A Rainbow of Books: Organizing by Color

by hookedonhouses on February 5, 2008


As I may have mentioned before, I love books. I’d have built-in bookshelves in every room of my house if I could, including the kitchen and bathrooms. I keep a file of pictures I’ve ripped out of magazines that I like and about 75% of them feature bookshelves.

Which may be why this picture intrigues me (I found it at Craftzine). I love organizing things, but I’m not sure if I’d go so far as to group all of my books according to color. Still, it’s a pretty cool effect, so long as you don’t have to find anything too quickly.

It reminded me of the very cool Adobe Bookstore experiment in which Chris Cobb, a San Francisco artist, rearranged all 20,000 books in the store according to color. He called it “There is Nothing Wrong in This Whole Wide World,” and said it was based on the idea that “Even though there is so much to be unhappy about in this world, we should try to create something amazing and beautiful and interesting despite all of the problems.”

How he went from that concept to “I think I’ll reorganize the shelves of an independent bookstore according to color,” I have no idea. But the results were pretty eye-catching.


These were two photos taken of Chris Cobbs’ project in 2004. It took him and a team of 16 volunteers 10 hours to rearrange them all. (Photos courtesy of Superherodesigns.)


So many people were inspired by this concept that you can find photos of “book rainbows” all over the Web. One Flkr photo pool showcases lots of different takes on Cobbs’ original vision. Here’s one (go to Flickr to see more):


Even my friend Ann Kroeker did her own take on it last year. Ann says, “Title-browsing can be rather disconcerting, as there’s nothing tying the books together thematically, nor are they collected by author or alphabetical order. The primary thing they share in common is the color of their spines. This is not the natural choice of a book lover, I’ll admit. But I’m happy with the way my family room feels.”

Kim Myles of HGTV’s show “Myles of Styles” recently arranged books according to color in this room:

So what do you all think? Has anyone else out there done this? Would you ever consider it? As for me, well, I think I’m content to just enjoy looking at other peoples’ literary rainbows for now. But maybe after I finally convince my husband to build some built-in bookshelves in our dining room, I’ll consider it.

If You’re Hooked on Books, check out this fun collection of Bizarre Bookshelves.

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The Nester February 5, 2008 at 6:02 pm

I am so doing this! I always try to hide my bright pink books and those vomit orange ones–no more! If only I had even more books! Great photos!

Liz February 5, 2008 at 7:14 pm

The bookstore project aside (which was kind of gorgeous and funky–as an _experiment_), this shameless book segregation makes me want to march on Washington. Perhaps this is the raggedy edge for me–the place where love of houses and love of books clashes and I’m forced to side with books over looks.

Though if I try to be more objective, I suppose it would be a good memory exercise to try to recall that _Great Gatsby_ is sandwiched between _Zolar’s Guide to Astrology_ and _Don Quixote_. . . and possibly then a good critical thinking exercise to try to figure out why the three belonged together beyond color.

Oh, the humanity.

maya February 5, 2008 at 7:18 pm

Who dares say that they do not love this?

hookedonhouses February 5, 2008 at 7:54 pm

I think Liz dares say it, Maya. Ha. Liz, you’re cracking me up. I wish you’d tell us what you really think!

How do you organize your bookshelves? Alphabetically? Thematically? I’m sort of compulsive about keeping mine in their various groupings–decorating/house books on one shelf, books on writing on another, all the novels together, etc. I’m not sure I could split them all up based on color, but I do enjoy seeing other people experiment with the idea. Thought it looked kind of cool.

If anyone wants to send me photos of their bookshelves and tell us how you organize your books (if they’re organized at all), I could do a post on that in the future!

Liz February 5, 2008 at 11:02 pm

Perhaps the problem is that I anthropormorphize books. I know in my heart that Helen Fielding books want to sit on the shelf to Nick Hornby, just as the Bronte sisters all like to be together for a family reunion, and the Lost Generation likes to find itself amongst its peers.

