How to Stack Books in a Bookcase.

Overflowing with books (because you’re super-smart) but don’t have any idea how to arrange them in a book case?  Stack ’em.  Here are 7 ways to stack books so they look good.

Photograph by Donna Griffith for Style at Home

When I redid my house I knew the first thing I wanted to do was get my books out from under my couch and into a bookcase.

I had books everywhere and whenever someone wanted to borrow one or I wanted to re-read one (I can do that because I tend to forget anything I’ve read/watched/heard within 2 months of reading/watching/hearing it) I had to go searching willy nilly all over the house.  At any given moment a book I was looking for could have been a) under the couch, b) in the basement behind a large sparkly reindeer and 2 dead centipedes, c) under my bed or d) shoved under the leg of a table I found in my neighbour’s garbage.

The bookcases I chose are Billy bookcases from Ikea because they’re only 11″ deep and don’t take up a lot of space.  It took about half a day to put the bookcases together and secure them to the wall.

It took another 2 months to fill the bookcases in a way that I liked them.  How do I know this is the final configuration?  I haven’t broke out into a sweat and come running downstairs from a dead sleep to rearrange it in 2 years.  That’s a pretty good sign I’m satisfied with it.  It’s also a pretty good sign that I’m crazy.

The odd time I’ll change a stack around to look a little different.  Just for fun.  Just changing the way the same few books are stacked can completely change the look of the bookshelf.

So if you too have a bookcase, or even a shelf with books at home, take note.   There’s more than 1 way to skin a cat.   And there’s more than 1 way to place a stack.

The Classic Stack I



Half Up Half Down Stack



The Classic Stack II



On The Bias Row



Sandwich Stack I



Spiral Stack



Sandwich Stack II



The Bias Stack and the Sandwich Stack II are great if you have a book cover you really like or want to show off. You know. Something that makes you look smart. Not that my to cover choices make me look smart. A bit odd perhaps, but I haven’t kept that a secret from you.  I haven’t even kept it a secret in this post.

So if you’re looking at your bookshelf thinking it looks like stink, it probably does.  You know what your problem is?  You just haven’t lost enough sleep over it.  You haven’t woken up with crazy hair in the middle of the night and re-arranged it.  You haven’t laid every single thing out on your floor and placed it back in the bookshelf one by one over a 17 hour period eating only bits of stuff  you find in the carpet.  You haven’t  obsessed and stared and gotten angry at it enough.  Quite frankly, and I hate to be rude, but the plain truth is … you probably just aren’t crazy enough.


  1. Nina Sunday says:

    Stack in colours according to the colours of the rainbow – ROYGBIV.

    After stacking in subject order, I tried stacking in like colours together, according to colours of the rainbow, red-yellow-green and son on. And it looked wonderful!

    Except I gave up looking for a book recently, and later accidentally came across it in the navy blue section.

    I’m going back to stacking by subject!

  2. Lorena Wood says:

    I really like the same shelf with different stacks. Every where I’ve looked I haven’t seen an idea I think I’ll try. Hang a little rod with a cute curtain over a certain shelf to cover up some “papers and files” and add interest to the shelf and room at the same time. I need all my books but today I packed some away into a cupboard so hoping I’ll have some “decorator” space when I’m through.

  3. Anna says:

    Wow. It never occurred to me that there are other ways to stack books other than Classic Stack 1 and 2 and combinations of both. I like your bookshelf, it’s pretty to look at. Especially the Sandwich Stack 2. Which is why I’m very particular about not damaging the spine of the paperbacks. Unfortunately I may have to stick to my usual book arrangements due to practicality. I’m crazy about books and have about 300 in total. Sometimes I like to reread some favourite books and my friends and family tend to borrow books from me. Which is why I have to keep my books stack in a way that allows quick and easy access. I’ve resorted to arrange them by author and titles like they do in the libraries, this make it easier to search for a specific book. And due to the frequency of other people borrowing my books and the long time they took to read them I actually have a list on my computer to keep track of the books I own and where or with whom they currently are.
    All the mention about Geek Love got me curious. I might give it a shot. A Wolf At The Table sounds and looks intriguing.
    I’m actually considering purging my book collection or selecting my favourites or ones with pretty cover just so that for at least one bookshelf I could arrange them purely based on the aesthetic impact.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Anna – THanks! The rest of my bookshelf if you look carefully is actually stacked according to either author or subject. I have an entire shelf of “how to” books. Bricklaying, net making, electrical work etc. Then there’s another stack of one particular author. And sometimes I have paperback series all together, tucked in behind other books. So if they’re ugly you can’t see them, but there’s easy access to all the books by that one author. So, you CAN have your book and read it too. ;) ~ karen

