Interior decorating with the help of books

by Liz on August 16, 2012 · Rare Book Exhibits

Interior decorating with the help of books

In ancient Roman times, those who could afford it commissioned workers to build impressive courtyards in their homes which amassed grandiose fountains and intricate tile mosaics, in an effort to display their prominence and prestige. Today the fervor towards exhibiting personal interests and good taste in homes has turned a bit more subtle.  Now more than ever, interior decorating is instead turning to a form of artistic expression which often includes books, needless to say rare books.
The beauty of decorative pieces in a home is that without a word, they have the power to communicate and radiate the homeowner’s energy simply by standing in their designated spot. A mere chair, for example, may not represent much in a shop that is filled with many other different styles of chairs, but once it is brought into a home, that one chair immediately plays an important part in a particular style or fashion statement. A swivel office chair instantly resonates impressions of business, technology, and a contemporary air, while an overstuffed armchair suggests that its owner enjoys spending cozy times with a delightful book in hand. Such is also the case with the particular books which an individual may choose to display in his or her home. Books on spirituality, politics, science, current affairs, romance, fashion, wildlife, etc. all mutely communicate their owners’ likes simply by their still appearance.
While meandering through one of my favorite stores, Ikea this past weekend, in the midst of furniture pieces and décor, I was surprised to find many books which were utilized to promote interest and appeal in order to drive sales. Large well stocked bookshelves were a common sight, and sometimes there would be a stack of two or three books on a desk or nightstand. Additionally, while shopping for a home for an elderly relation a year ago, I was also delighted to find that many of the model homes we perused housed bookshelves, and were scattered with random piles and stacks of books as well. Now homeowners and interior decorators are taking this concept further by commissioning vast libraries to be built in their homes. By placing libraries in the home, homeowners today are conveying the point that they are well read, intellectual, and yes, interesting. Of course, by filling personal libraries with specific books that match the owners’ interests, they speak to personal preferences and indulgences as well.
The usage of antique leather-bound books in bookcases or on coffee tables has actually been with us for a long time. While exploring the John Adams/John Quincy Adams House just yesterday, in fact, I was enthralled to find many antique books on display in shelves and on tables. I was extremely excited to behold actual books that these two great historical figures had actually owned, and was pleased to see that even in the more practical Colonial era, libraries and books were put on display to decorate homes.
When I first came across Anthony Powell’s novel Books Do Furnish a Room, I thought that I had finally come across a book exclusively dedicated to the interior decorating properties of the most amazing invention – the book. Soon after starting to read this tenth volume in the sequence of twelve books, comprising Powell’s work grouped under the A Dance to the Music of Time, however, I realized that this is actually a post-war austerity story where the characters attempt to resume life prior to the war’s interruption, rather than a volume focusing on the decorative purposes of books.
While not everyone may be able to have an enormous library built in his or her home, unless they frequent shelf-lot auctions, the act of liberally scattering books around the home in a creative and aesthetic way has been a pursuit which dates back to hundreds of years.  In fact, the building of home libraries and book collections may impress in a way that is not at all unlike the motives and aspirations of the early Romans thousands of years ago.

About the author

Partner, rare book dealer. Sekkes Consultants.

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