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How To Decorate With Books, According To Interior Designers

Laveta Brigham

10 ways to add to the story of your home. Jeff Herr; Design by Mallory Mathison Inc. Books are a designer’s best friend. They’re a helpful bit of decor that designers rely on to give flourish to nearly every room of the house. Beyond the decorative, books can instill personality […]

10 ways to add to the story of your home.

<p>Jeff Herr; Design by Mallory Mathison Inc.</p>

Jeff Herr; Design by Mallory Mathison Inc.

Books are a designer’s best friend. They’re a helpful bit of decor that designers rely on to give flourish to nearly every room of the house. Beyond the decorative, books can instill personality in a home, communicating a message about the people who live there.

“I was an English major in college, so reading has always been a passion of mine,” says Charlotte, North Carolina-based designer Lucy Doswell. “The books that people have in their home say a lot about who they are. It’s an extension of your personal style.”

Mallory Mathison Glenn, principal designer for Mallory Mathison Inc. in Atlanta, Georgia, agrees that books in the home can speak volumes. “I think it adds so much to the story of a home,” she says. “Obviously the inside of the book is the real story, but books give a space a soul in a way that throw pillows can’t.”

Books as decor is one designer move that couldn’t be easier to replicate. However, the decorative potential of books goes far beyond laying your most recent read on the coffee table or placing a novel on a shelf. Here’s every trick in the book to decorate with books.

Use What You Have (And Fill In The Gaps)

<p>Read McKendree / JBSA; Design by Lucy Doswell Interiors</p>

Read McKendree / JBSA; Design by Lucy Doswell Interiors

Start by working with the books you have. However, designers tell us that it’s never enough, because you can just never have too many books. Both designers say that they use books that clients already own and either start sourcing more, or encourage the homeowners to start collecting more books over time. The books aren’t just for show though. Both Mathison Glenn and Doswell take care to curate books that suit each homeowner.

“Some clients have incredible book collections. Others have a great start,” Doswell says. “One of my favorite things to do is to mix novels and books that they’ve read for pleasure with art books, coffee table books, books about foliage or trees or photography—things based on what their interests are. We want something that someone would actually want to pick up and read.”

Gather the books you have to start your display, then over time, begin compiling more that interest you, Matthison Glenn recommends. Books are an easy and affordable collectible that can provide stellar reading material and equally attractive decor.

Re-Cover Them

<p>Haley Jane Griffith; Design by Mallory Mathison Inc.</p>

Haley Jane Griffith; Design by Mallory Mathison Inc.

One way of working with what you’ve got is to re-cover your books. This is an easy way to recycle weathered novels and make them look up to par for decorating. Mathison Glenn sends her clients’ novels over to E Lawrence LTD, a bookseller in Marietta, Georgia, to have them rebound in handsome leather bindings. You can also go a DIY route with some fabric and glue.

Invest In Vintage

<p>Read McKendree / JBSA; Design by Lucy Doswell Interiors</p>

Read McKendree / JBSA; Design by Lucy Doswell Interiors

If you’re adding to your book collection, both Mathison Glenn and Doswell can’t resist the allure of vintage books. They admire the charm of antique reads like classic novels from beloved authors, but your collection can include whatever strikes your interest—from biographies to old Southern Living and Junior League cookbooks.

“I love finding antique books and if a client doesn’t have any, I typically try to find some and mix them in. I’m always looking at auctions and I see a great collection of antique books and I have also found some on eBay and in my own travels,” says Doswell. “It adds a really wonderful sense of history and character to the room to mix up the time periods as well.”

Match Sets… Or Don’t

Annie Schlechter

Annie Schlechter

Our designers have a split vote on whether or not to organize matching sets of books together. While Mathison Glenn thinks that a series with coordinating covers or a group of encyclopedias can be really pleasing, Doswell prefers the visual interest from a mis-matched assortment. We take that to mean that the beauty, in this case, is in the eye of the beholder.

“For the most part, I think it’s fun to just have books interspersed as if you just pulled one out, read it, and then put it back,” Doswell explains. The alternative, she thinks, “feels really tight and rigid.”

Stack Risers

<p>Laura Negri Childers; Design by Mallory Mathison Inc.</p>

Laura Negri Childers; Design by Mallory Mathison Inc.

Another way to decorate with books is to use them as podiums to display other decor. A stack of books can add dynamic height to emphasize a knick knack or even something as big as a lamp.

“A few books make such a great spot to put another object on top of, whether it’s a magnifying glass, a pretty little box, or a candle, they provide a nice base.,” Mathison Glenn says.