  4. christine says:

    OK ordered a used copy of Geek Love. Geez, I’m a sucker for book reviews. And, to top it off, I read electronically, but ordered the pulp and paper version to add to my colour block bookcase. LOL

  5. John says:

    Obsessed with that sheepskin-covered chair. Any tips on how/where to get sheepskin like that?

  6. Liz says:

    This is fabulous! I’ve been looking for tips on how to style the bookcase I am building with my beau (right at this very moment, in fact – sometimes a girl needs a break from the sanding and painting to gaze at pretty things) and yours is the first posting I’ve found that is both helpful and HILARIOUS. Thanks for the idea and the laughs :-)

    • Karen says:

      Hey Liz! Glad you found my site. I post random things of hilarity and helpfulness 5 days a week. Sometimes 6 but I always begrudge the 6th so don’t want to mention it. Good luck with the bookcases. ~ karen!

  7. angie says:

    Since no one else commented on the black boxes across the bottom of the book shelf, I guess I have to ask….what are they? Are they magazine boxes? And do they have magazines in them or have you devised some other genius use for them?
    Your shelves are lovely. I want to sell everything in my house and start over…

    • Karen says:

      Angie – They’re wood boxes from Ikea, but sadly they don’t carry them anymore. I fill them with whatever is ugly. A lot of craft supplies, silk screening materials, mementos, magazines, insurance papers … you name it. ~ karen

  8. Chris says:

    I am going to find “Greek Love” and read it.
    Love your blog.

    I am trying to contend with my bookcase but they are so deep that I am not exactly sure how to arrange the books at this point. Did I mentioned I’ve been obsessing with this for the pass two nights? I shouldn’t admit that. :-)

    • Karen says:

      Chris – If you’ve only been obsessed for 2 nights then there’s no need to worry. You’re still an amateur. :) ~ karen

  9. Ashley says:

    They are weird and wonderful.
    Hard Boiled Wonderland at the End of the World

    Wind Up Bird Chronicle (my

    Kafka on the Shore

    (he has as many as Danielle Steele I think!)

    You’re a hoot and I’m very happy to have stumbled on to your blog.

    Btw, how does a French fry expert stay so fit & tiny? :)


    • Karen says:

      Ashley – I’m also very hyper. Anyone who wakes up in the middle of the night to rearrange her bookcase is bound to be burning a lot of calories with nervous energy alone. :) That and I do things like build chicken coops and tear up my front yard on a regular basis. ~ karen!

  10. Sarah says:

    I have such a hard time with bookcase ‘arranging’ because I have a serious addiction to reading and collecting books. I have books coming out of my ears and not enough space for the amount of bookcases it would take to house them all. Needless to say there is not a single book I would give away or get rid of… not even the James Bond paperbacks that were passed on to me from my aunt. So what do I do? I can’t bear the idea of having books in hiding, its just not fair to the book and its chances of being read.

  11. ashley says:

    Finding myself in good company here. I became distracted by “Geek Love” and couldn’t focus on the cool book arrangements, thought I must be a loony here. But here I am in a room full of book kooks just like me. “Geek Love” is so weirdly fantastic. If a librarian had recommended it to me I would have come back to deliver a kiss on the mouth. And Augusten, well, isn’t he a twisted genius.
    Anyway, I ramble. Just wanted to pipe in that it’s nice to see a bookshelf covered in the same books as my own. And nice to know I’m not alone in my strange and fantastic book world. Had you had Haruki Murikami in that stack of seven I might have wept with kindred joy.

    Karen, you’re smart and funny and I hope you keep up the good words.

    • Karen says:

      Ashley – I’ve never read Murikami. Oh hell. I’ve never even heard of Murikami. Which book would you recommend as my first? ~ karen!

