Bookshelf Wealth: Finding Joy in Your Old Books

May 13, 2024



Hannah Haber

Bookshelf wealth values authenticity. It’s an interior design trend that encourages you to display your worn-out books with signs that they’ve actually been read. Dog-eared corners, oxidized pages, broken spines, and faded covers—all these give your bookshelf visual interest and speak to your own personal history. 

According to  French poet Charles Baudelaire, “A book is a garden, an orchard, a storehouse, a party, a company by the way, a counselor, a multitude of counselors.” In short, books enrich our lives. And if you have flipped through piles of tomes, you’re practically a billionaire!

A Wealth of Knowledge

cozy forest cabin interior with wooden walls, cabinetry, and table.
Photo by Petr Polák

Bookshelf wealth is a bookworms’ way of stocking their favorite reads and items. Besides sticking to your avid reading habit, it also contains a collection of things you’re genuinely interested in. From ceramics, scented candles, photos, and artwork, you can draw inspiration from these trinkets to enhance your reading experience. 

But contrary to what the name suggests, it isn’t all about creating the perfect bookshelf. It is an entire corner of mismatched decor and textile patterns with comfy seating that reflects a highly personalized lifestyle. Whether you create a reading nook or dedicate a whole room to it, bookshelf wealth enriches the essence of life bound by your own rules. 

This style employs an eclectic approach due to its loosely organized design. Since it embraces the idea of “a life lived and explored,” bookshelf wealth is driven more by interests and hobbies. It gives you the freedom to curate a space that displays your most treasured items.

Skimming through Bookshelf Wealth’s Origins 

Bookshelf Wealth: Richness Found in Piled Stories and Joyful Mess.
Photo from Pinterest
President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. Suite
President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. Suite
Photo by Monstera from Pexels

Although it’s not new to use books and baubles as decor, it still grew popular on TikTok for a number of reasons.

British business newspaper, The Financial Times, considers bookshelf wealth as the first major design trend of 2024. However, this sudden craze for books and bookshelves didn’t start as an expression of personal preferences at first. People began paying attention to these items as backdrops for “shelfies” and Zoom meetings and faux adornment in cafes and offices. In other words, bookshelf wealth was used mainly for its aesthetic value. 

This phenomenon is tied with another trend called “dark academia,” which is an Internet subculture of idealized higher education. As its gothic Oxbridge Harry Potter aesthetics fascinated many influencers, it made books on shelves merely set dressing. 

But now that it’s been adopted in interiors, real bookshelf wealth is redefining these pretentious connotations. Dubbed as the “antithesis of glossy coffee table books,” it abandons all the attributes of posturing. 

According to architecture and design critic Edwin Heathcote, for certified bibliophiles, bookshelf wealth isn’t always visually pleasing. For starters, it’s almost impossible to achieve a perfectly arranged book pile because of their different heights and widths. Not to mention their various colors, font styles, and cover art. Whether you stack them alphabetically, by genre, or even by  color, there will always be a little disorder. 

And however neatly you organize it, your shelves will consistently look cluttered as you keep adding to your collection. And that is where its authenticity lies. 

Investing in Your Bookshelf Wealth

Bookshelf Wealth: Richness Found in Piled Stories and Joyful Mess.
Photo by Tiana from Pexels

While bookshelf wealth is a medley of soul-filling clutter by default, there are hacks to make it tasteful and artistic. 

Choose the Right Bookcase

Having a bookshelf doesn’t automatically translate to having  bookshelf wealth. Aside from aligning  it to your personal taste, pick a bookcase design based on its sturdiness. Avoid floating shelves at all costs due its limited weight capacity. Instead, choose those made of wood or metal with either an open layout for easier access or glass door panels for less dust. For smaller areas, you can invest in standalone cases. But you can go all out with floor-to-ceiling shelves if you have the space. 

Play with Stacks and Patterns

As part of its signature style, mixing patterns is one way to achieve a collected, lived-in bookshelf wealth interior. A rule of thumb is to make the ratio of books higher than collectables. So, you have to pick the supplementary objects that best fit the nature of your tomes. 

For example, if your books are mostly about mystery and crime, then putting family photos beside them is not so ideal. Perhaps some murderabilia or any object you have closer to a detective’s items would do. Or if you own a stack of adventure reads, you can add souvenirs from a trip.

You can also add  visual interest by breaking the linear pattern and stacking some books vertically. Not only does it provide breathing room for the shelf, it also shows your favorite book covers.

As for the space, the patterns should be a little more contrasting but still keep visual hierarchy in mind. You can spice up the negative spaces with patterned wallpaper and go for a more neutral furniture design, or vice versa. If you want to add patterns on every space’s element, apply the most prominent design to the area or item you want to highlight. 

Make It Odd

To make the bookshelf more intentionally curated, fill each slot with odd-numbered items. Stacking the books in three or five (or higher) creates proportion since it leaves one as the center. The same goes for trinkets, but you can apply them alternately. For example, you can put one on the top slot, then five on the next, skip the following slot, and leave three on the last. 

Aside from numbers, you can show hanging objects outside the shelf’s moldings. This can be art pieces or photos, which completes the scruffy yet thoughtful vibe of bookshelf wealth.

Bookshelf wealth celebrates the complexity of your lived experience in a single, expressive corner. And as it shies away from staged perfection, it lets your personality and the life you’re leading shine through.

Read more: What’s the Best Bookshelf for You? 4 Great Designs to Consider

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