The Spellbinding Ways To Elevate Your Interior With Books

In this extract from Books Make a Home, author Damian Thompson reads the room on books, and how the digital age may serve to increase their value

Industrial chic meets modern classics. A plush ‘Charles’ sofa by B&B Italia and a sinuous coffee table by Piero Lissoni contrast with box-like shelves on heavy central brackets that are spot on in the warehouse setting. Photo / Supplied

“When I have a little money I buy books. And if any is left, I buy food and clothing.” With the endless stream and variety of entertainment competing for our attention today, few of us could sign up to the dictum of Erasmus, the Renaissance humanist.

Nonetheless, books still enrich our lives in myriad ways. From the comfort of an armchair, we can travel the world, acquire a skill and plunge into the past. The anthologist Alberto Manguel has described reading as the compass that guides us in our self-discovery and in our exploration of the world.

We look at other people’s shelves to provide clues to their interests and characters; for similar reasons, we are loath to throw away our own books because they feel part of our identity: Benjamin Franklin even described himself as a book that God would copy edit after his death.

There’s another good reason why we should hold on to books, at least according to Canadian novelist Robertson Davies: “A truly great book should be read in youth, again in maturity and once more in old age, as a fine building should be seen by morning light, at noon and by moonlight.”

All this getting and never letting go provides us with challenges of storage and display, whether we live in a modern urban loft, a Victorian semi or a Georgian villa.


Whether you’d place yourself at either extreme or somewhere in the middle, is there any point investing in shelves and bookcases in the digital age?

When a Kindle can easily hold some 1500 titles, perhaps all our books are headed for landfill.

It is said that publishers are facing the biggest upheaval to their industry since Gutenberg invented his press in 1439, but reports of the death of the book have been greatly exaggerated; according to Wikipedia, some 188,000 books were published in the UK in 2018.

It is true that writers can self-publish online, cutting out the middle man and thereby boosting what they earn. But publishers are a key quality filter; they have expertise about what constitutes good writing and how to reach readers; their editorial, design and picture-research staff add quality to the finished article.

READ: How To Perfectly Light Your Home, According To 3 Top Design Experts

Hand-held devices may be a boon to the traveller, but traditional books have visual and tactile qualities that are irreplaceable.

Indeed, the net effect of digital publishing may well be that “real” books will become more expensive, more like the “niche” products they were in the past; but the process may force us to value them more, to become more discriminating about their aesthetic qualities.

As the philosopher Alain de Botton has argued: “We should stand to swap a few of our swiftly disintegrating paperbacks for volumes that proclaim, through the weight and heft of their materials, the grace of their typography and the beauty of their illustrations, our desire for their contents to assume a permanent place in our hearts.”

A run of simple bookshelves not only accommodates Brooklyn-based gallerist Genevieve Hudson-Price’s library but also offers a surface where she and partner Stefan Marolachakis can display an eclectic array of treasures. Photo / Supplied

This compact apartment in Camden, London, makes canny use of the triangular roof space. This expanse of cubbyholes gives the option for an ever-changing parade of books and objects. Seen side on, the staircase climbing to a platform bedroom is well integrated into the wall behind. Photo / Supplied

It’s easy to feel oppressed by clutter in a space that’s supposed to be devoted to rest and recuperation. In this Paris townhouse, all the storage is in a separate zone from the bed, and made doubly distanced by being in a different colour — a calming deep teal. Photo / Supplied

This relocated staircase now climbs perpendicular to one of the alcoves formed by a basement chimney breast. A delightful reading nook (enclosing extra storage beneath the mattress) is formed by the triangular volume under the stairs, whose wire banister allows light to penetrate from the storey above. Photo / Supplied

In the bedroom of a converted art studio in Brussels, shoes and other unsightly gubbins are hidden in the shadow created by three identical benches. Meanwhile, the eye is led by the stacks of books on top (plus a beckoning hand) up the vertical posts of the original glazed partition. Photo / Supplied

Pink against green is quite the statement, and the owners of this home in Vernouillet, near Paris, are rightly making a feature of their dynamic, open-backed storage topped with bell jars. The asymmetry of the design has given them added licence to arrange the contents horizontally or vertically. Photo / Supplied

An artfully positioned stack of books can lead the eye towards a pleasing display, like this minibar area; equally it can divert attention away from a window with its eyesore of a tower block beyond. Photo / Supplied

Extracted from Books Make a Home by Damian Thompson, RRP $70, published by Ryland Peters & Small, distributed by

Share this:
New Zealand Herald

New Zealand Herald

Subscribe to E-Newsletter