Tag Archives: interior design

Living With Books 03: Books as Portal into Another World (or Just the Next Room)

Down the rabbit hole, into another world through books. (National Geographic)

I began the Living With Books series with the humble truth that my mother’s interior designs include a little stash of books in every room. As modest as these collections most often are, today seemed a day to tip the scale in the other direction.

Designing a room with books is an act of referential art: the mere presence of a book, without need for melodrama or emphasis, asserts the potential that whole, imagined worlds might, at any moment, unfold within a room.  An elegantly styled room is perfectly punctuated by the presence of a biography on Frank Lloyd Wright or Cartier, or a tabletop perspective of the interior design of Charleston, Chicago or Jaipur. With that, the accent of books in a room is yet sublime.

But what of the fantastical?

How fitting is it to have a doorway through books — even a doorway made of books — when books open whole new worlds of possibilities?

A beautiful portal through books, from Hungary

Beautiful portal through books, from Hungary. (http://beautiful-portals.tumblr.com/)

Magically suspended books through a Swiss tunnel. c. overthemoon at flickr.com.

Shared by designlovefest.com; original sources unknown.

Archway into a bookstore in Lyons, Rhone-Alps, France, by Noel Joyeux. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/isaius/904947982/in/faves-tickledpinkknits /)

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Prior posts:

Introducing the series with my family’s traditions: Living With Books

Installment 2: Living with Books 02: Dreamt into Our Travels, Too

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Have you seen great examples of books in homes, travel or otherwise? Let us know in the comments, or find me on Pinterest.

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Coming next:

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Living With Books 02: Dreamt into Our Travels, Too

paris, at home with books, home library, writer

My parents recently confessed a sort of “escape plan” they’ve been hatching as they edge near the idea of retirement.  If they’d spoken in Mandarin and confessed a double life, I could not have been more startled and impressed!

Their nearby Manhattan is involved, as is Charleston (don’t get me started on how I love Charleston), but most ambitious is their plan to live in Paris for six months.  Considering Paris real estate costs, I have teased that they could find themselves folded sideways into a 100 square foot atelier with a limited glimpse of daylight, if one were to climb a ladder and peek out beneath attic rafters. But, between you and me, I like to imagine them here, in this lovely flat I found for rent (at book-a-flat.com) during my continued hunt for rooms that epitomize this spirit we share, of Living With Books.

For the book lovers among us, don’t you love the authenticity of the books in the flat – as elegant as the room is, they look read, don’t they?

While my parents led us on tours of elegant plantations in the South, or castles and country houses in Ireland and Scotland, I must confess my  spot for the elegance of decay.  Look at the image on my novel project page and you will see how Havana has had its hooks in me for some years, tracking the neighborhoods a friend once had to leave. There were no books in the mildew and hurricane dampened pictures I have of current-day Cuba, but I can’t help be inspired by this iconic picture, below, of Hemingway’s home outside Havana.

hemingway at home in havana, living with books

Hemingway’s home in Havana – Living with Books

You might notice that, in picking great pictures of “living with books,” I love a room where books are clearly important to the inhabitants, but that doesn’t have to mean endless walls of books.  In these rooms, as in the bookshelves my mom includes in each bedroom she designs, the importance of a little library is clear without overwhelming the room.

In my last house, I found that trying to display all of my books in one place went beyond celebrating the pleasure I felt in them. Instead, they became a weighty presence in the room. In concepts of feng shui, it is important to not have things stacked high and towering in a room — as they symbolize and affect your spirit as “things hanging over you.”

Viceroy Hotel, Kelly Wearstler

Viceroy Hotel, Kelly Wearstler

If a collection seems burdensome, especially consider thinning books on higher shelves. No reader’s pride is lost to spread your collection between more than one room!

To read the first installment of this series, click here. Or, I’d love to hear your own experiences or suggestions for the next installment in the comments below!

