Books smarten up a room, annotated edition

Books are so popular in home decor that even people who don’t read acquire them. They buy volumes by the yard at Half Price Books. They send orders off to a California book-decor specialist who ships Danish language books by the foot.

No comment.

Danish? Well, they aren’t meant to be read.

Unless you happen to read Danish. In which case, they are.

Perhaps the ultimate signal that books are decor came when a recent Pottery Barn catalogue showed an entire bookcase with the books turned backward, annoying mismatched spines facing inward, all in an attempt to achieve a neutral, uniform look.

Because… Oh, never mind.

Can’t find a particular book on that shelf? That isn’t the point. As a decorating technique, books work even better when they’ve been read.


Then books become signs of a full life, one of inquiry and imagination. Well-loved books are invitations to linger and relax. They are conversation starters. They are small monuments to our interests and passions. As antiquarian book dealer Michael Utt says, “When you look at a person’s books, you can see into his soul.”

The trend toward books as decor-only is jarring to longtime book collectors, such as Mr. Utt.

“You should collect what you love,” he says. Or, at least, invest in something you want to read.

Here are tips from the experts on how to decorate with books.

That’s “experts”.

Make it personal If you loved your last trip to Oaxaca, a stack of books on regional Mexican art will evoke memories. That’s one way books personalize a room, says interior designer Debbie Chirillo. If Matisse is your favourite artist, a few books of his work will establish your taste. NASCAR your thing? There are books on that, too.

You mean to say that people write books about things they find interesting? How novel.

Stack books on the floor or in baskets. The casual arrangement makes them inviting.

What a brilliant idea… stack books… on the floor.

Create interesting storage Paint a wooden ladder black and use it to shelve an assortment of books, says Leni Leth on Leth runs Book Decor, the California company that sells foreign books by the foot for the express purpose of looking at them rather than reading them. Danish books cost US$100 a foot, German are US$150 a foot and French are US$200. More info at

And the reason people care about the language of books they’re not reading…?

A lamp that is too low for its location can be raised by placing it on a stack of books, says designer Linda French. Custom bases can be ordered to raise lamps, but a stack of books is a more personal touch.

Again, brilliant! Make a light higher… by putting it on top of books! Never would’ve thought of that myself.

Create platforms Accessories stand out when they are placed atop a stack of books.

Show them off Stack nicely bound books on end tables or on tables behind sofas. Books add height, create interest and make a room feel lived in.

Jackets on or off Take book jackets off to create a more subdued colour palette. Leave pretty jackets on large art or garden books.

Make a table Put a pile of large books next to a chair. Top with a small piece of glass. Use as an end table.

(a Knight-Ridder news article, initially found someplace, then rediscovered over at the National Post [in Canada]: “Books smarten up a room.” [July 13, 2006]; originally pointed out at The Millions)