Today, I am so excited to share my completed rainbow bookshelves with you. Collin built the shelves for me a year ago and then I spent the entire year filling them. It was a lot of space to fill and I wanted to be somewhat selective on what types of books I collected (more on that below).
I could tell within the first month or two that the rainbow was going to be visually amazing, but it was a lesson in patience for me to collect slowly and live with a half-finished project for over a year.
Keep a topic list.
Many people asked (some nice and some not as nice) if we were actually planning to read/use all the books or if I was just collecting based on color. The honest answer is somewhere in between. Let me explain.
I focused on topics that were appealing to me, Jeremy and Nova. For Jeremy, I chose a lot of history, politics, music theory and cookbooks from all over the world.
For myself, I collect 1970s craft books, different kinds of cookbooks (I tend to love more cocktail and baking books), books on design, renovation, cabins, fashion, dream interpretation, biographies, gems and plants … my list of interests goes on and on. And for Nova, we collected children’s books and stored them lower on the shelves so she can reach them.
That said, we also collected books by color. I wouldn’t buy a book on a topic I was zero percent interested in, but it’s also not realistic to say we’re planning to read all of these books cover to cover and I am OK with that balance.
What we created is a useful family library that we regularly pull from, but there are books way up high that we barely ever see! Since they were purchased secondhand I see no problem with some of the higher up books being more of a decoration. To me, it is a balance of “function” and “fashion.”
I purchased almost all the books secondhand. The only books that are new are ones I would have bought anyway (a few design books I purchased last year and a lot of children’s books that were gifts to Nova). We found a local store where we could buy many books for less than a dollar. I went a few times per month all year long and filled a cart with books each visit.
Like I have said above, I have no problem with buying some books as decorations, but if I did I feel like buying secondhand makes it even less of a problem. I mean, if the books are being loved and appreciated as a collection, that is better than sitting on a used bookstore shelf, right?
Sorry if some of my wording seems a little defensive, I don’t mean it to! I just got a LOT of messages that were like, “Are you even going to read these books” all year long and so I feel like I want to explain myself. Haha—but moving on—I can accept the fact that you either like the idea of a book collection or you don’t.
Collecting by color
To fill a space this size, it took many trips. Each time I went I would look at the shelves and write down 3-4 colors to focus on. I would still buy books off the color list, but the list helped me to focus on looking for certain colors. I found that blues and greens were extremely easy to find compared to yellows and pinks.
So some colors took longer than others. So take note all you aspiring authors—if you get a chance to have a yellow or pink spine on your book, I say go for it because it will at least stand out on the shelf a bit more. And I assume your great writing will already make it stand out otherwise, too. 🙂
Anyway, I would still stick to the sections of the store that I was more interested in, but keep an eye out for certain colors. That’s the routine I developed that worked for me.
I had several vintage loving friends who sent me books with colorful colors they found for bargains.
Where to shop
I actually never got to a library sale because the dates just didn’t work for me. I tried all kinds of thrift shops and couldn’t find the best prices. I mainly collect hardcover books (although there are a lot of softcover mixed in too) and a lot of thrift shops charge more than $5 each for them (which adds up fast).
I found a local used bookstore that had a big range of prices (there are lots of books over $10 but also books for 25 cents). It’s called McKay’s if you live in Nashville and I LOVE going there.
Garage sales and estate sales can also be amazing. I didn’t have as much luck, but maybe you will.
My best advice for shopping for used books is to go often—find places you like to go and go a couple times every month or even once a week. You can’t collect a quality book collection in a couple of shopping trips, at least not a large one. I highly recommend shopping slowly and taking your time. It’s worth it!
I hope this has been helpful. Collin is planning to make a post about building custom shelves soon, so if you have any questions for him you can leave those in the comments. And, of course, if you have any questions for me about our process or our library wall I am happy to answer them! I also wrote a post on My Used Book Collection if you want to read more!
Looking for more rainbow decor?
–Rainbow Stairs DIY
–Rainbow Corner Accent Wall DIY
–How to Make a Rainbow Roving Pillow
I love your idea. If Dewey could use numbers you could use colors!
So gorgeous, I love rainbow anything! Your book collection is glorious décor that also is useful. Whether you read a single one of those books or not, you have supported your local shops, and kept books out of landfills..
