Labor Day Sale

Building a Bookcase

by Gabrielle Blair

The very sight of empty shelves thrills me. A bookshelf, whether it's situated in a shared living space or in the corner of a bedroom or even hidden in a closet, tells a story like no other piece in your home: where you've been, where you are at this very moment, and where you're hoping to someday land. It's like your very own time capsule and revolving scrapbook, which may be why I've always taken periodic snapshots of the bookcases that have lived with us. Our pretty story, as told by our shelves!

For me, it all starts with sturdy shelves. The stronger, more solidly crafted, the better to carry even the heaviest memory. There is nothing worse than a weakly-made imitation wood shelf buckling under the weight of a family collection!

My favorite height for my littlest ones is a two-shelf bookcase, like the Kendall. Constructed with kiln-dried solid wood and with one manageable, adjustable shelf, not to mention its sleek lines that allow it to slide in easily to any room's decor, this piece has longevity and lovely written all over it.

My older girls would love the romantic lines and gentle curves of the Lilac Bookcase (PBteen.com); everything looks better on a pretty shelf! They could keep their private journals and their breakables safely up high since their younger siblings have been known to be curious little monkeys at times. (As for me, I'm smitten beyond belief with the Kent (potterybarn.com), with its genius glass doors that lift up and slide in, making everything inside look like a magazine-worthy vignette!)

So where to begin when organizing a happy-making bookcase? I always start with the things that make me happiest. A tiny bowl almost as beautiful as the child who made it. Books that have been ours since before we were born, sometimes color-coordinated or displayed as if in a bookshop. A map of a place we dream of visiting. A bright box to hold the day's found treasures. Nothing of grave importance, but everything so wonderfully important!

And remember: It's not all about height. Since I think of each shelf as a mini room of its own, it's important to consider depth, too. I hang cheery watercolor drawings or a delicate decal (like these sweet dahlias) on the back wall of the bookcase – maybe just one on every other shelf, as too many may look cluttered – and a homemade garland or a framed photograph along the front edge of a shelf.

When I'm finished, I stand back from the piece and consider edits, adding and removing and rearranging only when the finished shelves make me smile every time I pass them. And I always leave a little empty space for the memories we'll be making today. Oh, the possibilities!