM on March 5, 2008

I more or less agree with splice here. This is the sort of thing I might do just to see which books turned out where, but when it comes down to it, I want all my books in order. It frustrates the hell out of me when I have to put one out of order because there's not enough space on the right shelf, or the book's oversized and too tall for the proper shelf so I have to put it on the bottom, or suchlike.
posted by Target Practice at 12:59 PM on March 5, 2008

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