The Wall Street Journal

11 February 2018

Design-pro tips on how to give your library the veneration it deserves. Plus: 4 trends that telegraph that you don’t actually read.

See “One for the Books” at the end of this article.
By Kathryn O’Shea-Evans

It’s no longer considered cute and literary to stack your tomes like the Collyer brothers—those infamous hoarder siblings of 1940s Harlem—not when artful bookshelves beckon. Take the PLY3, a hanging oak shelf inspired by the work of brutalist Belgian architect Juliaan Lampens (See “One for the Books”). “In a sense it’s a mini piece of architecture, creating a space within a space,” said codesigner Joel Muggleton. “It’s about display rather than storage.”

But get too precious about using your books as design devices and you risk—as Mr. Thompson put it—advertising your vapidity: “I don’t like anything where the balance shifts too far from the book’s central function to treating it as a wholly decorative object.” His book charts dozens of chic ways to take libraries big and small to the next chapter and celebrate reading. In short, how to revisit the printed word as home-entertainment center, no electricity necessary.

Showing Off Your Books: The Do’s and Don’ts
PHOTO: RYLAND PETERS & SMALL
Eat Your Words

The dining area-turned-library shown in this Somerset, England, home is perhaps the easiest design solution here—if you have a table and chairs, you’re halfway to your own mini-version of the New York Public Library’s reading room. Just swap a breakfront’s neglected dishes with books, and you’ve created a focal point that can change the whole tenor of the room. “Books make a space convivial, which is how you want to feel when you’re breaking bread with people,” Mr. Thompson said. In a kitchen itself, use a cabinet with glass-front doors to protect spines from errant splatters and spills.

Showing Off Your Books: The Do’s and Don’ts
PHOTO: RYLAND PETERS & SMALL
Give Them A Rest

Tucked under the eaves of a Litchfield County, Conn., bedroom, this built-in bookshelf created a sweeping panorama of spines, a look that anchors the exposed-beam architecture (and undoubtedly spurs bedtime reading). “A normal rectilinear bookcase under a slanted ceiling will always feel like a visual compromise, whereas this is so clean and self-contained,” said Mr. Thompson, who’s a big fan of built-in accommodations for books. When your library is part and parcel with the lines of your home, it “subliminally suggests that the literary life is so important to you that you have built your books into the very design of your house: first principles.”

Showing Off Your Books: The Do’s and Don’ts
PHOTO: RYLAND PETERS & SMALL
Push The Margins

Thomas Jefferson’s library at Monticello once held 6,000 books, but few readers have the capacity for that. “Sometimes you have to exploit all the slivers of real estate you can: corridors, loos, the ziggurat-like space under or on stairs,” Mr. Thompson said. This London resident utilized an entire wall—including the oft-neglected tract above the door—for shelves, leaving a one-off alcove, minimally adorned, to thwart monotony. “Involving an architect is almost always going to produce the most elegant results,” Mr. Thompson said, though it’s possible to DIY a decent built-in with multiple IKEA Billy bookcases, wood molding and a good drill.

Showing Off Your Books: The Do’s and Don’ts
PHOTO: RYLAND PETERS & SMALL

“Publishers put such a lot of thought into covers because [the cover is] the number-one sales tool,” Mr. Thompson said. The slanted narrow-ledge shelving in this London home presents a collection the way a book retailer might, inviting perusal by keeping the more interesting, conversation-inspiring volumes at eye level. “We’re in the process of designing a bookshelf for front-facing books, where the cover art is a bit more celebrated, highlighted like a painting or a photograph,” said Joel Muggleton, a furniture designer for Listen Studio in London. “It’s like having a select few books out on the coffee table that show a particular interest in your collection.”

THE SPINELESS LIBRARY //Trends That Telegraph ‘I Don’t Read’

Showing Off Your Books: The Do’s and Don’ts
PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

DON’T turn the bindings to the wall. This horrendous fad is a misguided bid to reduce visual noise. “In not being able to find anything, you’re advertising your lack of interest in the books as books,” said Mr. Thompson, who organizes his nonfiction by general topic and fiction alphabetically by author.

DON’T fake it. Avoid lining your den with gilded fauxtique books you’ve never actually cracked. “I can’t abide book snobs, the kind who buy Moroccan leather-bound tomes by the yard to make their library look ‘tony,’” Mr. Thompson said.

DON’T force a rainbow. Organizing books by hue captivated the Instagram #shelfie community, but the look’s now as overshared as derrières.

DON’T swaddle. It’s suspicious to wrap every one of your volumes in swanky marbleized paper. Exactly how many copies of Dan Brown and the Fifty Shades series are you hiding?