Avoid these 3 common reading nook mistakes when styling a blissful and cozy DIY reading nook for adults.
Here’s how Monday used to look for me when I was an editor at a NYC publisher: sit at a cubicle, wheel my chair into the corner, put my head down, and try to edit a manuscript while my cubemate played music, a publicist pitched on the phone, a TV blared Good Morning America, and editors chitchatted at each other’s doors a whole three inches from me.
Sounds stressful, right?
Well, here’s how Monday looks for me now that I’m a literary agent: wake up, make coffee, settle into my reading armchair, expertly arrange pillows and blankets, and edit a proposal, respond to emails, or do whatever else is on the docket for that day.
Ahhh. Blissful. Just thinking about it makes me breathe deep. It is SO much more peaceful and productive.
Of course, that’s not every Monday. A lot of the time I’m in New York, working in a busy, open-concept office, or I’m booked with calls and working at my desk, or I’m working from Swing’s, the best coffee shop on the planet. (Hot take, I know.)
Maybe you’re lucky enough to work from home on occasion. Or maybe you come home craving peace and quiet to read or write. Either way, you know what a huge difference it makes to have a reading nook that’s blissful. Blissful the way a great yoga class can be—you breathe deeper in it; you sink into it; you feel that you’re in the universe of a single task.
But, here’s the thing: it’s not easy to create a blissful reading nook. Trust me, I’ve made every mistake and failed at styling many of the reading nooks I’ve had. I’ve gone through 7 iterations of a reading nook over the past 7 years, and it wasn’t until the past year that my reading nook started to feel just right.
So I know all the common mistakes people make when styling reading nooks, because I learned them the hard way. And since I don’t want you to have to learn the hard way, here are the mistakes you should watch for when styling your reading nook:
The 3 most common mistakes in reading nooks:
1. There are too many books in your reading nook.
I know, I know. You want to hit me for saying this. But seriously: a reading nook is for reading, not for being stared down by all the books you haven’t read yet. I’ve tried reading nooks packed with bookshelves and reading nooks with no books, and I’ve finally settled on a happy in-between.
To me, I want a reading nook to feel blissful and serene above all, so only a few books within reach is perfect. You can either spaciously arrange books on a small bookshelf along with other decorative items, or lean a few books on a ledge, or even stack them on a side table in your reading nook.
The rest of your books can live happily in larger bookshelves throughout the house (we keep ours near the front door), but now your reading nook will always be the one corner of your house that feels peaceful and calm.
2. You don’t have a comfortable enough spot to sit in your reading nook.
I could probably write 1,000 words right now about my feelings on armchairs but because that is painfully boring and I wouldn’t even want to read it, I’ll tell you this: you need an armchair that, above all, can hold you comfortably, in various stretched-out positions for oh, 8-hour, reading sessions.
A reading nook is not the place for high-backed armchairs. A reading nook is not the place for cushioned benches with no back support. (I know, I love these closets-turned-reading-nooks, too, but how comfortable do they really look?)
When it comes to reading nook couches and armchairs, the deeper, plusher, and larger, the better. And if you really want to give yourself space to stretch out with a book, add an ottoman to your reading nook. Now we’re entering chaise lounge territory but without the need to commit to always putting your legs up. Bliss.
3. Your reading nook has too much clutter.
Have you heard that people are anti-clutter these days? (Ha ha.) I represented this decluttering book and this organizing book, and they have made a world of difference in my life. I used to have no darn idea how people made the houses in magazines look so good, but now I get it: they have less stuff, and what they have is artfully tucked away.
Decluttering is the hardest thing to do when we have books, posters, tctochkes, and other literary ephemera that completely fit the reading nook theme. But experiment a little: if you take away 3 things from your reading nook, does it feel calmer and quieter?
After all, we’re in our reading nook to read or write, not stare at our Fahrenheit 451 posters and collection of bookstore totes. Think of it like creating a blank canvas, where your mind can wander and daydream. A reading nook should be one of the few places in the world where you’re not assaulted by stimulus from every direction and where you can actually breathe deeply, think clearly, and focus on just one thing at a time.
Do you have other advice on styling a reading nook I might have forgotten? I’d love to hear it in the comments!
After I spent the past 7 years styling, restyling, making mistakes, starting over, and hauling my reading nook through many moves, I’ve finally gotten it to look like the blissful reading nook of my dreams.
So what does my reading nook look like?
When we first moved in to our apartment, I immediately knew I’d put my reading armchair under the big windows in the living room. But it took me a few months of mistakes and false starts to get the other pieces of furniture right.
I started by digging through my Dream Home board on Pinterest (you can follow me here, by the way!) and trying to pick out the common elements in the reading nooks I liked. Here are some of the inspiration images I used:
From those, I figured out a few things I like in a reading nook:
- white couches
- soft textures
- lots of light
- botanical prints
- reading lamps
I had a few of those things already, so when we moved in, I pulled them together in the most light-filled corner of our living room and ended up with this reading nook:
Yes, half of the plants are fake and half are real. I do what I can do, you know?
