Using books for interior design

The difference between real books and a “virtual book” device like Kindle isn’t just the difference between the old ways and the modern ways.  There’s more to it than that.

Real books were always about more than reading; they were a part of interior design. They were publicly displayed to bring colour and interest to a room – a unique combination of knowledge and decoration.

Book Day - books on coffee table

It was partly about showing off, of course, but mainly it was about sharing – “I’ve enjoyed this and you might too” – in a way that an e-reader could never be. You can’t casually browse through someone’s e-reader like you might browse through their bookshelves.

Like all good interior design, books reflect the personality of their owner in a way that a mass-produced electronic device can never do.

That’s why it’s time to turn again to a good book, not just for you to read, but for others to appreciate as well. In the month we celebrate World Book Day, we’re taking another look at books as part of interior design.

Displaying Books

If you’ve got a collection of books, don’t hide them in boxes in spare rooms with your old board games, half-forgotten clothes and spare curtain material.

Say it aloud: “I’m bookish and proud”.

The Western world suddenly has far more bookcases than bookcase owners, so this particular furniture item is a fantastic antiques buy.

You can also buy a thousand shelving solutions, and have your books fitted into all sorts of nooks and crannies, at all sorts of angles, and even appearing to float up walls without any visible means of support.

You can display different books in virtually every room in the house: the hall, the living room, the bathroom, the bedroom and even cookery books in the kitchen.

And of course people do still collect books for their own sake, by genre, by author or just anything old and interesting.

Books As Pure Decoration

If you’re going for the ‘book look’ without needing the actual reading matter, you can use books as building blocks for all kinds of furniture.

We’ve seen piles of books used as permanent legs for a glass-topped coffee table, and open books as wall decorations or even grouped together and treated as headboards on beds.

We’ve seen book mirror stands, side-tables and photo-frames, and books cut into letter shapes for children’s bedrooms.

Because books are usually so mobile, there’s a nice, casual ‘just for now’ vibe about even the most permanent feature.

You can use books as storage units, hollowing out the pages of an individual hardback book as a secret jewellery safe or using a collection of book spines to hide a larger box of, say magazines and newspapers.

We’ve seen books hung from pegs as decorations, book covers framed as art and even a large old gardening book scooped out to be used as a planter (although we didn’t like that – we’d rather have had the old gardening book).

There’s book wallpaper to create that instant library, and even book art, where books are carved and manipulated into all kinds of fascinating shapes as abstract sculptures.

TWST - Mantell Park showhome -book wallpaper

Inspired By Books

Finally, there are all sorts of decorations that are inspired by books.

There’s “quote art”, which takes a quote from a book, frames it, and puts it in the appropriate place.

So you might have Mark Twain’s “Eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside” in the kitchen, or perhaps “I'm gonna wash that man right outa my hair” in the bathroom (from the musical South Pacific).

Or how about this for the hall, by the poet Robert Frost: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in”.

There’s illustration art, which celebrates book illustrations, from E.H. Shepard’s work in the Winnie the Pooh books to the black-and-white pictures originally provided by ‘Phiz’ (artist Hablot Knight Browne) for 10 different Charles Dickens novels.

You can, of course, create your own art from old book illustrations, and it doesn’t have to be well-known books. Westerns, spy books, superhero comics, war stories and school fiction can all be good sources of illustrations.

And then there’s the whole genre of map art, usually taken from old atlases. Map collectors can put the world on their wall with maps going back to the 17th century and beyond.

So when it comes to creating a home, don’t ditch the books for the Kindle just yet. Because books are actual art and a Kindle is merely a library ticket.