  12. Heather says:

    A wolf at the table was a really good book. And thank you for the post :)

  13. kty says:

    Love the bookshelves and yes i know what you speak on the gettin’ up in the middle of the night etc to tackle a bookcase. What i was wondering is what type of lighting is that on the top of your shelves?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Kty – They’re just standard Ikea bookshelf lighting. You can buy them separately or in a 3 pack like I did. ~ karen!

  14. Beatrice says:

    Came across your site while googling how to stack books without bookshelves and I’m blown away! I love how they’re stacked. I’d love to do all the different styles; once I have a place of my own with a mini library that is!! Thanks for the post :)

  15. oHHH i am in the middle of my bookshelf styling session! I am in my third trimester, and yes, I got up in the middle of the night, hobbled down to remove everything off 2 boards and adjust the heights and swap the stuff….i am up before my toddler to “research” where I am going wrong :

    sandwich stack II is required

    and a little more crazy!

  16. Leanne says:

    You’re a genius. And really skinny. (Totally unrelated but I’m jealous and it’s worth mentioning.)

  17. ha, I’ve been doing the spiral stack for years and didn’t even know it’s name ! Love your blog….

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Tammy! Um, confession time … I made up the names of all the stacks. :) But feel free to turn the names into everyday language. ~ karen!

  18. Veronica D. Slater says:

    had to tell you: not only are my living room shelves looking fabulous, but yesterday I finally got my second hand version of Geek Love in the mail. Based on 20 pages, I am yet to determine what is more disturbing: the story line or the fact that I cannot put the book down… Just love it. Thanks ladies! :)

  19. susie says:

    Oh, ho ho, but I HAVE gotten up out of a dead sleep and rearranged pictures on the wall or made feverish drawings of furniture reconfigurations. These actions prompted my husband to ask if I had skipped my meds that day.

  20. LOVE this! We are adding bookcases to our office and I was wondering how to best display books….aka make it look like a Pottery Barn photo :)

  21. Liz says:

    Can I comment even though I’ve never read Geek Love? But about your bookshelf – it’s so beautiful. But about your table – is it a Jonathon Adler? But about you – love your blog, and your musings, and your writing and your house. You always crack me up. Thanks.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Liz! If you’re talking about the silver pedestal table in my foyer … nope. It’s just a no name thing. I do have a Jonathon Adler sofa table in my living room, but I don’t think you can see it. So you probably aren’t talking about that one. Unless you’re peeking in my window at the moment. :) ~ karen

  22. Barry says:

    I’ve been following your blog off-and-on for several months and finally had to comment just to say…. that Geek Love is an awesome book! I named my two cats iphigenia and electra. unfortunately, people think i named electra after that god awful movie. Anyway, love your blog! (And the cupfakes are awesome!)

  23. Liz S says:

    I like the dark books. I’m always looking for something new and off the wall to read. I am always a sucker for books that friends rave about. I have been looking for something else to read anyways.
    You need to come to Nashville, TN sometime. We would love to meet you.

  24. Liz S says:

    Ok… So many people have made such a big deal about Geek Love that I have ordered a used copy off of Amazon for $4.
    Karen – I am all the time sharing your blog with my friends via email and on Facebook. We love you!

  25. Shauna Rudy says:

    Beauteous. I can’t help but notice that almost all of your books are impressive looking hardcovers. Any ideas for cheap-o me who owns mostly paperbacks? My husband has an impressive collection of hardcover first-editions, but he hides them in his office where the rest of us and our grubby fingers can’t touch them.

    Oh, and Wow! I can’t believe how many of your readers share my love for Geek Love. Great read.

    • Karen says:

      Shauna – Thanks! I find that paperbacks look best when they’re really neat and straight. Since they’re usually smaller than a bookshelf nook requires I stack them like the Classic Stack II side by side. If you look at the first picture of my bookcase (the big full one) you can see a whole shelf of paperbacks. They’re the centre row (under the antlers) 5 shelves from the top. Also arranging paperbacks by colour would work really, REALLY well. It’d make them look prettier and more impressive. ~ karen

  26. Brenda Massey says:

    Great looking bookcases! I know you said in your post that you attached the bookcases to the wall, but did you have to attach them to each other to keep them lined up properly? And if you did, can you tell me how you did that?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Brenda! The Billy bookcases come with everything you need to attach them to the wall and to each other. They’re held together side by side with little pins on top. Other than having to be accurate with your measurements, it’s easy! ~ karen

  27. Michelle says:

    I sacrificed a night out with the girls to stay in and style my new bookcase. Like your staggered stack why didnt I think of that? I know what I’ll be doing this weekend, superstyling again!

