Judg­ing by its cover

Books are more than for read­ing, they can be part of the decor.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - JURA KONCIUS

It used to be that your books said some­thing about you. To­day, that may not al­ways be the case. Books are evolv­ing as a dec­o­rat­ing state­ment for their looks, not for their con­tent. Some peo­ple adore hav­ing fa­vorite books on shelves through­out their homes as totems of their lit­er­ary life or their stud­ies. But to­day, like it or not, many books are bought by the box, by the yard or by color. Some­times a book is only bought for its cover, or even its spine or page-top hue. Books can add warmth and color to a room, and stacks of books can serve as end ta­bles or night­stands. Even in New York’s pres­ti­gious 2018 Kips Bay Dec­o­ra­tor Show House, shelves of books en­cased in iden­ti­cal white Bro­dart jack­ets served as a back­drop for an other­wise col­or­ful liv­ing room by Los An­ge­les de­signer David Netto. “It looks mys­te­ri­ous and ab­stract,” said Netto, who pro­cured the wrapped books from pri­vatelibrary cu­ra­tor Kin­sey Marable. In­sta­gram and Pin­ter­est con­tinue to in­spire do-it-your­selfers

with fresh ideas on dec­o­rat­ing with books. We present a few here.


If you do a search for #BookArch on In­sta­gram, you’ll see a charm­ing va­ri­ety of arcs in houses, book shops and li­braries. They look good fram­ing fire­places or rounded door­ways or cre­at­ing in­ter­est along a wall.

Julie James, a flo­ral artist and wed­ding de­signer in the Pitts­burgh area, says book arches are in de­mand for wed­dings and are es­pe­cially pop­u­lar with English ma­jors and teach­ers. For a photo shoot, James bought a used book arch made of two lengthy pieces of bend­able steel (re­bar). A va­ri­ety of hard­backs and paperbacks had two holes drilled in them and were threaded onto the arches, which were then se­cured into heavy bases.

James says books turn up in many roles at nup­tials. “I’ve hung book pages from trees and laid out book pages un­der flow­ers and moss on ta­bles,” she says. A pop­u­lar cen­ter­piece: lit­tle stacks of old books with a can­dle or small vase of flow­ers on top.


A pop­u­lar on­line tu­to­rial these days is how to make a stylish head­board out of books. In 2012, Kas­san­dra Utzinger, a Van­cou­ver, British Columbia, graphic de­signer and blog­ger, wrote a post on her web­site De­sign Every Day (de­sign­ev­ery­day.ca) about her bed. She had ar­rived in Canada from Aus­tralia and needed a fast, in­ex­pen­sive de­sign idea for her new apart­ment. “I was look­ing for some way to dec­o­rate in a per­son­al­ized way,” Utzinger says. “I was in­spired by see­ing how Ba­nana Repub­lic was us­ing books to dis­play jew­elry in their stores back then.”

She ex­plored sec­ond­hand shops to col­lect books and nailed them onto ply­wood, leav­ing the top pages loose. She af­fixed those with two-sided tape and fi­nessed them to make it look like the pages are about to flip. Some peo­ple posted neg­a­tive com­ments on the blog post about dam­ag­ing books. “They said ‘Why would you stick nails in books?’ But in re­al­ity, the books I found other­wise would not see the light of day.”

Utzinger’s blog has been re­posted sev­eral times, and she has been de­lighted to see other ver­sions of her idea. “It’s cool to see how peo­ple put up the books and then do some paint­ing over the pages,” she says. “I have seen var­i­ous-size head­boards us­ing dif­fer­ent-size books. In chil­dren’s rooms, some­times they use col­or­ful and bright pic­ture books. It’s all re­ally fun.”


Every­thing at the Wing, a chain of women-only co-work­ing spa­ces and so­cial clubs, is care­fully co­or­di­nated: even the book­shelves.

Ac­cord­ing to Chiara deRege, an in­te­rior de­signer with of­fices in New York and Los An­ge­les who dec­o­rates the clubs, books by fe­male authors were care­fully cu­rated for club mem­bers to check out. One of the co-founders of the club, Au­drey Gel­man, was in­ter­ested in cre­at­ing a rain­bow of color on the shelves.

