Monday, July 30, 2007

"Books Serve as Decoration"



How best to display books? This question seems to ignite passionate discussion. The first issue one should decide is whether to display books with the dust jackets on or off (I'm quite a fan of dust jacket art, so I choose to leave them on. This, however, is strictly a personal preference). Many designers who dislike the "randomness" of a sea of dust jackets choose to cover books in white muslin or paper, thereby creating a visually cohesive look. I would suggest this only for prop books; if you use your library for reference, you might be driven crazy by this design trick.

Once this thorny issue has been solved, then one must figure out how to incorporate their books into their decor. Do you display only books in your bookshelves, or do you incorporate a few decorative accessories as well (no tchotchkes please!). Do you organize them by color? By subject? By size? Or, do you forgo bookshelves altogether for stacks of books on tables and the floor?

Believe it or not, this topic of discussion was on the minds of designers and design devotees alike over seventy years ago. I found a brief article in a January 1936 issue of House & Garden titled "Books Serve as Decoration". Here is what the editors had to say:

So colorful are book bindings that, when used in large groups, they play a definite part in the color scheme of a room. They should be treated as a decoration. Two examples show practical application of this principle. In the room above, the depth of the wall made it possible to mass books as a colorful surrounding to a door between rooms. In the Chicago apartment of David B. Stern (below), they form a wide panel background to the desk and enhance the interest of the wall (Samuel A. Marx, architect in both instances).


OK, so this article didn't shed any light on the dust jacket issue, but it is interesting to see this acknowledgment of the importance of books in decor.
(Noted New York 20th c. furniture dealer Liz O'Brien has written a book on architect and designer Samuel Marx which will be published this fall: UltraModern: Samuel Marx Architect, Designer, Art Collector. You can also see some of his furniture designs on 1st dibs.)


23 comments:

  1. I do my books like a library... decoration, travel, reference. Because I refer to them a lot for different things, I need to be able to find them quickly. I do try and arrange them by size within the category, and have decorative items on the shelves as well. I know there's a better way to do it, but I think I will have to get more book cases first.

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  2. Fairfax- I do the same. I use my library for reference, so it has to be organized by subject, and subject within subject. Then I organize it by size too. I bet most of us need more bookshelves! (But especially you with all of your Book Thing finds!)

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  3. I am not a fan of covering books in false jacket covers. Too contrived. It detracts from the beauty of the book. Having said that for some books I take off the jacket covers because I find the spines of the books are more attractive, but I always keep the original jacket covers filed away.

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  4. Patricia- You do have a point- there are some books that have better looking spines than jackets. I always wonder about those who take the dust jackets off every book- do they throw them away?

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  5. Great post! You've got an amazing archive of H & G's!! Love these old images.

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  6. I agree with Patricia--matching dust jackets isn't for me. But if I don't like a book's dust jacket I might cover that book in pretty paper or just leave the jacket off.

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  7. Laura- I think the consensus is no matching dust jackets!! :)

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  8. Anonymous2:49 PM

    Did you see the latest ELLE DECOR? Texas designer Randy Powers turned the books in his mother's apartment BACKWARDS so you can only see the edges of the gilded pages!!! (He says nobody in his family reads much anyway.) Crazy but so chic. Think about it.

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  9. Anonymous2:52 PM

    Also, check out the books in the famous Buttah Yellow room of Nancy Lancaster's ... she had cream-colored paper book jackets made for all of the volumes, with only slits cut out to show the titles ... it was done in order to cut down on the colors of the books and provide a quieter background for the room and its bookcases ... Colefax & Fowler decorator Imogen Taylor was the one who literally cut all the new book jackets by hand!

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  10. OK Anonymous, now you're making me rethink my position :) I did see that apt in Elle Decor, and I thought it was definitely a look. That said, if I were to cover all of my books in a uniform jacket, I would have to do it like Lancaster (I mean Taylor!) did. Otherwise, I would go crazy!

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  11. Anonymous4:18 PM

    Another passionate collector of books is Bunny Williams and her husband John Rosselli -- their apartment in New York (featured in the New York Social Diary's House section) is remarkable for its stacks and stacks and bookcases full of books! And check out her home in the country -- in her book An Affair with A House. I simply can't live without books -- piled in shelves -- in jackets or not (sounds like a fancy restaurant code!)

    Jan at Rosemary Cottage

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  12. This is always a great topic of discussion and everyone will have their own preference...personally I too use my books as reference and therefore leave the jackets on (because the covers can have great imagery), and group them in categories like a library. But, I enjoy seeing people group books by color, or try something new, like what was done in Nancy Lancaster's room. Great post POC!

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  13. Jan- You're right- Williams does have a wonderful library with many, many books. I too could not live without books- one of life's greatest pleasures!

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  14. Kate- I agree that everybody has their personal preference. You're right that it is interesting to see how others handle their books. I may even be coming around (a bit) to the other side!

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  15. Great post!

    I've tagged you.

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  16. I've just found your blog and I love it-so glamorous!!

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  17. Thank you Sophie. I'm going to check out your blog now!

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  18. Coincidentally, Southern Living magazine features photos of rooms with lots of book shelves this month. Books are stacked and shelved with spines to the back revealing the page lines. Different. Personally, I like my bookshelves to exhibit the book jackets...they add color and interest to the room. Besides, when visiting others, I like to see what they read! Silly, I know. I do incorporate tschotkes (sp) as well, for anecdotal appeal.

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  19. Tea or Wine- I like to see what others read too!

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  20. I love using books as decor, but I feel that, as a bibliophile, I sometimes go overboard (i.e. do we need a bookshelf in every room, including the kitchen?!!) Then, I put one up anyway. :)

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  21. Bon Vivant- That's too funny, esp. b/c I do the same thing. Books everywhere!

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