Friday 1 February 2013

Home Decorating and Library interior design

There is a bit in Arlo Guthrie’s Vietnam-war-era, draft-dodging-spoken-word song, "Alice's Restaurant" which comes to mind almost every time I happen across an article about home decorating with books.

I waked in and sat down and they gave me a piece of paper, said, "Kid, see the phsychiatrist, room 604." And I went up there, I said, "Shrink, I want to kill. I mean, I wanna, I wanna kill. Kill. I wanna, I wanna see, I wanna see blood and gore and guts and veins in my teeth. Eat dead burnt bodies. I mean kill, Kill, KILL, KILL."

So I can’t resist saying something about How to create a library in your home by Georgia Madden (“words” — i.e., written by), Jo Carmichael (styling) and Scott Hawkins (photography) on This article on “Library interior design” doesn’t start well:

Few of us today have the luxury of a dedicated library. All too often, our beloved books are stacked in a corner or crammed onto overloaded shelves, creating messy hotspots that tend to be ignored. But when properly organised and neatly displayed, books can add a lived-in feel to your home, and give your guests insight into the real you.

Hmm … “messy hotspots”? And, really, in what world is it necessary to add a lived-in feel to your home?** Is it one in which you and your architect and stylist are so utterly devoid of character that your house always looks like a vacant hotel room or a blank interior space that builders have just departed from? Is this not an estate-agent’s trick to dress your manakin-house?

Of course not! Books can “give your guests insight into the real you”—the real you that you must carefully construct with the aid of a stylist and advice from As Christian Lander explains in Stuff White People Like (2008):

white people need to show off the books that they have read. Just as hunters will mount the heads of their kills, white people need to let people know that they have made their way through hundreds or even thousands of books. After all, what’s the point of reading a book if people don’t know you’ve read it? It’s like a tree falling in the forest. As much as white people do not want you rifling through their medicine cabinet, they are desperate for you to examine their bookshelves.

This is #138 in his book, but if you are interested and like this sort of thing you will find blog entries online for #34 Architecture, #37 Renovations, #49 Vintage and #79 Modern Furniture which are all amazingly relevant.

Passing by the horror vacui which afflicts our imagined interior decorator for a moment (covering both physical and psychological emptiness), I should mention that if you follow the link to the word “library” in this article you will discover an image depicting all of 74 books scattered across four shelves and a table. (Gallery here.)

The coffee-table book on the, err, coffee table is open. If it stays like that for more than a few hours the book will be ruined. No matter, it is serving an important purpose, vide Lander:

 But there are times when your visit to a white person’s house is not long enough for a full inspection of their bookshelves. How then can one gauge their taste? Simple, just look at the coffee table. You see, white people like to purchase very expensive, very large books that they can put on their coffee tables for other people to see and then use to make value judgments. If the coffee table book is about art, then the white person wants you to ask them about their trip to the Tate Modern. If it’s about photography, they want you to ask them about their new camera. If it’s about football or bikinis, you should politely ask to leave.

 (The book is on interior design, so perhaps this white person wants you to make a value judgment about their taste in interior design and ask about their visit to And NB again Lander’s #142 hardwood floors, only in the book). 

Georgia Madden’s “words” of advice continue: a well-proportioned bookcase can store “a large quantity of books” (about 105 in the image above), lining a wall with bookshelves “will allow you to store a huge number of books” and “if you have an enormous amount of books, you may need to store them in several different spots”: A lot less than “large” is still, as we have seen, a library.

I could spend just as much time on the arrangement of books (we have Shakespeare’s works and To Kill a Mockingbird salted among volumes of Reader’s Digest condensed novels—good work Jo) but since one of the captions is “utilise bookends for visual appeal as well as practical” [sic] it does seem a little cruel to continue. As for the follow-up article How to make a faux bookshelf from old book spines, the less said the better.

**Someone recently stuck their head into my office to say a cheery hello, congratulating me on almost having finished unpacking (many staff members in our building had to move offices in January). Of course, I was one of the staff members who didn't move. I guess that makes my whole office a messy hotspot.