Books as decor: Ver­sa­tile but mean­ing­ful

The Progress-Index - At Home - - NEWS - By Beth J. Harpaz This un­dated photo pro­vided by Mered­ith Wing De­sign shows books art­fully ar­ranged for a sim­ple but bold con­tem­po­rary vis­ual ef­fect. Books of­fer rel­a­tively in­ex­pen­sive but pow­er­ful de­sign el­e­ments of color, height and shape, while cre­atin

NEW YORK — Some peo­ple love the look of a book­shelf stuffed with books, and what that rep­re­sents. Oth­ers see books as clut­ter, and won­der why any­one owns them in the dig­i­tal era.

But the “well-cho­sen book,” or an art­fully dis­played stack of books, “can be as pow­er­ful as any other de­sign el­e­ment,” said Pablo Solomon, an artist and designer from Lam­pasas, Texas, near Austin. Books not only cre­ate a mood, they make a per­sonal state­ment, he added.

And even when books are used pri­mar­ily for aes­thetic ef­fect rather than to show off a col­lec­tion, the very act of dis­play­ing them cel­e­brates them, ac­cord­ing to Mered­ith Wing.

“Re­pur­pos­ing books hon­ors them,” said Wing, a third-year ar­chi­tec­ture stu­dent at Columbia Uni­ver­sity who has her own com­pany, Mered­ith Wing De­sign.

Be­cause many read­ers con­sume lit­er­a­ture dig­i­tally th­ese days, phys­i­cal books also evoke nos­tal­gia — not un­like dis­plays of other au­then­tic ob­jects that orig­i­nated in ear­lier eras, like wagon wheels or wash­boards. “Th­ese are the things we now kind of wor­ship,” Wing said.

But on a prac­ti­cal level, books of­fer a “rel­a­tively in­ex­pen­sive way to dec­o­rate on a large scale,” Wing said. She’s bought books by the foot, cov­ered them in white pa­per and cre­ated a “min­i­mal­ist li­brary wall.” She’s stacked them in non­func­tional fire­places and used them as pedestals for pho­tos. And she’s re­moved dust cov­ers to re­veal book spine colors “for dra­matic ef­fect.”

In Tulsa, Ok­la­homa, The Tav­ern restau­rant stacked books along a room divider be­tween the dining area and bar in a colored geo­met­ric pat­tern. The pat­tern echoed the art deco ar­chi­tec­ture Tulsa is fa­mous for.

And it’s a tech­nique that’s eas­ily adapted in home decor: In­stead of lining books up ver­ti­cally, break them up with hor­i­zon­tal stacks. You can ar­range them by size and color, or keep them or­ga­nized by topic. But use some of the hor­i­zon­tal stacks to dis­play “ac­ces­sories, pho­tos or travel knick­knacks,” ad­vised Liz Toombs, an in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tor.

For a “styl­ized look,” Toombs buys old book col­lec­tions at es­tate sales. “If they have that worn patina, it’s more in­ter­est­ing,” said Toombs, who keeps a set of old black-bound en­cy­clo­pe­dias in her of­fice at Polka Dots & Rose­buds in Lex­ing­ton, Ken­tucky. Some­times she turns a book on a shelf around so that the pages, not the spine, face out, to add “a lit­tle funky spin to it.”

Meridith Baer buys old books by the bin for her work at Meridith Baer Home, a home-stag­ing com­pany. She cov­ers the books in­di­vid­u­ally in solid-color butcher or craft pa­per — or some­times even old ar­chi­tec­tural house-plans — then ar­ranges them in var­i­ous ways. If there’s an art book she loves, “I leave it on the cof­fee ta­ble open to that page.”

Solomon, the Texas designer, also likes dis­play­ing in­di­vid­ual art books. “We have ev­ery art book that ever was,” said Solomon. “My wife will pick her fa­vorite artist of the month, put that book out on dis­play, cre­ate a din­ner and have friends over for Pi­casso night.”

And don’t be afraid to judge a book by its cover. “Book cov­ers are some of the best art ever done,” said Solomon. You can even dig­i­tally scan a book cover and have it printed in a va­ri­ety of ma­te­ri­als — alu­minum or can­vas for ex­am­ple — in any size to hang on a wall.

Ron Marvin, a New York-based in­te­rior designer, uses stacks of books to cre­ate “lit­tle mo­ments.”

“I’ll stack four or five books on a cock­tail ta­ble and put a vase on top,” he said. “I have an an­tique chair I didn’t want any­body sit­ting in. I put a stack of books in the chair and on top of that a glass bowl and it looks like a lit­tle sculp­ture. It’s a mo­ment. But it also says, ‘Please don’t sit here.’”

In his of­fice, he stacks his col­lec­tion of de­sign books hor­i­zon­tally by color and size, largest to small­est, cre­at­ing lit­tle pyra­mids.

On Pin­ter­est and other sites, you can find pho­tos of fur­ni­ture made from books — in­clud­ing a much-posted pic­ture of a bed that doesn’t look very com­fort­able (imag­ine sleep­ing on a mat­tress of books!). But Marvin has made more prac­ti­cal fur­ni­ture from stacks of books, in­clud­ing a night­stand next to a bed and a side ta­ble next to a low chair.

John Salvest used a solid wall of 4,000 pa­per­back ro­mance nov­els to spell out the word “FOR­EVER” in an art in­stal­la­tion. Red-spined books formed the let­ters on a back­drop of white-spined books. The in­stal­la­tion was a no­table part of “State of the Art,” a ma­jor con­tem­po­rary art show that just com­pleted its run at Crys­tal Bridges Mu­seum of Amer­i­can Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Salvest said there was an “un­der­ly­ing sad­ness” in find­ing hun­dreds of dis­carded books in thrift shops. He chose the word “FOR­EVER” be­cause it of­ten popped up in ti­tles, pre­sum­ably a ref­er­ence to love or the ab­sence of love. But in the age of the e-book, a wall of books that spells out “for­ever” can also sig­nal that for some read­ers, books re­main an im­por­tant part of the cul­ture.

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