Tips: How to use books in your decor

March 18, 2011|By Mary Carole McCauley, The Baltimore Sun

Homes by the book

Sometimes, you really can judge a book by its cover. Gerald Smith, the Washington-based designer behind GL Smith Associates, offers the following tips for incorporating your favorite volumes into your home decor:

Display books that reflect the homeowner's passions. "The selection of books should be meaningful in some way," Smith says. "They might be travel books about places the owner has visited, or books that reflect an art collection or another personal interest. I seldom ever put books on a shelf just to put them there. Otherwise, the books become purely decorative and the house becomes a showroom."

Don't be afraid to use books in untraditional ways. "Use them as platforms for picture frames or artwork or sculpture," Smith says. "I might put a few books beneath a table lamp to add a little height. Or if the owner has a large collection of books, I've even been known to stack them up as an occasional table next to a chair for a look that is very spontaneous and casual."

Don't worry if the books you choose aren't in like-new condition. Yellowing pages, minor stains and tears can actually enhance the look. "If they are older books and they have a little bit of wear on them, I don't have a problem with that," Smith said. "It's called 'patina.' "

Cluster, Buster. "When there aren't enough books displayed together, they get lost," Smith says. "The collection loses significance."

Appearances count. Sure, a book's content matters most. But that's no reason to willfully ignore any and all aesthetic considerations. Hardcover books, for example, are always preferable to paperbacks.

"The wrong color in the room can really make a difference," Smith says. "A chartreuse book won't work in a room that's all burgundy and green. But, that same book might be fine in an all white or all black room, where the color really jumps out at you."

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