  28. Andrea Claire says:

    Your comments are as entertaining as your blog.

    :) LOL

  29. sundeep @ designwali says:

    i need to get me some bookshelves!

  30. Valentina says:

    Karen, let me mention also the OCD stack! (something like this:
    this is probably what my bookshelf is going to look like as soon as I finish unboxing! But I have to admit that the On The Bias Row is very intriguing! :)

    • Karen says:

      Valentina – I LOVE colour blocked books. The problem is finding that many books in such pretty colours! I’m just looking across to my bookshelf right now thinking …. Maybe I’ll try the colour block thing. Here we go again … :) ~ karen

    • Karen says:

      Valentina! The link is gone! The link is gone! I was just going to look at it again. :( ~ karen

  31. liz says:

    These are great! I have to try a few of these configurations!

  32. Emily says:

    I heart well managed bookshelves, so neat, so tidy. If I could just get the rest of my apartment to look like my bookshelves. I have found the best way to organize my books is by color. It sounds crazy OCD, but its worth the one time effort.

    • Bev says:

      I have seen examples of this and it looks incredible – however when I tried all my books just had sludgey dark spines, not the mesmeric rainbow effect I had hoped for, so I have reverted to a random composition of classic, half and half and sandwich stacks, that I find pleasing to the eye. Have managed to colour arrange my shoe rack and wardrobe though :o) … Reading that last bit back, I am suddenly very worried about me. Crazy doesn’t even begin to cover it.

  33. Liz says:

    My bookcase looks like hell at the moment and i’ve just bought two shiny new bookcases to fill up with Crap (yes, with a capital C).

    It doesn’t help that my books are all trash fiction paperbacks that i should really be hiding under the bed rather than displaying proudly.

  34. KarenB says:

    I have shelves of books! They look like they were arranged but the nurse from “One Flew Over the Cuckcoo’s Nest”. Thanks for the tips. I am intrigued by the art peeking out from behind the chair.

  35. Traci says:

    Oh my gosh!!! I thought I was the only person that read Geek Love! Have you also read Truck? It’s amazing and disturbing at the same time!

  36. Lesley H says:

    Do you think you could send some kind of note to my boss as I fear I must run home RIGHT now to rearrange my stacks. I’m feeling very inspired by the sandwich stack. Thanks for the practical fun:)

  37. Lynn says:

    1. We read the same books, so where is my/your copy of Colorado Cache? I need that borscht recipe stat!

    2. Love, love, lovity love that chair. I have a huge lambskin on the back of my couch that I run my fingers through and my cats sleep on.

  38. giggles says:


    I know we are sisters, you have some of my favorite books on your shelf, like Geek Love. Also one of the best authors, Carl Hiaasen. I do move my book quite often, by the bed, on floor and also they take long rides in the car.


  39. Lindsay says:

    Hi. I just maniacally rearranged all of my bookshelves. I am pleased. Thank you!

    • Karen says:

      Lindsay! LOL. Good job. It may take a few go rounds before you’re completely happy with it so don’t get discouraged. Or sweaty. :) ~ karen

  40. Leslie says:

    “I haven’t broke out into a sweat and come running downstairs from a dead sleep to rearrange it in 2 years.”

    This sounds WAY too familiar…as in, I did this last night. My linen closet and my clothing closet look great, by the way. And my laundry closet.

    Thanks for these ideas! I’ve been trying to figure out ways to break up the vast sea of books on my bookcase. Most are just standing straight up like the Classic Stack 1.

  41. muscratlove says:

    Billy! The squareness just had me assuming Expedit. I’m another weirdo happy to see you showing off your Geek Love.

    • Karen says:

      Muscratlove! I have to say I’m both shocked and impressed at the number of people who read my blog who have read Geek Love. I think that says a lot about all of us. :) ~karen

  42. Brenda says:

    What are the tan/red books that are stacked to the left? Those look interesting! I have a 4-year old that LOVES books and I would love to do some fun things with her book stacks (especially with all of the big wide books that she has) but alas, she is such a reader that I know she would want the one book that is at the bottom of the cool Spiral Stack as soon as we were done. Happy New Year!!

