In previous generations, the aesthetic pleasure of the library space was as important as the books within it. The rich would have their books rebound in their chosen bindings to provide a sophisticated and coherent colour scheme across the library with large books on separate shelves and perhaps separate pieces of furniture. This all fell apart in the 20th century and classification systems determined the aesthetic of the library as the number of books grew exponentially. Then the Kindle and the iPad came on the scene and can hold the contents of a reasonable personal library on one small device. The implication is perhaps that interior designs could be devoid of books. Instead of coffee-table art books, there would be ipads scattered around the house; its not quite the same though. There is something magical about gently looking through the pages of a loved book and feeling the paper with your fingers.
Books are fighting back or, rather, interior and designers are now using them much more creatively, realising their aesthetic qualities
There have been coffee shops and bars with bookshelves of interesting books that patrons could browse through while there and hopefully return to continue reading, such as in the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver and country house hotels where cocktails are taken in the library. The aesthetics of books has re-emerged. A recent example is the Library Bar in the NoMad Hotel designed by Jacques Garcia in New York which is a “fully-curated” two-level library including an original spiral staircase brought across from the South of France. “Guests can lounge throughout the day on custom-made furnishings and enjoy light fare and finger foods which are served alongside coffee, tea, wine, and cocktails. An eclectic literary collection is available, featuring extensive volumes on such wide-ranging topics as The History of New York, Music, and Cocktails and Spirits.”
Francesca Hornak, writing in today’s Sunday Times describes the current trend in interior design: “So there you are, making impressed noises at your friend’s new flat, and you realise they have colour-coordinated their books. Later, they tweet a photo of their efforts, hashtagged #shelfie. Don’t disown them just yet. Your friend is only part of a move to treat books as decor, as ripe for arranging as heritage tomatoes or 1930s champagne coupes. Thus, the smart 2014 wedding list is more likely to be at the rare-book dealer Peter Harrington than Peter Jones, and shelves of Penguin Classics have become the gastropub’s default wall covering.”
“We have definitely seen a surge in younger people looking at first editions,” says Rob Sandall, marketing director at Peter Harrington, which has just opened a new shop in Mayfair to meet increasing demand. “People now view the rare-book market as they would the art world. For years, they would browse a gallery, but might have found us intimidating, and that’s changed.”
In London, interior designers have been busy: At the Library, the new literary members’ club in Covent Garden, Irvine Welsh, John Niven and Caitlin Moran have picked books for the Reading Room; at the Bulgari hotel, in Knightsbridge, the bookshelves in the suites were curated by the Mayfair bookshop Heywood Hill; meanwhile while at Terence Conran’s Boundary hotel in Shoreditch, mini-libraries have been curated for the rooms. Peter Prescott, describes these as “forming art in every room through the use of different graphics, colour, texture and repetition”.
Phil Shaw the artist has been using books as the inspiration for his prints, arranging them in colours and sizes, combined with witty and relevant titles on themes such as Sporting Life, Piet Mondrian and the Lines of the London Underground. He describes that his work arises from “questions relating to what we believe, what we think we believe and what we are told to believe. Probably as a result of a strict fundamentalist upbringing, I have always been troubled by the possibility that things may not be what they appear to be and certainly not what they are said to be. As a result, I see most beliefs (even scientific ones) as a form of dogma. And I enjoy poking fun at dogma – wherever it lurks. The book titles are all absolutely genuine (with the exception of the Fiction and Friction series). I wouldn’t have done the prints otherwise. They all appear in the British Library Catalogue.”
Books are alive and well and are finding a new place in interior design alongside the new technology of the iPad and Kindle.