Excuse me, that is MY reading nook. Get out of there, Jarrett.
My reading nook is now my favorite corner of our apartment, and it’s where I spend most of my time. It’s my style, exactly, and even though some of my friends laugh at me for loving neutrals and whites so much, it’s what feels blissful and clean and happy to me.
Here’s a breakdown of how the look came together along with similar sources you might like to try for your own reading nook:
1. bookshelf | 2. rug | 3. mug | 4. plants | 5. blanket | 6. side table | 7. botanical print | 8. reading lamp | 9. armchair | 10. pillow | 11. ottoman | 12. galvanized plant pot
I did a lot of the shopping for this reading nook mood board on Arhaus—one of Jarrett’s cousins was a design consultant there for years, which is how I discovered their stuff. Maybe I’m late to the game on this, but I didn’t realize until a few years ago that Arhaus is one of the few furniture companies that doesn’t use endangered wood from rain forests. That makes me happy, since (thanks to The Joy of Less), I do worry about how sustainable the furniture we buy is.
But even though I’m picky, I’m not precious, and I want reading nook furniture that works hard for me. So I totally and completely love that this chair and ottoman are slipcovered (mine are similar to this ottoman and this armchair from Arhaus, which are both on sale!). And yes, I’ve spilled coffee on them. So many times. And I didn’t stress it one bit, because I knew the fabric was just one wash away from looking brand new again. But if you’re less willing to live fast and loose with white couches like I am, there are so many pretty and colorful living room pieces on the Arhaus site. I’m still thinking about this armchair. Isn’t there something cozy and literary about it?
I had so much fun creating this mood board that I realized: hey, it’d make a cute art print, too! So I turned all my favorite reading nook pieces into illustrations and created a free printable art print, which you can frame and hang in your own reading nook.
You can use this print to pull together these same reading nook elements in your own style, or check out the links above if you want some of the same pieces I have! Either way, I hope it helps you create a reading nook that’s a tad better than a cubicle in a noisy office. 🙂
And I’d love to hear: What does your reading nook look like? Are there certain essentials I’m missing?
What I’m Reading This Week
Moonshine Makes A Comeback in Virginia. And This Time, It’s Legal (C. Jarrett Dieterle for NPR’s The Salt): Brag alert! Jarrett wrote this excellent piece on Virginia moonshine for NPR, and I got to go stage mom on him and tag along as we visited distilleries, tasted moonshine, and edited the piece. Now Jarrett’s working on a post on the behind-the-scenes of the article, including what it’s like to be edited me (oh god, please let it be nice), so watch for that in the next few weeks.
10 Rules for Book Editors (Jonathan Karp, President of Simon & Schuster on Publisher’s Weekly): If you want to understand how to write a book, you need to understand what editor’s look for, and who better to give you that insight than a veteran book editor and the President of the Simon & Schuster imprint? And to continue your self-education, pick up the whole book where this excerpt was taken from: What Editors Do: The Art, Craft, and Business of Book Editing.
15 Riveting Books with Unreliable Narrators and Ambiguous Endings (Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy): If you love books that make you sort out what’s what the whole way through, get thee over to this list!
What To Read With Your Kids and Teens When the World is Terrible (Kristy Pasquariello for BookRiot): “When the world feels like a terrible place (and let’s face it, it’s pretty freaking terrible right now), I sometimes struggle to maintain perspective and positivity. …it got me thinking about how I could and should use children’s books to work through some of the many emotions evoked by the news.”
These three cookbooks went viral before the Internet existed — and they still hold up today (Charlotte Druckman for The Washington Post): Do you have one of these classic cookbooks?
What We’re Eating This Week
Yippee: plenty of things to cook and even a smidge of energy to do it. (Famous last words.)
Monday: Chicken Cordon Bleu Soup—a blinding desire to turn Chicken Cordon Bleu into soup hit me last week even though I haven’t had CCB in, oh, 10 years? The stomach wants what it wants.
Tuesday: Peanut Chicken and Cucumber Salad in Lettuce Wraps, loosely based off the recipe in this book. I will be carefully julienning my cucumber because I just do not believe in spiralizers. (Unpopular Opinions by Maria Ribas: A New Series.)
Wednesday: Spaghetti Carbonara with Garlicky Roast Cauliflower and Artichokes. I live and die by Mario Batali’s Carbonara recipe. Back away from me, you creamy carbonaras.
Thursday: Another utterly absurd craving: I spotted a bowl of simple Franks and Beans in someone’s else’s fridge last week and was filled with an unstoppable urge to make Elevated Franks and Beans” (Jarrett has already laughed at me for calling anything I make “Elevated,” and I have no defense.) So, yes, black beans with kielbasa will be happening, and we can call it Elevated Franks and Beans or Lazy Person’s Feijoada or A Very Cheap Dinner or just eat it and stop stressin’ about the title.
Friday: We’re off to a Halloween party, so candy for dinner! Or, you know, hot dogs. We’re wearing this embarrassing hot dog couple’s costume, and I desperately want to get this one for Pepper and then go out to eat at Haute Dogs because then how could they not give us free hot dogs for life?