Bookshelves. Build, stack, or hide them -- in hallways, closets, windows

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

When it comes to making book collections as accessible, useful, and decorative as possible, leading interior designers have as many ideas as there are plot twists in a P. G. Wodehouse novel. ``If you have a collection of books,'' says Everett Brown, a member of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) in San Francisco, ``the ideal solution is to have floor-to-ceiling bookcases especially built to house them. That way the shelves become architectural. I do not usually consider bookcases which are separate pieces of furniture as the best answer.''

``I encourage people to have bookshelves built in,'' says Michael Taylor, also an ASID member, ``but I keep those six or seven books I am currently involved with stacked on a table beside my bed. I like them there waiting for me, not put away on some shelf. On another low Chinese table at the foot of my bed I stack another 15 or 20 books that I want to study or leaf through at my leisure.''

``But,'' he adds, ``I think one should be honest and only keep out on such display those books which one is actually reading or waiting to read. The stack must be bona fide, and not just for show or decoration. I always leave jackets on books because they remind me quickly of what is inside. Magazines, too, with their handsome covers, are a form of decoration that I encourage.''

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According to Ellen Liman, a Manhattan designer and author, ``The first thing you must do if you own too many books is to edit them, although my husband has never yet been persuaded to throw or give away one book. So my solutions in a large apartment include making ultimate use of vertical wall space. I run bookshelves up to the ceiling and then use a rolling ladder to get to the high ones. I put shelves over and around windows and doors and down long hallways. I have even fitted my closets and pantry with bookshelves to squeeze out the last inch of book-storage space.''

She also hangs bookshelves on the insides of doors and has had shelves placed across unused windows.

``When I am helping others decorate,'' she continues, ``I always look for those odd niches and corners that, with book-filled shelves, can be converted into little library spaces. If you just keep adding to your collection and can't delete any volume, you have to keep looking for new territory to open up in which to accommodate them.''

London designer and author Mary Gilliatt comes up with dozens of ways to use books decoratively in ``Decorating on the Cheap,'' a paperback put out by Workman Publishing. For example, she suggests making a coffee table by placing a circle of thick heavy glass over three even stacks of big art books -- the kind of books normally exhibited atop coffee tables. She also shows a freestanding bookcase that is used to divide a loft room's sitting area from the entrance area.

Designer and editor Ellen Frankel chose bookshelves to divide sleeping space from a home office in an attic bedroom in suburban Chicago. The deep, low bookshelf, which takes two rows of books put in from either side, was placed on casters so that by day it could partly hide the bed area and by night could be swung open to give more bedroom space to an overnight guest.

Naomi Gale, whose New York firm has put up miles of shelves in all styles and finishes, says that at least for the more affluent, libraries are back in style.

``More and more people are reading real books and are asking for built-in libraries. They seem to care greatly about their books. And most of the time people want only books on the shelves, not mixed with objects and art works.''

Many people choose shelves that are too deep and take up too much space, according to Mrs. Gale. Ninety percent of the fiction books published today, she says, will fit on six-inch-deep shelves. This means that even a long, three-foot wide hall can be shelved for books without impeding traffic.

Gary Hager, of Parish-Hadley Associates, has also noted a new interest in full-fledged libraries among his clients.

``I put book walls in many different kinds of rooms,'' he says, ``because they make soft, colorful backgrounds wherever they are used.'' Many people, he has found, like to warm up a formal dining room with a wall of books, or add the character and ambiance created by books to a bedroom or bedroom-study.

In a design vignette called ``The Book Room,'' which he did for the Italian Tile Center, he placed books on a well-lighted round ``reading'' table, filled a big, high, antique bookcase-chest with books, and stacked up books on a bench against one wall. He describes it as a ``setting for idle hours or intimate dining.''

Says California architect Barry Berkus, who knows how to get the most function out of a very small house: ``We recess bookshelves into niches that may be voids in the architectural space. By using space that would be unused otherwise, we are able to put bookshelves into the back of closets, in bathrooms, bedrooms, breakfast rooms, and down hallways.''

Everett Brown advises keeping all books set at the front edge of shelves.

``And never take the covers off books,'' he says. ``That is a terrible mistake. Then you just have one red book next to another red book, and you have great trouble distinguishing one title from another. Covers are identifying and decorative.''

New York designer Angelo Donghia has for years used books decoratively to intrigue guests. For instance, he likes the inviting look of an open book left casually on a sofa or chair as if its peruser had just stepped away to the telephone. And when he leaves books opened to striking illustrations, people never fail to take notice.

``Guests really enjoy looking at your books and magazines,'' he says, ``so why not make it easy for them to check out your current reading interests?''

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