The spectacular comeback of the bookshelf

Photo for illustrative purposes Image Credit: Pixels Bookshelves are having a moment. Not long ago, their epitaph was being written. IKEA’s redesign of its Billy unit to accommodate objects other than books was cited as evidence that we had turned the page on possessing print. Now, that story has a […]

Photo for illustrative purposes
Image Credit: Pixels

Bookshelves are having a moment.

Not long ago, their epitaph was being written. IKEA’s redesign of its Billy unit to accommodate objects other than books was cited as evidence that we had turned the page on possessing print.

Now, that story has a sequel.

Self-isolation has people rediscovering the value of having hardcovers at home. In addition, television networks’ shift to interviews via Skype, rather than in a studio, is revealing the bookcase backdrops of pundits, news anchors and celebrities at home. That domestic exposure sparked a social media conversation about literary decor.

Room Rater on Twitter, for example, offers regular, and often snarky, critiques of shelves in the rooms visible behind various talking heads.

Room Rater dishes compliments, too. “Just enough clutter,” one tweet reads. “Looks real.”

Domestic libraries are first and foremost about books. But the displays also lend an inviting graphic element to decor. Just please, designers say, don’t arrange books page-side out. That affectation makes no sense. However, please do pair books with objects, art, photographs and ephemera.

The book “Bibliostyle: How We Live at Home with Books” by Nina Freudenberger showcases enviable bookshelves around the world. Photos of collections and the rooms they inhabit are accompanied by interviews with their well-read and often-notable owners.

The hardcovers pictured here make you want to read — and display — more books.

Books lining our walls

“Bibliostyle” features homes of writers, illustrators, designers, editors and collectors — readers all. Highlighted rooms range from clean contemporary to overstuffed classic. Shelves showcase rare editions, fairy tales, gardening volumes, coffee-table tomes and even vintage comic books. There are books in closets and bedside stacks, books on landings and books lining dining room walls. They’re arranged by colour, by author, by languageby genre or not organised at all.

“People live in different ways,” says Freudenberger, a Los Angeles-based interior designer. “I think to not have books, it’s a red flag. It makes me a little nervous. Books have something incredible. The smell. They’re an object. There’s a legacy.”

She suggests using bookends for visual breaks and is fond of natural wood shelving, which, she says, is warm and accentuates the books.

Books can be a tricky item to visually conquer. Trust me, there is no better feeling than the warmth of being surrounded by books. However, if not properly allocated, they can become visually overwhelming and very busy to the eye. A crazy quilt of paperbacks and book jackets visually jarring. Some will remove paper jackets or cover books with paper or custom bindings for a more calming uniformity.

Custom built-in bookcases are ideal and are especially appealing when they surround windows.

Whatever the display, a well-used bookcase offers heft, stability, backbone, character and a sense of life lived.

The libraries featured in “Bibliostyle” are stunning examples of the substance that books lend — intellectually, aesthetically and emotionally.

Pleasure of the collection

Concern for an orderly display is often less important than the pleasure of the collection itself. Still, the collectors’ homes in “Bibliostyle” make up an inspiring portfolio of interior and architectural design. There are high-ceilinged European apartments, a poured-concrete modern in Mexico City and a wonderfully layered 19th-century New York farmhouse with windows framing Hudson Valley views like colour plates in a vintage book.

The Paris dining room of textile designer Carolina Irving has custom bookshelves crammed with global titles. The result, Freudenberger observes, is “a colourful cacophony on the shelves, a warm, natural wallpaper with snapshots of Irving’s family, bits of pottery and sculpture.”

More minimalist homes also are depicted. Emmanuel de Bayser, a proprietor of concept stores in Paris and Berlin who says he doesn’t understand people who don’t have books, has a collection tailored to fit the mid-century modern decor of his Berlin apartment.

Many of the featured book lovers have arranged their furnishings to accommodate reading.

I’m attached to the idea that different spaces, whether physical or interpersonal, will create different thoughts and experiences. Having a comfortable chair, good light — these things do put you into a state of mind to better absorb ideas.

Shade Degges is an author on architectural digest

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