January 6, 2011

Books: More Discussion on How Decorators Use Them

Today’s New York Times had an article about how decorators are using books in their interiors, doing things such as putting several shelves of old books with their pages facing out, bundling old coverless books a la Restoration Hardware, and covering all books exactly the same. NYT books 4One of the interesting comments was that clients want their books written in English, because as Alexa Hampton said “Now they want books they actually might read.” (Emphasis mine!)NYT books 2 I actually don’t mind the way the books above are covered, since you can actually see the titles… Or the alleged title, since mention was made of covering old Danielle Steele books for a library!

As a committed book lover, I always have a hard time with the concepts of either books facing “spine in” or covering all of the books in identical paper or in a design that gives no indication of what book it’s covering.NYT books 1Funnily enough, the article talked about Restoration Hardware discontinuing the book bundles because of the ridicule from bloggers. Count me in as one of the hecklers, here!book_bundlesI don’t have any objection to a decorator assembling a collection, such as the one above for a house in Wyoming or Montana. NYT books 3But I do agree with the comment that if you’re going to have rows of law or medical books, perhaps it might be more credulous if you were a doctor or a lawyer.

Books have always been such a major part of my life and so it’s anathema for me to see books solely as a decorative element, and not something to be read and treasured.

What are your thoughts on this?

41 comments:

  1. Personally, I think covering books in paper and using books that would never open or look at is going a little to far - PERSONALLY. I believe in good design and things looking pretty and displays of things. I understand maybe one section having some old books but to me book shelves tell your story. They tell the story of what you read, what you enjoy, etc. Anyone walking into a home with white covered paper books and/or medical books just because they don't live there knows it's it's just for decor purposes. I would rather build my collection and add to it over time of the things I love and enjoy. If your a homeowner and you don't read then use it to display things you love. If I was practicing design if a client wanted that look than I would of course do it but I would share with them the wonderful part of displaying books but in the end of someone wants that look then they are entitled to it. Personally for me I think it's over the top and I know several bloggers and designers who will disagree but I think that's the wonderful world of design and blogging is we are all entitled to our opinion and it what makes each designer unique and different. I can't wait to see what everyone says.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Personally if you are a book lover I think this seems wasteful and fake. I would never do it but I love the look of my old books and amazing variety of color. However, I do like the simple look of the room with all the same color and if they really use Steele novels then it seems like a good use for them. :-) I did notice the manuscript look lately and think it is a good use for old books already falling apart and missing their covers. But I heard of people just ripping up books to get the look and that seems like a waste. I guess I am a weeble wobble because I don't seem to have definite opinion. Overall I love books but I can't save them all so I think it is better they have a purpose then go to a landfill. There I came up with a definite opinion. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Books are like friends....you must spend time with them,enjoy them and be able to recognize them!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I agree that books tell a story of the owner. When I am at someone's home I often scan the book shelves to learn a bit more about the owner.

    I do admire an orderly, pleasing book shelf but feel that the books involved should have been read or intended to be read!
    Otherwise, I think the owner comes across, as my kids would say, as "a poser."

    ReplyDelete
  5. Like Preppy said, if I visited a home and the homeowner had a variety of books on his or her shelves, that might lead to a conversation, a discovery that we have common interests, backgrounds, etc.

    If I visited a home where the homeowner had fake book bundles or book spines hidden, then I would think the homeowner is vacant and not very interesting.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Exactly Meg I value my books so much and am an avid reader. I do have stacks laying about all have been or are being read!

    xoxo
    Karena
    Art by Karena

    ReplyDelete
  7. Fake books, monotonous one-color books? Never. Most every book on my shelves I have read, and like others have said, what you read does hint at your personality and pleasures.

    ReplyDelete
  8. In Chicago, My wife once spent the weekend organizing the books by color. It was awesome. My buddy also posted referencing the Time Article:
    http://yancy9a.blogspot.com/2011/01/mind-and-other-matters.html

    ReplyDelete
  9. Isn't it possible that these are people with too much time on their hands?