“Au­drey had been talk­ing about a spec­trum of color,” deRege says. “She is a to­tal book nerd, and it was im­por­tant to her that there be a li­brary with rel­e­vant books that peo­ple would read, but that it also have a cool rain­bow vibe.” They or­ga­nized books on shelves in the Wing-branded Pan­tone col­ors, which are pale pink, mint, navy, burnt or­ange, caramel and gray.

Some books are dis­played with their cov­ers out, and some with cov­ers off and spines out. All the books and authors they wanted to in­clude, from Danielle Steele to Hil­lary Clin­ton, found a home in the rain­bow, deRege says.

Or­ga­niz­ing books by color con­tin­ues to be a very pop­u­lar look in de­sign mag­a­zines, Pin­ter­est and In­sta­gram, de­spite a lot of naysay­ers. It’s an in­ex­pen­sive and strik­ing way to add in­ter­est to a bor­ing book­shelf. On­line sell­ers are happy to sell you a foot of lime green or lip­stick red.


There’s an­other way to or­ga­nize books by color: by the hue of their tinted page tops. The most pop­u­lar page-top col­ors are blue and green, says Nancy Martin, owner of Decades of Vin­tage, which sells old books cu­rated by color, as well as rare an­tique books. Pub­lisher’s stain, the tech­ni­cal term for tinted page tops, was ap­plied to the page edges of cer­tain old books to shield pages from later dam­age be­cause of dust and dirt. “It was a cheap way to make things look fancier,” Martin says, “and gave a se­ries of books a com­pet­i­tive edge.”

She says shelv­ing books with the page tops show­ing out is pop­u­lar for nurs­eries and chil­dren’s rooms, since 1950s book se­ries such as the Bobb­sey Twins, Nancy Drew and Tom Swift have tinted tops. “Some­times peo­ple put a few with the spines out and then put a few flat in the other di­rec­tion,” Martin says.


The over­size, pho­tog­ra­phy-heavy books stacked on many a cof­fee ta­ble have their own cat­e­gory in the pub­lish­ing and dec­o­rat­ing busi­ness: “cof­fee-ta­ble books.”

These books of­ten say some­thing about the res­i­dents of a home. These books can be used to make a po­lit­i­cal state­ment or give clues to where the own­ers might have trav­eled.

Cape Cod de­signer San­dra Cavallo changes out the books on the cof­fee ta­ble in her shin­gle-style home in West Fal­mouth, Maine, to re­flect the sea­sons. If she has an overnight guest, she might gear the books to their in­ter­ests. She places books in stacks and care­fully ar­ranges col­lec­tions around them, giv­ing the books space to be eas­ily ac­cessed. “Group­ing books by color and size helps my lay­out to ap­pear clean and sim­ple,” Cavallo says, “but mix­ing vi­brant, fun col­ors and dif­fer­ent sizes can be a great de­sign state­ment.”

She might use a round or square tray on the ta­ble to group smaller el­e­ments in dif­fer­ent heights and ma­te­ri­als. Play around with your vi­gnettes, she says, and step back and take a look. If you’re not sure of the over­all ef­fect, take a quick iPhone pic­ture. “That’s how I got started on In­sta­gram,” says Cavallo, who now has more than 173,000 fol­low­ers on her ac­count, @ old­sil­ver­shed.

Kas­san­dra Utzinger, a Van­cou­ver, British Columbia, graphic de­signer, has pi­o­neered the trend of book head­boards. KAS­SAN­DRA UTZINGER


The Wing, a chain of women-only co-work­ing spa­ces and so­cial clubs, or­ga­nizes books by spine color, a very In­sta­gram-friendly de­sign.

Lind­sey Zern Pho­tog­ra­phy

Book arches are in de­mand, es­pe­cially for wed­dings.


The dis­play of books on your cof­fee ta­ble of­fers clues about who you are and where you’ve been.

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