Impractical cookbook storage

Scrolling through Twitter yesterday, a post from The Kitchn caught my eye. It promised an article with six ideas for cookbook storage from professional organizers. As my bookshelves are constantly overflowing, I am always game to learn new ways to display and store my books. This article was…not that.

It isn’t that the storage ideas the organizers mentioned are bad per se, but they only apply to people with a handful of books, or those who have surplus counter or floor space. I know very few people who can spare precious square footage to “stack a few [cookbooks] with a bowl or vase on top of a surface” in their kitchen, much less add an entire bookshelf to the room. My conundrum is always finding a place to stash things that are cluttering my countertops, I have no room to put even more items into my kitchen. And heaven forfend if I put a vase on top of a cookbook. I can already see the watery disaster that would ensue if my cat (who is not allowed on the counter) were to accidentally jump up on the counter (who am I kidding, he goes wherever he wants) and tipped over the vase, which he would do because he’s a cat. Good thing he’s so darn cute.

The only option in the article that might work for me is to put my cookbooks in the pantry. Of course, then I would have almost no room for food, dishes or cookware. Such is the dilemma of having a large collection – and mine is not even that big compared to many of our Members. My cookbooks currently reside in a bedroom on several large bookshelves. I have dreams of building a library room off the back of our house, because my husband also has a sizeable book collection.

Until then, I will have to make do with my overflowing shelves and the occasional displays on the coffee table, side table, dining room table, and several chairs. Doesn’t it sound much less like clutter to call them displays instead of stacks of books? Yes, let me move this “display” so you have someplace to sit in our living room. The only alternative would be to get rid of them, and I don’t even want to think about that.

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  • lkgrover  on  October 28, 2021

    I have a few books on interior design for people with large book collections: “At home with books” (by Estelle Ellis); “Living with books” (by Alan Powers); “Books make a home” (by Damien Thompson). Some of the photos are inspriational & beautiful, others are frightening. They are not specifcally cookbook-related, but my cookbooks are shelved in the dining room & living room.

  • nvernon  on  October 29, 2021

    When I clicked on the same article I thought it was going to be about organizing categorically, and was disappointed. I have a few hundred cookbooks stored on Ikea shelves and I try to keep them by region, restaurant-y, or cooking style, but the various sizes of the books conflicts with the possible shelf height arrangements. Some day I hope to have custom shelves and not be rearranging every few months due to an influx of new books that don’t fit their designated space.

  • msmuggins666  on  October 29, 2021

    This was exactly my reaction to that article — it seems like it was written by someone who 1) doesn’t actually cook regularly (who has so much room on their counters if they do!) 2) doesn’t have a lot of cookbooks. For me this article was deeply disappointing because I was hoping to get some useful insight into how to better organize a large collection for usability (I have nearly 500 physical cookbooks stored in 3 large bookshelves and even more in electronic format and I’m always seeking better ways to organize them so I can use them more easily). And while I appreciate tips on how to integrate books into a decor, that wasn’t what I was looking for in that article. I love The Kitchn so I was surprised that such a misfire would originate from them!

  • Jenny  on  October 29, 2021

    My Facebook post from Wednesday: I knew it was just a matter of time. Yes, it was going to happen. The pathway to my office has become narrower – and I have not. The Jenga stacks of books have been good to me until today. Carrying my breakfast/lunch into my office —- the fates stuck their fickle middle finger up at me and slam bam thank you ma’am: Avalanche. No one was physically hurt save the ears of anyone outside my window who heard my cursing.