    ReplyDelete
  10. Meg - I so agree with you but then I had to chastise myself as I just bought two beautiful books written in SWEDISH because I love, love the covers. They're mid-century and a combination of blue leather and marbled paper. I "think" one is about Swedish royalty as it includes pictures! Of course, I've got it displayed a table and you know someday somebody will open it and then ask me, "Do you speak Swedish?" and I'll have to confess i just love the cover. Fun post! Michele

    ReplyDelete
  11. I am a reader. I love to buy previously loved books from a used bookstore and make sure I sign them after I read them. So seeing people populate their shelves with books they either haven't read or don't care to read bothers me. I personally don't like the match-y covers. I actually like to remove my covers all together (but I am even mixed on that).

    I don't like the thought that people are wrapping any old book with a classic title just to look well read. That rankles me.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Books are for reading...or making altered art. Period. imho.

    ReplyDelete
  13. My husband and I began this conversation about ten years ago when a decorator friend was buying books that were green because that was her favorite color and it fit with her color scheme. My husband is an avid reader and was offended that someone would put books in their home they never intended to read and just served as decoration. Over the years I have come to understand his feelings and I love to look around our home and see all the variety of books we have that have actually been read by us. I like the authenticity of actually having books in your home because you read them, not because you need to fill a shelf in your home.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Great post! I so agree. Books are part of your personality, as your home should be. If you are shallow and un-read, well maybe fake books are ok. If you aren't going to read them I guess you can shelf spine in, but it is not for me. I love books in their many sizes, shapes and colors for what's inside the covers. I do admit that like mynottinghill I've got some for the workmanship and patina of the old binding and I look for old law books for my lawyer son. RH was really out there with the price of those bundles too!

    ReplyDelete
  15. I was once asked to design a pine paneled library for a Park Avenue duplex apartment. The answer to my question of how many books it needed to hold was none. So I drew a beautiful room to compliment an exceptional late Georgian chimneypiece bought in London, and the whole issue of finding books no one would ever read was mute; there were no shelves.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I love books - all books - old, new, coloured, plain, tatty or pristine. They spread to every corner of my home and all are loved by the family. They are read and reshelved and read again. Some were inherited from family, some gifts, some bought but each one tells more of a story than the book itself. To hide that or cover it up would be to deny what matters to us - no plain covers, no unread books and no books just to decorate a space. In the collection we can do colour schemes, age or topic displays anyway if we chose. Perhaps we do not decorate so much with our books as really live with them.

    ReplyDelete
  17. totally agree with you, Meg. for me books are for reading. I buy it because of the story or a subject I'm interested in, not because of its color or antique look. organizing books by color seems like a huge waste of time - first organizing them and later finding a book. because of my extended library, I organize my books by subject for easy access - shelves with books on knitting, embroidery, art, interior design, biographies, fiction, children books and books in Russian (mostly classics) that made its way from my home in Ukraine.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I second you on this spot-on post.

    ReplyDelete
  19. as a book lover I was horrified to learn that Half Price Books sells books by the yard to decorators!

    ReplyDelete
  20. I have never understood filling bookshelves with a swath of used books that you have never read - some people buy books by the pound or shelf or whatever just to fill their shelves - those folks come down a notch for me in the honesty and depth categories. Another pet peeve is arranging books by color - how on earth can you find the book you want, when you want it. Do these color coordinated folks even like books or ever refer back to them .... ?

    ReplyDelete
  21. Ok, I admit I'm guilty of buying secondhand books in certain color to group together on a shelf. Having said that, I do read and I think tall bookshelves with a genuine mosaic of books is classic chic.

    ReplyDelete
  22. What is Toad's acronym? NMP? It doesn't matter to me, really, how other folks do it, but my issue is always space and accessibility. I need to be able to find what I have. I have a feeling I would struggle with the matching covers as the jacket is what I usually need to find it.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Hmm ... If people buy certain books because they match their decor, where does that sort of thinking end? Designers, have you ever had a client who wanted you to design an interior so that it matched the family dog? Or vice-versa -- the family chose a dog that matched the interior?

    How about dying the kids' hair to match the interior?