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Living with Books

Monkeys reading. copyright Elissa Field no repro w-out permission

Monkeys reading. c. Elissa Field

When asked about designing bedrooms, my mother (Connecticut ASID designer, Julianne Stirling) once said that she makes sure to put a little bookcase in every room.

In my parents’ 230 year-old house off the village green in Fairfield, Connecticut, my boys’ favorite room has African-carved giraffes and a porcelain elephant hiding among the books on a carved case that also features a portrait of my grandparents when they still lived in North Africa at the end of World War II. Monkey prints parody my boys’ personalities as they read in bed. It is a room Kipling or Hemingway might have brought keepsakes home to.

At the back of the house, the girls’ room, where my nieces stay and where I stayed the night before my wedding, is more delicate, its curtains gathered high as if the empire waistlines of Elinor and Marianne in Sense and Sensibilities. A copy of Austen is likely tucked among the books held on an antique latticework shelf above the bed.

Long before my mom was an accomplished interior designer, back in the first house I remember, with the 70s lemon yellow shag carpet and turquoise leather chair, there were books in every room. Coffee table books of famous artists, designers and photographers. Picasso, the impressionists. Biographies of dignitaries, inventors, trendsetters. Henry Ford, Marilyn Monroe. And fiction. A leatherbound set of Fitzgerald. Updike. Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, Moveable Feast, Finca Vigia collected stories. Henry Miller. Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night. And the fodder of avid readers: the bent-spined, inch-thick paperbacks whose pages aged brown by the time it was my turn to read them.

Coveted, to this day, are the found books. The hand-me-downs. There is a threadbare, heavy volume of fairy tales my Grandma Aho read to us from her childhood in Michigan’s upper peninsula, whose line drawings had been painted in watercolors by herself and her sisters as girls. I have pictures of the same girls straddling the shoulders of a draft horse, patting his neck to warn his heavy hooves from stomping cabbages as he navigated the garden. Equally loved: question arose over the holidays as to who last had the dozen original clothbound Nancy Drews, printed in the 30s and 40s, that had been passed from one cousin to another, then down to my cousins and myself.  Less lovely, but equally treasured, were the horse books left by my college-age aunt for me to discover at the cottage we all shared in the summer. Or the James Bonds my brother and I traded, or the military training guides he found in family footlockers. There was the elicit, always denied, hairy-armpit copy of The Joy of Sex that finally disappeared altogether. And there are the Bibles, passed down from the last-living members of various branches of the family, with patchy recording of births and deaths and marriages written inside the covers.

We were a family who lived with books.

I carried this with me as I set up my first houses. In college, novels advanced in a line along the baseboards around the wood floor in my Richmond rowhouse, arranged by country, by year of publication. In Florida, waiting for a hurricane, books were one of three things I protected with plastic bags and packed into a sheltered closet. Along with photographs, the few things I could not bear losing to a storm.

It hadn’t occurred to me this is idiosyncratic. I’d never lived in a house without books and never took time to think of it as unusual — a joy some of us share, in surrounding ourselves with the magical worlds we’ve discovered in those pages, loving the undulating ribbon of color and texture formed by a line of spines.

Coming across interior design photographs of great rooms with books has made me aware of this kindred reality some of us share: living with books. This new column will share some of my favorite Living With Books images, in monthly editions.

Here is the first:

I have always loved a dining room with books.

A dining room with books, featured at www.atticmag.com.

Fabulous photographer chotda (santos) has photographed a number of versions of a hue-spectrumed bookcase, most notably this one below.

I love this picture, by author, photographer and gender activist Rita Banerji, of a bookseller’s stall at Kolkata’s Annual Book Fair.

In this Chicago living room, featured by Architectural Digest, books hold their own against dramatic artwork. As much as I love books, the room’s balance is crucial, as a library should reflect the owner’s pleasure in books, and not feel a weighty burden.

And what about you? I’d love to hear your favorite experiences or memories, living with books.

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