Organize Shelves

Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Elly Poston Cooper

Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Elly Poston Cooper

A wall of shelves full of books can make a stunning impression. Designers also recommend incorporating books on the shelves beyond display cases or walls, but on table shelves too. If you’re looking to fill a shelf with books, designers encourage you to avoid straight, boring rows that can feel austere. Instead, there are three approaches you can take: organizing by topic, purely for looks, or a laid-back approach.

The first option is exactly how it sounds. Organize your books by their topic so that you can easily find exactly what you’re looking for. Because this style is less of a stickler for looks, the overall effect will be beautifully busy.

If a pretty display is your goal, there’s a few ways to go about it. Organize with color, height, or both in mind. Mathison Glenn advises to sort books on a shelf by height so that a tall book doesn’t look awkward next to a short one, and to create a pattern of three or four books stood-up vertically, then two or three stacked horizontally.

Finally, for that easy-going organization style, take a deep breath and step back before layering your books on the shelf wherever you please. Mathison Glenn recommends a pseudo careless approach that is accessible and easy on the eyes.

“I don’t like bookshelves that are styled to the point where it looks like you can’t actually kind of reach in and touch it,” says Mathison Glenn. “The whole idea is to be able to pull something off the shelf and open it, read through it and then put it back.”

Pair With Other Decor

<p>Read McKendree / JBSA; Design by Lucy Doswell Interiors</p>

Read McKendree / JBSA; Design by Lucy Doswell Interiors

Especially on shelves, designers say that books are only part of the design. Other tchotchkes and decorative items like picture frames, pretty boxes, and china displays should be dispersed throughout to complete the look. Mathison Glenn reminds us that when displaying family photos on shelves with your books, to make sure that the photos are at a height that’s close to eye-level so that you can actually see them.

Another way to add interest with the help of other decor is to hang framed art in front of the shelves. In fact, Mathison Glenn lets us in on a secret that she often uses this as a method to fill in gaps that she doesn’t have enough books to fill.

Top A Coffee Table (Or Really Any Surface)

Laurey W. Glenn

Laurey W. Glenn

Coffee table books are a classic way of decorating with books. These ones are often oversized and artistic, featuring a visual representation of a topic of interest. Place a book, a stack of books, or our designers’ favorite: multiple stacks of books, on your coffee table and get creative. Choose to put them all on a decorative tray and incorporate other adornments too.

“We love using coffee table books in our residential design projects,” shares Dallas, Texas boutique designer Amy Atkins. “Larger coffee table books provide color, interest, and varying heights for layering accessories.”

Don’t stop at the coffee table though, says Mathison Glenn. “In my own house, I have stacks of books everywhere: underneath tables, on chair tops, and books overflowing from every single shelf that is there,” she says. She even uses books below surfaces, citing that books are an excellent trick to prop up a crooked table leg.

Show Off Cookbooks

Alexandra Rowley; Design: Kevin Walsh; Styling: Olga Naiman

Alexandra Rowley; Design: Kevin Walsh; Styling: Olga Naiman

Both Mathison Glenn and Doswell love having cookbooks out on display, but only if you actually use them.

“I love the way that cookbooks look,” says Mathison Glenn. “Especially when you can tell they’re really used—that’s the key with having cookbooks in your kitchen. You can’t have a bunch of brand new, untouched cookbooks, or it looks silly.”

To display cookbooks, if you use them of course, Doswell recommends having a designated place for them rather than laying or stacking them on every surface in the kitchen like you might other books in the living room. For the kitchen, Doswell is partial to open shelves and cabinets with glass or fabric doors that you can see into.

Build A True Library

Laurey W. Glenn; Styling by Lindsey Ellis Beatty

Laurey W. Glenn; Styling by Lindsey Ellis Beatty

A functioning library right in your home sounds like a dream, but designers say it’s one that is achievable. If you have a whole room ready to be converted into a library, we envy you so, but you can also convert a corner, reading nook, or living room wall into a usable library by organizing your bookshelves in an accessible way to easily locate and retrieve any given book.

“My favorite room to decorate, if I had to choose, would always be a library. I love being surrounded by books and making it feel like a really cozy room,” says Doswell. Meanwhile, Mathison Glenn shares that this is a strategy she uses for professional-minded clients, like lawyers for instance, who have an abundance of legal books they need to be able to reference but can double as decor.

Whether you’re designing a full, functional library, reorganizing the books already in your collection, or looking to acquire more for decorating, designers assure us that you can never have too many books around the house.

“You can’t have enough pieces of art. You can’t have too many dogs. And you can’t have too many books,” Mathison Glenn tells us. “They’re all things of a home that really speak to the people who live there.”

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Read the original article on Southern Living.

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