Monday, February 1, 2010

Judging books by their covers

"A home without books is like a room without windows."
—Henry Ward Beecher

The extent of my interior decorating acumen lies in duplicating Ikea displays. They might as well shoot the catalogue in my apartment. My mom does have a keen eye for décor, so in my various residences she's shouldered the burden of coaxing some semblance of tolerable furnishing out of the space. The layout of the living room? Her plan. Color scheme? Her suggestions. The arrangement of bedroom furniture? Hers. Left to my own devices, I'd be living in a hovel.

I will say that there is one aspect of interior design in which I consider myself adroit and I enjoy: the arrangement of my books. In my current apartment I have several bookshelves of varying heights and woods, plus another in the form of my kitchen counter (just cookbooks and cocktail guides), and my coffee table. Trinkets polka-dot each assemblage of books, from the green and white tea set a family friend gave me for graduation to motley picture frames to a painted wood Bahamaian seated man, legs hooked over the edge of a shelf. I haven't invested in any spiffy bookends yet, but I feel the itch. Especially after reading a DesignSponge blog post about them:

In June when I unpacked the cardboard boxes and rope-handled shopping bags and canvas totes I'd gorged with all my books, the collection was almost card-catalogued. Shakespeares together, Pulitzer winners bundled, Greek mythology collections in another row, art history tomes aligned. But over the months of settling in, these crisp classifications have lazed away. When I finish a book, I slide it where it works aesthetically, rarely paying heed to genre or author or award groupings. Browsing is more fun when haphazard anyway. I just love the idea of living with books, appreciating them for their appearance as much as their content, like a bright bowl of juicy oranges on a clean white countertop. Books are also good conversation pieces. Often I'll end up loaning one or two to a visitor whose eye is drawn to a particular title, or who asks for a recommendation.

Turns out I'm not the only one who takes pride in their books-as-décor. Ideas abound.

The Strand Book Store in New York offers customizable books-by-the-foot libraries organized by subject. The options range from cliché antique leather:

to miscellaneous dollar paperbacks:

Part of the spice of my book collection is in my personal curation- these are books I selected, pored over, annotated, hold dear. I wouldn't pay to have someone stock my own library, but at least it brings physical books into people's homes. Another concept that accomplishes that: the British architecture firm Levitate's bookshelf staircase.

Unnegotiably being installed in my first house. Clever bookcases are indeed another brushstroke on the books-as-décor palette in differentiating a living space from dreaded carbon copy Ikea displays. Another example (although more negotiable than the staircase...):

Or the more austere:

The uniformity of these inwardly-faced spines is visually pleasing but the whole point of displaying my books is in presenting (okay, bragging over) the titles themselves. But what about when my collection inevitably outgrows my square footage? True, I've been reading more library books lately, and I'll eventually cave and give eBooks a test run, but I'm still welcoming physical books permanently into the masses, be they my own purchases, gifts, or sly appropriations from my mom's book drawer. I may have to resort to this:

Or else build my own bookshelves.

However I continue to enhance my book display, I'll relish the art. Hopefully before I reach the point of legitimate bibliomania, like New Jersey's Irving Leif, a 62 year old book collector about to be evicted for owing rent, desperate to save his $1,000,000 rare book collection. If I win the lottery this year: Irving, you know how to reach me.

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