5 Easy Tips for Designing a Stylish (and Accessible) Kids’ Bookshelf

published Aug 10, 2021
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Credit: EE Berger

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Well-styled, kid-friendly bookshelves are everywhere. But when you’re staring at an empty bookshelf and a pile of books on the floor, an Instagram worthy bookshelf may not seem quite so achievable. So to make the process a little less daunting, we’ve compiled some tips to create a functional bookshelf for you and your minis that also looks great. 

Contrast the scale and placement of your objects 

Make your bookshelf do extra work by layering books, toys, and décor items. Of course, this is probably easier said than done. While there is no exact formula for how to arrange these disparate items in a unifying way, there are some suggested practices you can follow. The key is for the bookshelf to look balanced. If you use an object as a book end, consider placing another, complementary object on the other end. You’ll also want to have contrast for interest. If you choose to use a small picture on one shelf, consider placing it close to a bigger picture. You may even include a more spacious shelf with fewer books to create negative space, and add one or two objects to give it weight. 

For more variety, toys and décor items can lay on top of horizontally placed books. They can also be placed in front of books or behind them (think large picture behind shorter books). Be sure to place the books your child loves, or the ones you want them to read, in full view at child-height for easy reach. Remove and replace items regularly as needed so your bookshelf can remain functional and interesting for your growing readers. This will take some trial and error to get it right; but keep rearranging and trust your instincts. 

Credit: Marco Ricca

Show off those book covers 

Beautifully illustrated book covers can double as easily accessible artwork when facing forward. Simone Davies, Montessori teacher and voice behind the Montessori Notebook says, “We like to display the books front-facing so it’s easy for the child to see what’s available.” She adds that this can be on a “low thin shelf” or “in a book basket with a few books.” So your precocious pre-readers will know just where to find their favorite book — a confidence-builder for sure. Davies suggests putting fewer front-facing books on display. “[This] makes it easier for the child to make a choice and can be a lovely way to highlight some of their favorites along with one or two new books to explore.” Perhaps a good idea for your little roadrunners who prefer playing tag in the house to sitting down with a book (any little help counts, right?).

Credit: Monica Chavez

Play with book heights

Some parents prefer arranging books in ascending or descending order of height, or may choose a symmetrical order with the tallest books in the middle. Others prefer a mix of heights. If you’re not sure where you stand, know there are no hard or fast rules, only considerations.

Organizing books by height makes the books appear orderly and minimizes the chaos. Alternatively, mixing book heights is a more carefree approach and gives the impression your bookshelf is well-used (as it is, of course). But know that there is a method to that too. If you prefer a variety of heights, you may have to rearrange the books a few times to get that “it-just-happened-like this” look, or you may decide to organize the books by color which offsets the busyness and looks more deliberate.

Credit: Marie-Lyne Quirion

Controversial opinion: consider color coordinating

While some have panned color-coordinated books for being too staged, it may be perfect for your color-loving kiddos. It’s eye-catching, pretty to look at, and a good learning tool for young ones. Harmony Seiter of Harmony Organized says organizing books in this way “reinforces colors … and creates a simple organization system even toddlers can follow.” Introducing organization skills young can also carry long-term effects parents will appreciate. “Teaching kids to organize in a way that can make sense to them, like rainbow order can help them to develop a lifelong, organizing habit. Plus it helps to keep those books off the floor!” says Harmony.

Use bins to contain the clutter while adding dimension

No matter how beautifully decorated the bookshelf, it’s bound to get messy with toys, rogue books, and other misplaced items, especially if you share a bookshelf with your kids. So instead of feeling the pressure to clean it every five minutes (unless you want to, of course), include storage bins to hide some of the clutter until you get the time to sort through it. Wire bins are less forgiving so you can use those to store toys that look good in bunches, such as Legos or blocks. Rattan or opaque bins can be used to hold those random items you don’t want seen.