Today, I am so excited to share my completed rainbow bookshelves with you. Collin built the shelves for me a year ago and then I spent the entire year filling them. It was a lot of space to fill and I wanted to be somewhat selective on what types of books I collected (more on that below). I could tell within the first month or two that the rainbow was going to be visually amazing, but it was a lesson in patience for me to collect slowly and live with a half-finished project for over a year.
Keep a topic list.
Many people asked (some nice and some not as nice) if we were actually planning to read/use all the books or if I was just collecting based on color. The honest answer is somewhere in between. Let me explain.
I focused on topics that were appealing to me, Jeremy and Nova. For Jeremy, I chose a lot of history, politics, music theory and cookbooks from all over the world. For myself, I collect 1970s craft books, different kinds of cookbooks (I tend to love more cocktail and baking books), books on design, renovation, cabins, fashion, dream interpretation, biographies, gems and plants … my list of interests goes on and on. And for Nova, we collected children’s books and stored them lower on the shelves so she can reach them.
That said, we also collected books by color. I wouldn’t buy a book on a topic I was zero percent interested in, but it’s also not realistic to say we’re planning to read all of these books cover to cover and I am OK with that balance. What we created is a useful family library that we regularly pull from, but there are books way up high that we barely ever see! Since they were purchased secondhand I see no problem with some of the higher up books being more of a decoration. To me, it is a balance of “function” and “fashion.”
I purchased almost all the books secondhand. The only books that are new are ones I would have bought anyway (a few design books I purchased last year and a lot of children’s books that were gifts to Nova). We found a local store where we could buy many books for less than a dollar. I went a few times per month all year long and filled a cart with books each visit.
Like I have said above, I have no problem with buying some books as decorations, but if I did I feel like buying secondhand makes it even less of a problem. I mean, if the books are being loved and appreciated as a collection, that is better than sitting on a used bookstore shelf, right?
Sorry if some of my wording seems a little defensive, I don’t mean it to! I just got a LOT of messages that were like, “Are you even going to read these books” all year long and so I feel like I want to explain myself. Haha—but moving on—I can accept the fact that you either like the idea of a book collection or you don’t.
Collecting by color
To fill a space this size, it took many trips. Each time I went I would look at the shelves and write down 3-4 colors to focus on. I would still buy books off the color list, but the list helped me to focus on looking for certain colors. I found that blues and greens were extremely easy to find compared to yellows and pinks. So some colors took longer than others. So take note all you aspiring authors—if you get a chance to have a yellow or pink spine on your book, I say go for it because it will at least stand out on the shelf a bit more. And I assume your great writing will already make it stand out otherwise, too. 🙂
Anyway, I would still stick to the sections of the store that I was more interested in, but keep an eye out for certain colors. That’s the routine I developed that worked for me.
I had several vintage loving friends who sent me books with colorful colors they found for bargains.
Where to shop
I actually never got to a library sale because the dates just didn’t work for me. I tried all kinds of thrift shops and couldn’t find the best prices. I mainly collect hardcover books (although there are a lot of softcover mixed in too) and a lot of thrift shops charge more than $5 each for them (which adds up fast).
I found a local used bookstore that had a big range of prices (there are lots of books over $10 but also books for 25 cents). It’s called McKay’s if you live in Nashville and I LOVE going there.
Garage sales and estate sales can also be amazing. I didn’t have as much luck, but maybe you will.
My best advice for shopping for used books is to go often—find places you like to go and go a couple times every month or even once a week. You can’t collect a quality book collection in a couple of shopping trips, at least not a large one. I highly recommend shopping slowly and taking your time. It’s worth it!
I hope this has been helpful. Collin is planning to make a post about building custom shelves soon, so if you have any questions for him you can leave those in the comments. And, of course, if you have any questions for me about our process or our library wall I am happy to answer them!
Credits//Author: Elsie Larson, Project Assistant: Collin DuPree, Photography: Amber Ulmer.