Color Experts Offer Creative Ideas for Bookstore Displays

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Joann and Arielle Eckstut, authors of The Secret Language of Color (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers), provided booksellers at the Winter Institute 9 session “Creating Compelling In-Store Displays” with a wealth of ideas and examples of the best ways to use color to perk up their stores and create eye-catching displays.

For the creation of displays, signage, and interior décor, three different color schemes come into play, Joann Eckstut said: monochromatic, which uses one color or a variety of different shades of the same color to form a cohesive image; analogous, which uses colors that are next to one another on the color wheel to add variety to the palette; and complementary, which uses colors opposite one another on the wheel to provide the most contrast and pop to images.

Store branding and signage is key to drawing people into the store because it “speaks to who you are, it expresses the feeling of the store, and it expresses how you relate to your community,” said Joann, adding that the best way to feature a logo or brand is to pair a neutral background with a vibrant, colorful logo, or to use a bright background with a neutral logo to help the image pop.

However, picking a logo color doesn’t mean you have to adhere to it for good, said Arielle Eckstut. If the logo is kept consistent, it can be tried out in different colors, depending on where it will be used. It’s also important to consider the exterior of the bookstore and how the logo will contrast with the building’s colors. 

The Eckstuts illustrated different color arrangements that make for an appealing window display. Using a solid color for the window’s floor and backdrop will help brightly colored items pop in a display, and it is easiest if the featured merchandise is selected first, then the background to best highlight it. “You can use your eye to select first the merchandise and then what you’re going to use to support it in color,” said Joann.

Props like tissue paper, books wrapped in a solid color paper, or yarn-covered boxes can add richness to a window display, as can grouping items of the same color together to draw the eye to a variety of products — like the ever-popular display of books in a similar color alongside signage reading, “I don’t remember the title, but I know the cover was blue.”

Inside the bookstore, the shelves, walls, floors, or ceilings can be painted with bright colors to serve as backdrops for the books. Many stores use a monochromatic scheme to ensure books stand out on the shelves. “You can create a different kind of ambiance with different colors; the point is that the monochromatic scenario will help your merchandise to pop the most,” said Arielle, adding, “We don’t want people to be afraid to use bright color in the store, especially as accents. Painting the interiors of bookshelves can be a great way to add an accent,” using bright colors that don’t take away from the books as the feature. For stores with limited areas that can be altered, ceilings can be a great canvas on which to add color without interfering with the merchandise or furniture.

“In the kids’ section, there’s a lot of color in the books themselves so the use of white or neutral colors is also effective,” said Arielle. The use of blackboard paint, which comes in a variety of colors, lets kids interact with their environment, she suggested, and provides space to write about events or add decoration to displays.

Using colorful LED lights can enhance different areas of the store, such as an events space or the storefront itself. To draw attention to the store when the sun goes down, Arielle suggested that booksellers use LED lighting, which can take a plain building and transform it with color relatively inexpensively.

The Eckstuts were joined by Jonah Zimiles, the owner of [words] Bookstore in Maplewood, New Jersey, who received complimentary services from an advertising agency to develop his store’s names as well as its branding and color palette. “We’ve had double digit sales increases each of our five years that we’ve been in business, and we think that by keeping this consistent branding, it’s been extremely helpful,” said Zimiles. However, he noted that it is important to think ahead and consider the cost of maintaining high-quality branding in the future.

The bookstore’s 1,500-square-foot basement space is used for author events, and it recently underwent a transformation to bring some of the store’s coloring and branding to the room. The author reading area, once a light-colored, cluttered space was transformed into a clean, minimalist area with a solid, espresso-colored wall featuring the store’s logo.

With the Eckstuts’ help, [words] received two display makeovers, both done simply and with little investment. In the children’s section, the Eckstuts created a rainbow-themed display of children’s books in a circle on a table, with several books in the center featuring all of the colors of the spectrum. In the store’s front window, they put together a seasonal cookbook display using dollar-store flatware and paper plates — a display done for under $25 and in less than three hours. “Sit down once a month and plan a window,” said Joann. By taking just a few minutes to develop an idea and figure out how to create it, “you all can do this,” she said.

“If you’re having trouble coming up with window displays, nature is the most wonderful place to look,” added Arielle, “because color is everywhere and Mother Nature has so many answers.”