And if we apply these arbitrary color rules to our books, why not then to our friends? It’s dangerous ground I tell you!!

CindyK February 6, 2008 at 10:18 am

I have to side with Liz. Aesthetically, I love this look, but I could never abide it in my own house. Would the early journals of Anais Nin all be broken apart, one with the lavendars, one with the mints, one with the ambers? And would I have to hunt for days finding the original Barefoot Contessa because I couldn’t remember whether it or Barefoot in Paris has the bright pink spine? Lord, I won’t be able to sleep tonight thinking of the chaos.

annkroeker February 8, 2008 at 5:09 pm

I like all the photos you’ve pulled in one place for your readers, Julia.

Like you, I have bookshelves and books all over the place, and in only one room are they categorized by the muted color of their hardback spine. Most of my books are in the front room, where the bookshelves are packed–and not at all color-coordinated. You can see the photo of *those* shelves here:


Many more books are, unfortunately, in the basement. All the rest are categorized loosely by category–poetry, contemporary fiction, classic fiction, Christian nonfiction, and of course kids’ books, which are also in their subcategories of fiction, nonfiction, paperbacks, etc.

I just didn’t want Liz to think that *all* of my books are color-coordinated.

In the past three months, I’ve been thinking about a friend of mine who is planning to sort through all her books and organize like a library would. I thought about how much I’ve always loved libraries. In fact, I would love to live in a renovated old library someday; it would feel like home. In the meantime, the idea of setting up my existing book collection like a library would is a nice alternative.

So my color-coordinated shelves may be on their way out. Now I just need time to tackle a project of that magnitude….

Liz February 8, 2008 at 5:50 pm

Now just a *spot* of color coordination I would not need to protest. Sounds lovely.

I’ve been having library fantasies too, Ann, but they involve draper’s shelves from the Sundance catalog (which I cannot afford and have no room for). Perhaps they could help–there’s a handy place to put in the Dewey Decimal numberrs, and for a mere $1600 they are yours!
: http://www.sundancecatalog.com/jump.jsp?itemType=PRODUCT&itemID=9308

(Look at additional views to see the grouping of the things. It makes me drool.)

hookedonhouses February 8, 2008 at 7:06 pm

Ann, thanks for weighing in on the discussion. People have strong opinions when it comes to their books!

Liz, thanks for the link to the bookshelves in the Sundance Catalog. Gorgeous!

Aimee February 22, 2008 at 12:00 am

I like the look, but am too anal to do it that way. My books are all in neat little subject arrangements. :) I sure would be tempted though since it does look stunning.

Jenni April 8, 2008 at 3:40 am

I popped on over from This Young House. I grew up with lots of books. And if I had more money, I would have to create a room in my house for a library…lol! Sigh. Anyway, I organize my books according to height and category.
The rainbow effect is awesome, but I wouldn’t be able to find what I was looking for. Although, I do I have a somewhat photographic memory, so perhaps I underestimate myself…lol :)

Rachel September 24, 2008 at 8:49 pm

This is so cool! I’m doing this for my room. I’m redoing it. It’s currently purple with stuffed animals everywhere. Oh, haha. I’m 15 by the way. My room hasn’t been done for a while. It’s in dire need. I’m so excited!

The color bookshelves are so cool. I’m not sure what to do with my black and red striped book though…

Amy E. November 17, 2009 at 1:31 pm

found your blog by way of YHL and i can’t say i would use this type of filing in my own home, but i can admit that the concentrated splashes of color really can add interest to a room. my only question is how to file books that don’t really fit in any one color palette. especially all my sci fi novels. often times there are even scenes or characters on the spine. hm… thanks for sharing though!
.-= Amy E. ´s last blog ..New Duck in the ‘Hood =-.

Mia July 31, 2011 at 10:55 am

I love this idea, made my own you can see here, http://www.rumkihn.com/2011/07/library-rainbow.html

Thanks so much!

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