Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Appealing Bookcases

When I first started to become interested in design I was dating a guy whose mother was an interior designer. She had an innate talent for making things look great. Every corner of every house was finished to perfection. Even the bookshelves. (Yes, I noticed). What came as a surprise was that she had asked one of her assistants to do them. Mary, she said, had a talent for making shelves look great and perfectly accessorized. Sometimes I wonder if it had to do with the fact that it wasn’t Mary’s stuff. I don’t think so. I have always taken note of bookshelves and decorative spaces. I’ve studied what I like and what I don’t like and why, but to tell you the truth, that doesn’t make it any easier. Each time we are presented with new display challenges in our work it is different- each person cherishes different things and wants to see certain items every day. Sometimes it can be intricately framed needlework, other times it can be a doll collection or a highly meaningful memorabilia collection. Sometimes we supplement what our clients already own to help them complete a display, but more often we end up editing what they have to make a display with more impact. Less is often more.

There are a few things you can think about when creating beautiful display shelves. The first and most important is to make sure the lighting is good. If possible, under shelf lighting is great. It can highlight individual and important items. But do make sure the light is balanced. A set of shelves should be lit from above with a wall washer to insure adequate overall light and diminish deep shadows. If you are lucky enough to have the opportunity to add this type of light during construction, don’t let the opportunity pass you by.

Another great trick to use in built-in shelving is to paint or paper the inside of the shelves. You can do just the back, but I prefer the back and the sides- leaving the shelves painted or stained as the exterior trim to tie the look together. Use a deeper color shade, and keep them all uniform.
Lastly, think about visual interest. Lay books both horizontally and vertically. Insert artwork, sculpture, and other small items sparingly and randomly. Balance is nice, but think about variety with different heights and interesting stopping points for the eye. And have fun.

Image at the top: Very practical bookshelves in the Chicago office of designer Alesandra Branca.

Here are a few more great examples:

The bookshelf as a backdrop. I wouldn't have thought of this, but I like the idea of making practical space out of a wall of bookshelves.

Create interest by hanging artwork on the outside of the shelves.

This is a simple bamboo shelf in Barclay Butera's entry. Notice the color and the proportion of the objects mixed in with the books.