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. 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

  2. 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!

  3. Andrea Claire says:

    Your comments are as entertaining as your blog.

    :) LOL

  4. sundeep @ designwali says:

    i need to get me some bookshelves!

  5. 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

  6. liz says:

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

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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!

  11. 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:)

  12. 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.

  13. 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.


  14. 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

  15. 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.

  16. 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

  17. 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. :)

  18. 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…

  19. 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.

  20. 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!

  21. 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!

  22. 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 !!

  23. 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.

  24. Jamieson says:

    Girl, you crazy.

  25. 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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