Shelved By Color
By Aaron Britt / Published by Dwell

Artist Christopher Cobb and helpers reshelved all the books in the San Francisco shop Adobe Books according to color for his work

We've organized our bookshelf by color for some time here at Dwell. And to be fair, it looks great. As visitors pass the design wall, the current issue of the magazine tacked up in its unbound state, they're met with a rack of chromatic harmony. Hell, we even put a picture of the shelf in the March 08 issue of the magazine.

But what of the organizational system? Suppose I hadn't known that Mutations was large and yellow, I could have spent an age looking for the thing. As it happens, I did spend a while looking through the various piles and shelves where it could have been hiding, only to come up empty.

Then, in what can only be called striking serendipity, I came across this essay in the back catalog of Design Observer: Rob Giampietro musing on cataloging books by color.

"Certainly I understand the DDC's [Dewey Decimal System] advantages when when it comes to large-scale collections," he writes, "but if how we choose to organize our personal effects says something about who we are, then an arbitrary numeric system says very little about me."

Giampetro goes on to name a number of possibly organizational systems, size, subject, and value among them, but seems to find some expressive fault in each one.

I rather like where he goes from there, not arriving at some ur-system, but rather taking us through a couple recent examples of sorting books by color, suggesting relationships between texts as having color, and finally arrives at the idea that: "To rearrange your books is to see them afresh and to investigage yourself in the process."

Fine, that's just fine. But who took our copy of Mutations?

The Dwell bookshelves from the March 08 issue.

The Dwell bookshelves from the March 08 issue.



My wife and I just did something of a book purge of our large collection, and have roughly stuck with a more-or-less alphabetical placement for the fiction and rather a pell mell approach for everything else. The books on writing are strewn about. The philosophy is scattered. The poetry has hung mostly together, though Frost has recently decamped for the coffee table, and Auden looks set to jump ship as well.

What do you lot out there make of arranging books by color? Silliness indulged only by the callow thinking of designers?  A hell of a lot of fun? I'm curious to hear your thoughts.

Aaron Britt


Aaron writes the men's style column "The Pocket Square" for the San Francisco Chronicle and has written for the New York Times, the Times Magazine, Newsweek, National Geographic and others.

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