    ReplyDelete
  24. Pulling certain books out of your collection to fit into the decor of a room is perfectly fine and might help you actually read books that might otherwise get lost in the shuffle.

    If you don't like the look of mismatched books (which, frankly, I see as a neutral), then keep your books in another part of the house. Or get doors for your bookcases. @The Devoted Classicist - I love the idea of a shelf-less library for non-readers. No need to hide who you are with fake books!

    ReplyDelete
  25. I so agree with you! Books that are used for display only in one color, wrapped binding, backwards etc do not offer the warmth and history that a grouping of "real" books do. I enjoy the color, the array of sizes, the different fonts in the titles etc. The only thing I do is remove the dust jackets (dont like the shiny look)

    ReplyDelete
  26. Thank you for this post! I was horrified when Restoration Hardware showed old books with the covers torn off, because I know all the trendy copy cats out there would have to follow along. I can't figure out why a non-reader would decorate with books anyway. If books aren't your thing why have a house full of them-there are other things to use to make a design "statement". Glad to see so many people agree with you on this!

    ReplyDelete
  27. Loved discovering Thatcher Wine the other day - but since this is what I did for a living for almost 2 decades, I like my books straight up with jackets intact thank you. I'm more content driven but I wouldn't turn down an antique set of leather bound classics!

    ReplyDelete
  28. i am shocked about restoration hardware saying that! since when do they listen to bloggers? amazing.

    ok - i said it last time, but i use books in many different ways. books to read, books to display. to me - old, antique books are beautiful - i love their leather spines. i love to display antique french books that i cant read. it has nothing to do with the content - it has to do with the appearance of the book. i don't think there is anything wrong with having the books you read on display, along with beautiful old books that you use in shelves for display. why can't you live with both and be happy? and, to further the discussion, i happen to find the pages attractive too. i love the bundles of old books with the pages being the main attraction. why can't you find beauty in things? I adore those bundles and could care less that the actual book was not read by me and never will be read by me. to me, it seems that a lot of people are missing out on the beauty of books if they just look at them as something only to read. just my 2 cents.

    ReplyDelete
  29. I posted about this same thing yesterday (http://goodsy.wordpress.com/)! It was a fascinating article, though a little contradictory. Alexa Hampton saying she spent hours at the strand with a client (billing how much per hour? :) ) and then mr. wine saying he covered long forgotten 20th century mystery novels (and therefore less worthy of being read?). I am glad I wasn't the only one to find it interesting!

    Katie @ Goodsy
    http://goodsy.wordpress.com/

    ReplyDelete
  30. I always feel so torn about this. For many years I traveled for work setting up vignettes in stores for a furniture manufacturer. We sorted books by color, turned their spines, bundled them, folded them inside out. (this was 5-10 yrs ago) In a retail situation it makes complete sense because you are trying to create a cohesive look and you want the things you are trying to sell (furniture, accessories, etc.) to draw the attention and be the star. In my own home though I have LOTS of books that I love and not a ton of space to store them. They are mostly packed into bookcases flanking the fireplace. I love them but it is a lot of books and to be honest as a designer, it looks cluttered. I know that I could turn them over or re-cover them and it would look so much better. My living room is not a showroom though so for now I am living with them the way they are telling myself that one day I will have to bite the bullet and thin the herd a bit.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Hi! I have a question that is a bit off topic but not too far....What are your thoughts on keeping book jackets on or taking them off when shelving them to achieve a more "muted" or vintage look to a library? Book jackets are works of art in and of themselves but if they are shelved you only see the spine so the graphic art is lost. What do you think?

    Berenmind

    ReplyDelete
  32. Finding books shelved without jackets, at estate sales for example, is a pet peeve of mine. For true collectors, they're not worth a dime without the jacket. A book is undressed without a cover. The only "undressed" book I would want on my shelf would have to be leather bound with gold letters on the spine, or one that is so old it made its debut without a cover.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Your decor of a room is perfectly Awesome..U are a role model to all... http://www.winterizemyavsystem.com/ I feel very happy to go with this good article...

