Make your li­brary one for the books

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

What makes a pri­vate li­brary? For some it is a col­lec­tion of wellthumbed books, while for Jay Gatsby it was all about the look. At Mai­son As­souline, a lux­ury pub­lish­ing com­pany, it is a 360-de­gree ex­pe­ri­ence that starts with a beau­ti­ful book and grows to en­com­pass the fab­ric of the sofa you’re read­ing it on, the colour of the walls, and the art hang­ing from them.

Step into its Pic­cadilly store, a Lu­tyens-de­signed for­mer bank, and you en­ter the world of founders Pros­per and Mar­tine As­souline. It fea­tures a care­ful cu­ra­tion of tomes and per­fect ob­jets d’art; there’s even a bar in the cor­ner serv­ing cock­tails in­spired by their cat­a­logue.

Twenty-five years af­ter pub­lish­ing its first book, La Colombe d’Or, to­day Mai­son As­souline helps oth­ers to re­alise their li­brary dreams by not only set­ting a sump­tu­ous ex­am­ple, but by de­sign­ing them, too. It has de­signed and filled shelves for hedge fun­ders’ apart­ments, ski chalets and ho­tel lob­bies; it has just filled nine book­cases at Lon­don’s Ho­tel Café Royal with As­souline publi­ca­tions. It also sources vin­tage books, and for Tif­fany’s in New York it cu­rated a vin­tage book li­brary, with an As­souline band around each one in Tif­fany blue.

Want the spines to be just one colour? Fine. De­sire only books on fash­ion? No prob­lem. “Our clients have var­ied tastes, so we need to be able to give them that va­ri­ety,” says Yas­mine Ta­her­beigi, the man­ager of the pub­lisher’s Lon­don store. As­souline books start from £18, while a cloth-bound, sil­ver-foil em­bossed, hand-tipped “Ul­ti­mate” could be any­where from £650 to £1,000, and re­quires a cof­fee ta­ble large enough to sup­port it.

As­souline’s cov­ers are de­signed to be seen, not just the spines. Its cu­ra­tion ser­vice is also about find­ing the right tac­til­ity and aes­thet­ics. “It’s pick­ing items that are go­ing to live with a per­son,” says Ta­her­beigi. “A book is some­thing you live with ev­ery day. That’s why they need to be made im­pec­ca­bly and have a great feel­ing when you open them. The goes same with the chair and the room, ev­ery­thing.”

Cre­at­ing the sort of li­brary per­fect for read­ing a leather-bound clas­sic on a rainy Sun­day has been a sta­ple for Pom Har­ring­ton, of Peter Har­ring­ton, who spe­cialises in sell­ing and buy­ing the finest-qual­ity first edi­tions, signed, rare and an­ti­quar­ian books and li­brary sets. “You of­ten get a guy who’s bought a big coun­try house and it hap­pens to come with a li­brary,” says Har­ring­ton. “They em­brace the idea of the coun­try house and go about fill­ing it with clas­sics all in one go: 19th-cen­tury edi­tions of Charles Dick­ens, Jane Austen, Thack­eray and Shake­speare.”

The clas­sic gen­tle­man’s li­brary might be more about vis­ual im­pact than con­tent, but Har­ring­ton’s ex­pe­ri­ence and un­der­stand­ing of the book world helps peo­ple who are search­ing for some­thing very spe­cific. One chal­lenge he took on was help­ing a man with a hit list of 20 books that had in­flu­enced his life. The catch was that each one had to be a first edi­tion in­scribed by the au­thor, rang­ing from Down and Out in Paris and Lon­don, by Ge­orge Or­well, to The Wind in the Wil­lows by Ken­neth Gra­hame.

“It was a tricky job and took a cou­ple of years. You can’t get an in­scribed copy of Seven Pil­lars of Wis­dom, but you can get an ini­tialled one.” Once the client got all 20, he stopped. “That was his lit­tle shelf of books that meant some­thing to him.”

Build­ing a re­la­tion­ship and know­ing the gaps in his clients’ col­lec­tions is what makes Har­ring­ton’s ser­vice so be­spoke. For the past 15 years, he has been work­ing with the writer Pa­tri­cia Corn­well, who has an ex­ten­sive col­lec­tion of books about the Jack the Rip­per case. “If any­thing Jack the Rip­per

The li­brary at Ham Yard ho­tel by Ul­ti­mate Li­brary, main; Chanters House’s li­brary, right, £7m with Strutt & Parker

A Maryle­bone tea room, above, and be­low, a ho­tel in the Mal­dives by Ul­ti­mate Li­brary

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