  • jluvs2bake  on  October 29, 2021

    The first thing I thought of when I started reading your post was your Jenga mishap! Haha

  • SheilaS  on  October 29, 2021

    I roll my eyes at every kitchen reno that begins with a request for cookbook storage and ends up with a sliver of a shelf somewhere.
    Equally eye-rolling are the spice storage suggestions with single-drawer solutions.
    Just scheduled delivery for 2 new bookcases that match the 3 overflowing cookbook bookshelves 🙃

  • MidwesternerTT  on  October 29, 2021

    I’ve started rotating 10-15 “want to cook from” cookbooks up from the family room shelving to stand on the floor between the legs of a tall side table next to my favorite living room chair. Newest purchases join (or displace) them. At least this grants me the illusion of planning the next round of new meals. My most-often-referenced books live in a tall narrow bookcase in the kitchen. The rest of the books are in a downstairs bookcase.

  • FuzzyChef  on  October 30, 2021

    That’s not an article … It’s a merchandize catalog with a theme. They’re trying to sell you chintzy bookends.

  • sayeater  on  October 30, 2021

    This hits a nerve right now. My new large Amish-made bookshelf arrived this week. Once I started loading the stacks in how I want (region, cooking type, etc) I realized it’s just not coming together like I envisioned and I still have both Jenga stacks and empty spaces due to book sizes/categories and shelf arrangement. Ugh! I walked away from it out of frustration but will try to troubleshoot it again later. I just want all my treasures properly displayed and easily accessible!!!

  • vickster  on  October 30, 2021

    I was thinking the same thing as you when I read that article. These people don’t have many cookbooks!

  • annmartina  on  October 30, 2021

    I have several hundred cookbooks on IKEA bookshelves. It’s the best solution I’ve found for myself.

  • Jane  on  October 30, 2021

    Owning far too many cookbooks, shelving them has been a constant issue. In my last house I had a large office with bookshelves on two walls and that worked. Having now downsized I have a large built in bookshelf in my kitchen//diner (about 600 books – the current favorites), shelves in my office (about 400 reference/factual and restaurant books), stacks on the floor waiting to be filed and finally the basement which is about 1,800 more. My current issue is that until recently the basement shelves were not full so I could just keep shelving new books, moving from the kitchen if they had been downgraded from a favorite (a tough call). But the shelves are now full and there is no room for more so shelving a new book means moving the discards into the garage damp-proof boxes for eventual donation to my local library. And that is the hardest decision of all. My fantasy is that one day I will move to a house with a library room where I have enough shelving for all my cookbooks in one place.

  • shdowling  on  November 2, 2021

    I used to organize my cookbook shelves by cuisine/region, but lately have taken to organizing by frequency of use. When I use a cookbook, I re-shelve it in “first place” at the head of my bookshelf. Cookbooks I use often float to the front, where they are conveniently accessible, and those that I rarely reach for end up at the back, where they become candidates for donation. Living for many years in a 600 sq ft cottage with limited storage space, this has helped keep my cookbook collection manageable! (Never mind my enormous digital cookbook library…)

  • Glutengirl  on  November 5, 2021

    I hear you! I am an avid cook, baker and recipe tester. Also a neat, organized cookbook hoarder, lol. I am obsessed with trying new recipes and reading cookbooks. They line or stack on every available space. I’ve given up knickknacks. Books are my decorating scheme. I purchased an end table that revolves and holds about 80 books. They are stacked under my open coffee table. They sit stacked atop my wine rack in the dining room. Two sofa tables have books on the shelf beneath. The answer to book storage for me has been to select furniture pieces that allow room for books. Too bad I’ve now run out of that space too. 🙄

  • Shanria  on  November 5, 2021

    We have ‘displays’ going artistically (misformed heaps ) up our stairs. The sofa can only be used by prior appointment and none of our doors close anymore due to more artistic displays.
    Too many books? No way! I don’t even have half the books I’d love to peruse.
    Can I actually use them? Not really. One of us is gluten intolerant, one lactose intolerant and one is allergic to rice and veggies (yes, she really is and going swollen and blue on her hands is not a pretty sight.)

  • dtremit  on  November 5, 2021

    There’s one hidden gem in that article, I think — the “story bookcase” that looks like a giant book stack once you fill it. Not because it’ll hold a full collection (as if!) but because it’ll fit in the kind of small space I seem to have somewhere in every kitchen.

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