    ReplyDelete
  34. The notion of books with spines outward, the anonymous bundles, books sold by the yard~all of
    it anathema to me as well. So it was like sweet music
    to my ears to think that Restoration Hardware had been
    shamed into withdrawing their vandalized book bundles
    owing to blogger heckling. Books as mere props for
    households whose inhabitants never sit down and read~there's something very wrong with that notion.
    Yet I will confess to having bought a set of old encyclopaedias, run them through a table saw and
    used the spines on a jib door.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Book abuse as an "accessory" was tolerable the first time around, novel [ouch], tactile, soft colors. But the look wore out fast for those interested in high design, ordinary, easily obtained, boring. The look is firmly rooted in low design now, victimized by the irony of books as signifiers of intelligence turned signifier of the lowest possible design intelligence.

    ReplyDelete
  36. I'm with Joni - sometimes, the book itself is a work of art and worth displaying, even if it's not readable (foreign language, for instance). It's like a globe - is it wrong to have a collection of decorative globes if you don't study maps, or a telescope if you don't study the stars? Of course, those who display books and never read anything are totally ridiculous. And I never understood the trend to display books by color... But then I don't sort any of my books - they are just in piles on tables, on shelves, and random baskets. I can never find anything tho!

    ReplyDelete
  37. I just have one small story about books as decoration:

    I was working in a small office full of small-minded people in Tennessee. You know, the kind where the boss thinks you should work overtime for free and says "make me some coffee, will you honey?". Well, on my lunch break one day I wandered into the conference room and began looking at the books on the shelves. I took one down and started reading it while I ate lunch. The boss interrupted my lunch to yell at me for actually reading the book. "I paid someone to decorate that conference room, you know."

    In disgust, I got up and put the book back. But I borrowed it from the local library immediately - and it turned out to be one of my favorite reads of all time... "The Mists of Avalon".

    8-)

    ReplyDelete
  38. I agree whole-heatedly. I love books and I (or my husband)have read every book in our collection. We display them prominently in our home not as accessories but as an active collection that grows and changes.

    Another designer trend that puzzles me is organizing books by color. How would I ever find anything that way? I organize by genre (reference, fiction, etc) and by author. A few excpetions are made for collections of certain authors.

    Not to sound completely artless, I also incorporate art and souveniers. I display some books upright and some laying down with an obkect on top for display. But there is never any doubt that these books have been read, will be read again and get lent out to friends.

    Sorry...didn't mean to rant.

    ReplyDelete
  39. I agree whole-heatedly. I love books and I (or my husband)have read every book in our collection. We display them prominently in our home not as accessories but as an active collection that grows and changes.

    Another designer trend that puzzles me is organizing books by color. How would I ever find anything that way? I organize by genre (reference, fiction, etc) and by author. A few excpetions are made for collections of certain authors.

    Not to sound completely artless, I also incorporate art and souveniers. I display some books upright and some laying down with an obkect on top for display. But there is never any doubt that these books have been read, will be read again and get lent out to friends.

    Sorry...didn't mean to rant.

    ReplyDelete
  40. I'm so glad you mentioned this one today -- how did I miss this post the first time? I am SO GLAD to read that you and others feel the same way I do about "fake books." I agree with the commenter who sees books as a "neutral;" you should be able to tell something about the people who live in a home by checking out the books on their shelves -- and if the books are all backwards, giftwrapped, or lined up by color, well, that tells me that I've entered the nest of anti-intellectual people who probably are not very interesting... When I have to style bookshelves for clients who don't have books, or don't have enough books, I usually will go to the bargain section of Barnes & Noble for coffee table books reflecting the homeowners' interests or favorite travel destinations. Then I do second-hand bookstores for novels, because I dislike the pristine, too-new look of unread books. And as I'm selecting the books, somewhere in the back of my mind there is always a little glimmer of hope that one day when the cable is out or the satellite signal isn't working, my clients might pick up one of these books and actually READ it! :-)

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for reading and commenting on Pigtown*Design. I read each and every comment and try to reply if I have your e-mail address.