Whether you simply have limited wall space or love the aesthetic potential of little niches, using a bookshelf as a mini gallery is a great project. For one thing, books provide a terrific visual backdrop in their own right. And you can easily change objects out for new found treasures and completely transform a room. Any bookcase can work but since I have two built-ins in the same room, I thought I'd style each one differently to see how they compared.
The bookcases are in my very small, cozy den and they are both filled with objects my husband and I have collected over the years. For the first one, I've styled it in shades of black and white, reflecting the many black and white photos we have hanging salon style in the room. Because the inside of the bookcase is painted in the same dark shade as the rest of the room, I wanted a light background for the photos I was going to place here. You can see two things I've done to use books for this purpose: covering some of them in white kraft paper so that the dust jackets have a crisp uniformity; and simply turning others so that their spines are facing away from you, leaving the creamy pages exposed. I think this helps you focus on the images as well as the shapes of a few of my favorite objects collected from nature.
In this first bookcase, the top shelf holds a collection of seashells from our trips to Maine where we visit my dad each year. I used to have them scattered loose amongst the books but it's so much easier to clean now that they're contained. On the next shelf down, you can see a small piece of art we bought on Cape Cod. It's a ceramic block painted this etherial gray/white/blue color with what I'd call seaweed-green strings poking out of it. To us, it's an abstract representation of our time on the beach. It's one of the few bits of color on these shelves but it's subtle. Below that is a sheep's horn I found in an antique shop in Paris, reminding me of a special time spent with my mom. And on the bottom shelf is a large shell I was so happy to receive from my husband's parents. Interspersed among these treasures are some of our favorite personal photos.
The second bookcase is all about color. There is something so satisfying to see all of the titles I've read and think about what those stories felt like and meant to me when reading them. I love everything about book cover design...the typography, the illustration, the colorway... and they serve almost as a very personal art installation.
I'm really excited about this arrangement because I've been wanting to use a bookcase as a literal gallery wall. Front and center is a painting by Avaro Cardona-Hine, a beautiful, gentle soul and renowned artist living in Truchas, NM. There are two other paintings on these shelves, a tiny depiction of a sailboat done by an artist who lives and works right on the ocean, next to my very favorite lobster shack in Maine. The other one is a mixed media piece by Darlene Olivia McElroy, the first piece we ever bought in Santa Fe. The last little bit of art is a ceramic relief of a girl and her geese, which belonged to my mom that I've had since I was little. There are two other items that I think pull this bookcase together and those are the light-reflecting bottle (which came from a delicious beer made in a monastery) and a geometric gold and glass object holding an almost-ready-to-bloom air plant. They bounce the light around all of those colors and top off the happy vibe.
So, do you have a preference? We thought it would be fun to do an informal poll. Which bookcase do you like better? Which style would you be more likely to compose yourself? Let us know in the comments!