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Bookshelf Decor Tips from the Experts

Your favorite volumes aren’t just for reading, they’re accessories for your space



Though we live in a digital age, there’s no replacing the power of books—especially in design. Not only do they tell the story of the homeowner, adding personality to a space, but they also make a bold decor statement. “A . . . book lasts as long as a house, for hundreds of years,” Thomas Jefferson once wrote. “It is not, then, an article of mere consumption, but fairly of capital.” Here, we asked two book-loving experts to share their tips for using your books as smart accessories in your home.

Go local for great books. “Some of my favorite places to sleuth for books for clients are Bookmarc in New York and Los Angeles and Book Soup in L.A.,” says John De Bastiani of John De Bastiani Inc., an interior design firm with offices in both cities. Head to your own neighborhood shop where there’s an inventory you like. “There’s something special about local bookstores, and used bookstores in particular,” says Aya Satoh, the manager for Personal Collections and ​Books by the Foot at the Strand Book Store in Manhattan. “There’s so much history there, and the craft and artistry that went into producing antique books gives them a beauty that most contemporary books don’t have.”

Think about your interests. Satoh has curated more than a thousand book collections over the last two years, and she always starts the process with a conversation about book content and overall subject themes. For example, Satoh recently created a collection of Jazz Age books for a Prohibition era–themed space at a New York hotel.

Commune employed built-in shelves painted arsenic green to contain books and objects in a 1930s Los Angeles house.
Photo: Nikolas Koenig

Make the books the focal point. When displayed the right way, books have the ability to convey the personality of the owner. “To highlight your collection, paint the bookshelf a contrasting color, such as duck egg blue or bright coral,” says De Bastiani. “And if you want, shine a light on the books in the literal sense. Install LED spotlights and direct them at the shelves.”

Mix it up. “I often mix books with my client’s other pieces, such as blue-and-white Chinese porcelain or antique tea caddies,” says De Bastiani. Interspersing books with something as simple as travel photos is a great way to subtly tell the world about you, he says. To ensure your collection still looks organized and cohesive, Satoh recommends grouping the books by color, subject, or size, then pulling the spines to the edge of shelf.


The Indian tablecloth and taffeta curtains in designer Sig Bergamin’s Brazilian library were found in Paris.
Photo: Roger Davies

Make them accessible. Special vintage copies, or even your favorite novel, should be displayed facing out on your bookshelves for extra attention, says Satoh. At your next party, showcase a tome or two on your cocktail table. “Books can be a great conversation piece,” says De Bastiani. Other easy-to-reach spots: the fireplace mantel or a large window sill, where the books will be framed by the drapery and sunlight.

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