    • Karen says:

      Brenda – The stack of books to the left is “The Practical Encyclopedia of Good Decorating and Home Improvement” from the 1970’s. You wouldn’t believe how great they are. I’ll do a post and feature pics some time maybe. It’s shocking how relevant they are even today. ~ karen

      • Jan says:

        What great books! I recognized these in your magazine photos, since I had a treasured set I sold on eBay a few years ago. I accumulated them one book at a time when they were new, yes, NEW…in the 70’s! Haha – I agree they are great – I’ve made a bunch of stuff from their inspiration over the years…ahem…decades. Toyboxes and sandboxes for the kids…That fold-down table that doubles as framed art on the wall? Upstairs in my sewing room as we speak. Thanks for the memories. :)

  43. Amy Schmucker says:

    Nature Girl by Hiassan, in your stack. That was pretty funny. Right now I am reading chicken soup for the soul.. family matters. I am definetly Not laughing like I thought I should be.

    Now I had a bookcase built with different sized “Nooks” for my important Nick Knacks that I wanted to show off. I have my books all arranged in different order also.. But I also understand you can have too many books no matter what kind of stack and it looks cramped. At least that what the guy.. the cute guy on Oprah said. Nate, I think is his name.

    You have inspired me to take a picture of my bookcase. Because it does look so cool. I will post it sometime this week. I love wacky people like us. Stack away…

  44. Karen B says:

    Lovely shelves. Most of my book shelves look like they were arranged by the nurse from “One Flew Over the Cuckcoo’s Nest”. I am intrigued by the framed art peeking out from behind the chair.

  45. Julie shinnick says:

    Well….I guess you had to state that you were crazy for those that are not familiar with your ways!
    Crazy=interesting=nutso=good value!

  46. Pam'a says:

    Karen, are YOU the person I lent my copy of Geek Love to? I can’t for the life of me recall who it was…

    A well-arranged book shelf is truly a thing of beauty, and your photos sum things up nicely. But I’m not sure I’ll ever achieve it. My problem is that I have WAAAY too many framed pictures (small ones, of various family members) to contend with. Any thoughts on that?

    I suppose I could just make a clean sweep and actually put BOOKS in mine. That’s… sort of a revelationary thought.

    • Karen says:

      Pam’a – Try putting all your family pics in the same frames (from Ikea) or at least the same coloured frames. Also, group them all together so they aren’t scattered around the bookshelf. They’ll look more important and impressive then. And just because a picture is small doesn’t mean it has to be in a small frame. Bigger will also make it look more impressive. In fact, if you really want you can take all the pics out of your bookshelf, put them in varying sized identical frames and then hang them “gallery” style on a wall. There. Done. Get goin’. :) ~ karen

      • Pam'a says:

        Hmm. All my family pics ARE in the (nearly) same black frames already, and in groups… That must mean I’m done! Recess!

  47. Lynne says:

    Karen I’m so glad I’m not the only one who forgets what they’ve read/watched etc. That way l can look forward to re-reading/re-watching good books/movies etc. over and over again !!

  48. Jeanenne says:

    I know this posting is all about the stacks but it’s worth pointing out-again-that Geek Love is one of the best books ever. Odd and wonderful in right and wrong (very, very wrong) ways.

  49. Jamieson says:

    Girl, you crazy.

  50. Bridgette Taylor says:

    This is very true, and you don’t really consider the different ways to arrange books until you’re in the thick of it. I am still unsatisfied with my bookshelves, but it’s a work in progress.

    Also- Geek Love is such a great book!

    • Karen says:

      Bridgette – Geek Love is a FANTASTIC book. But I don’t recommend it to a lot of people because … well … you know. Not everyone would appreciate the subtle nuances of breeding your own Geek show. Loved it. ~ karen

      • Erica says:

        Geek Love is one of my favorite books! And, as a Librarian, I would NEVER recommend it.

        • Karen says:

          Erica! When I took my aptitude test in highschool that’s what it told me to be. A librarian! I would have loved it. I ended up a television host who reads and writes a lot. :) ~ karen

    • Ran says:

      I have to chime in here on my love for that book, my only lament is I can’t find a hardcover copy to replace my well read paperback.

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