Make your library one for the books
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