To the haters, if haters there be, perhaps this is a more sensible way to decorate than brand new knickknacks from big box stores!
Hey! We’re thinking of doing something similar in our home! How high are your ceilings? Thanks for the inspiration ❤
I actually don’t know, but I would guess 12 or 14 feet maybe?
These are the best book shelves ever, absolutely stunning!
I am wondering if you have any suggestions on the following – perhaps food for a new blog post on book shelve organising?
I have to make do with an IKEA Billy bookcase, but have a couple of beautiful photo books that are too large to fit on the shelves, both when putting the book upright and when putting it down flat. Do you have any suggestions on how those kind of books could be kept or displayed to do them justice?
Something like this might work better! https://abeautifulmess.com/2017/03/diy-baby-bookshelves.html
I absolutely LOVE this! I think it’s all about balance like you say and books are an art form in themselves so they make the perfect item for decoration!
Seriously, you do not have to justify or explain yourself! Who cares if you don’t read them all?!!! What an absolutely stunning project!!!
Wow. What a lovely bookshelves, Elsie.
Hi i like your book case and all the colours so what if you don’t read them at least you bought some from a charity shop that helps other people it doesn’t matter what other people think it’s your house and you live there enjoy all your colours i wish i had a partner that could build things and everything else
I was wondering if the bookstore you were talking about was McKay’s! It’s awesome, right? I haven’t been to one (there is – or at least was – one in Chattanooga too) in quite awhile, but it was super-cool when I was there!
Yes- we love McKays.
Well it looks lovely for sure! 🙂 I’m a person who organizes by subject and then sometimes by author within that, so I am curious a bit about use. Do you find that it’s more a browse library, or do you go searching for specific books often? Are they relatively easy to find if you are searching for something? I often search for specific titles which is why I go by subject, but a browse library sounds delightful too! Also, do you keep another set of books organized a different way somewhere else? Or are they all sort of random order (or color order)? Thanks for your answer and for this post! 🙂
As someone who works in publishing there are so many great reasons to buy books that go beyond just planning to read them! I also am the kind of person that goes on vacation and comes back with books and fabric. I may or may not read them but getting them from somewhere special made me happy and I always note where I bought them and when in the covers. Your wall is beautiful and I’ve enjoyed watching it come together on your instagram! I hope to have a full wall bookshelf myself one day.
We had a similar experience when collecting colorful glassware for our wedding! We also had a lot of skeptical family that kept asking, “What are you going to do with all this after the wedding!” But it ended up paying off and was a beautiful (affordable, especially compared to renting less beautiful glassware from a company) addition to our wedding day. And now we get to pick our favorites as a souvenir from our wedding and pass the rest onto someone with a similar wedding design! Your colorful glass collection in your kitchen was definitely one of the inspirations, so thank you!
I LOVE this project! It turned out so pretty! And I don’t think reads have to be read to be loved a cherished! This is such a cool project!
A brother & sister team in Denver just started a pay what you can where 50% of the profits go to charity (50/50 bookstore) as a way to save unsalable books from the landfill or being recycled. I might have walked out with more books then I can read in a year…They even have a way to sponger teachers in the area…
I was soooo inspired when you first shared your rainbow book shelf wall on instagram.
I really want a library wall for all my books as well. I already have so many books, but for the time being most of them are in cardboard boxes ???? . So, thanks a bunch for the inspiration!!! Love it!! ❤️
Looks great! I arrange my books by topic so I can find them easily, but this looks better.
Woww.. Your bookshelves look amazing. “If I have bookshelves like this, I will read book everyday”, my son said. Gorgeus room!!
These bookshelves look amazing! I’m so excited to see this post, and I enjoyed seeing your in-progress photos in Instagram as well! I had a couple of questions for you though:
1) How do you organize your shelves? Clearly you go by spine color, but within each color do you have an organization system?
2) I really enjoy the look of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves but always wonder how to get good access to the top shelves. Did you have any breakthroughs on this, or does it still require finding a ladder to get down a book?
This looks amazing! ❤️
Arianna | Southernbf.blogspot.com
I have so much bookshelf lust right now…Gorgeous!