‘The look of books’: When books become design statements

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Over the past year the issue of books and how they are displayed in the home has come up in several of our stories. In February 2008, Home writer David Keeps wrote about the return of the home library, noting that though home libraries were once again becoming status symbols, having books in them was optional.

My favorite quote from the story came from writer, historian and antique book dealer Victoria Dailey, who recalled the time a decorator came into the bookstore she once owned and announced, ‘I want the look of books.’


In November, Barbara Thornburg wrote a home profile of Laguna Beach retailer Trey Russell, who stuck to a strict black-and-white palette in his home, including on his bookshelves. ‘Book jackets just get torn anyway, you might as well get rid of them,’ Russell told Thornburg. ‘It creates a more monochromatic, less chaotic look. It’s easier for my eyes to focus on black-and-white.”

And most recently, when former ‘Design on a Dime’ host Kristan Cunningham gave Home readers eight tips on how to decorate economically, tip No. 4 read: ‘Group books by color.’

‘It’s a point some may contest,’ read the blurb, ‘but Cunningham likes to remove and store paper dust jackets, then create separate clusters of green, blue, yellow and white on the living room wall unit.’

This tip struck a nerve with one of our readers, Samuel Bernstein of West Hollywood.

‘Seven great tricks, but, oh, that number 4, grouping books by color,’ he wrote. ‘Saying that ‘it’s a point some may contest’ is an understatement to those who actually read their books or want to be able to find them for re-reading, lending or research. Design is an essential part of life. But function is a part of form, and books are not mere decoration.’

I admit that I am inclined to agree with Mr. Bernstein, but maybe we are just snobs. Book decor defenders and opponents, I’d love to hear from you!

-- Deborah Netburn