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Barron's How to Perfect the Imperfect Look That Is ‘Bookshelf Wealth’

Bibliophiles and design enthusiasts in search of the next way to zhuzh up their homes are by now likely plugged into the buzzword “bookshelf wealth.”

Dubbed in design circles as the first big style craze of 2024, it’s a look that means arranging an abundance of books on shelves in an imperfect and unmanicured way, according to interior decorator Bethany Adams, the founder of an eponymous firm in Louisville, Kentucky.

“Bookshelf wealth is the opposite of the over-styled shelves meant to evoke a fancy hotel lobby or boutique,” she said. “The trend is about piling on well-loved and well-read books in every color of the rainbow—hardback and softcover alike—in a way that proclaims: The owner of this collection loves a good read.”

These books are not showpieces—they are there to be read, Adams said, and as such, should be paired with comfortable seating, cozy carpets and excellent lighting.

Bookshelf wealth has fast become a social media sensation. Interest has garnered single TikTok videos millions of views, and the term has also spread on Instagram. Now, interior designers report that they’ve seen a flood of requests from existing and new clients who hire them for bookshelf-wealth projects.

Adams, for one, said that she is currently working on a half-dozen jobs. Her husband, Joshua Adams, a literature professor at the University of Louisville, even tapped her recently to redo the bookshelves in his library as a birthday present.

“Being a professor plus a rare book collector, I have at least 2,000 books which were spilling out of my 6-foot tall shelves,” he said. “Since the ceilings in the room are 10 feet tall, Bethany installed custom-built shelves that are shy of four feet on top of the existing shelves which almost doubled the space.”

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In a throwback to another era, Adams also added a book ladder.

“They’re now floor-to-ceiling shelves that hold Joshua’s book collection,” she said. “Stacking shelves is a way to get more room without adding clutter to your space with separate shelves, and the ladder is an old-fashioned touch.”