Is Having a Bookshelf in Your Home Important?

Simple minimalist bookshelf and case Scandi style

Yes and No. At DU we believe in the importance of a bookshelf. We’ve spent much time and a small fortune over the years on buying and putting up bookshelves. And on having them specially made to look built-in. Bookshelves are, in our view, the most important objects in a home after the fridge and the washing machine. It’s a decorative piece but also functional. Here are some of the reasons why it is important to have bookshelves in your home:

Perhaps in the digital age of ebooks and online material, having books and therefore shelves is an outdated notion. But just like video didn’t kill the radio star, we believe books are here to stay forever.

Looking at the screen for lengthy periods is not healthy for the eyes – so let’s find shelves and cases that can store and display our books in the best way possible. Here are some of the key things to think about when buying shelves:

  • Storage space for key items
  • Decorative
  • Encouragement to read
  • Conversation piece – books on shelves serve as ice breakers in case guests are over and the conversation runs dry

Scandinavian Style Bookshelves vs. British Shelves

We’ve refurbished and decorated a number of apartments and amassed a book collection over the years. At DuYourHome we have always prioritised bookshelves and arranged the furniture around them. This is more important to achieve the in-built look  Putting up shelves is more than nailing them to the wall – particularly in old buildings where walls are sometimes uneven.

Importance of a bookshel: the first Bookshelf Project

Pictured below is our first bookshelf project, two floor-to-ceiling in-built cases on both sides of a bay window. Here’s how we did it:

1. Hired a local carpenter not just the cheapest. They are more likely to have local knowledge and experience of the architecture and design styles of homes in your area. He/she will understand what is needed. But ask questions – what have they worked on in the past that is similar, do they have photos to show?

2. Give the carpenter a sketch of the shelves with exact cm/inch measurements – including the exact distance between the shelves. Shorter distance at the top for paperbacks and near the floor leave more space between the shelves for larger hard cover titles.

3. Checked carpenter’s progress. Ensure they use the right wood and measurements to avoid misunderstandings which will be difficult or expensive to correct after the project is finished.

4. Used filler to cover any small gaps which the carpenter had missed.

Ask for paint that doesn’t turn yellow over time

5. Primed the wood once the shelves are in place. Use paint that doesn’t go yellow over time (ask for it) most modern paints stay white now, but some do still go yellow after a couple of years which shows through the top coat.

6. Applied top coat white paint. Several coats, at least three needed – covering nails and screws.

7. Left the paint to dry at least a week before putting books on the new shelves – allow the paint to dry fully. Ensure the paint is completely dry – not just the top layer, but all three coats and the primer, so books don’t get stuck or paint on them.

If carpenters suggest adding a wooden panel to run down the side to cover any gaps between the shelf and the wall resist! That is, if you want the Scandi look. The complete Scandi bookcase look – handmade – shows the importance of a bookshelf and makes the shelves look as if they are at one with the wall. The focal point of the bookcase or shelf is the thing that sits on it, ie a book or an ornament.

What’s more important – the Books or the Shelves?

The British look is robust, with panels and fixtures added for support – more is better. The more planks and screws and door added to the case, the better: add to that three, four, five shelves above the cupboard is the traditional look. The bookcase and shelves are in themselves the main feature. 

The Scandi look is the opposite. Shelves appear to float in the air or emerge from the wall while effortlessly supporting the books or decorative pieces. In Scandi style, bookshelves really do take a supporting role which makes them so important. It’s been said a home without a book is like a body without a soul – perhaps an overstatement, but also perhaps a statement that has spurned a million ‘How to Style a Bookshelf’ columns.

Least Favourite Bookshelf Looks
  • Bendy shelves: Shelves that curve under the weight of the books or ornaments
  • Uneven shelves: Happens regularly…
  • Books piled on top of eachother
  • Too many obvious ‘tools’ holding up the shelf: Support pieces of wood, brackets unless decorative…

Once the shelves are up, there are many different ways to ‘style’ them… Some home stylists favour the colour co-ordinated bookshelf – yellow book covers fading into orange, going into purple, then blue and finally black paperbacks – risking the prospect of William Shakespeare sitting next to Jackie Collins on the shelf. At DU we believe books should simply sit (upright and not piled on top of each other) in the order which best suits the reader or the owner.

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