Decorating with Books

via Random Acts of Reading

I grew up in a bookish household. There was a huge bookshelf and cabinet built in to the wall of my parents’ house in New York City, filled to the ceiling with all kinds of books. My father, a designer, had briefly subscribed to the Heritage Press limited editions, classic works with specially created artwork and typography. They look rather quaint now (and no one knew anything about acid free paper in those far-off days) but I had the run of those books, as well as anything else on the shelves (this led, several years later, to my 9th grade teacher responding to my book report on Candide with an A and the comment “do your parents know you’re reading this?”). Those books–and many others–filledd the house. When we moved to Massachusetts I not only had a set of bookshelves that framed my window, but when I decided I didn’t like where the door in my room was located and put in a new door, we made my former door’s space into bookshelves.

I suspect my story, outside of the particulars, is not unusual. In my house every room has a bookshelf–at least one. In some of them my husband’s vast collection of CDs share the space; in the sunroom it’s books, cookbooks, and DVDs.

This may explain my gobsmackitude when we were moving from NYC to San Francisco, selling our apartment on the Upper West Side (that sounds so much classier than it was, but never mind) and our realtor asked if we’d mind taking out the built-in floor to ceiling bookshelves in the dining room. “Buyers are intimidated by bookshelves.”


What we’d thought was a big plus turned out to be a big no-no. Apparently buyers are also unable to visualize a space that does not immediately march with what their own taste is. This is why most home staging for real estate tours are so relentlessly out of a Crate and Barrel catalog. Me, when I walked through places when we were looking for a house in San Francisco, I immediately peopled each place with Our Stuff. Emphatically including our bookshelves.

Intimations of the “one of these days we’re going to have to move out of here and go live somewhere with fewer stairs” discussion have led me to regard the bookshelves–and their contents–in my house with a certain amount of dread. I have been carrying some of the books on those shelves with me for over half a century (including that Heritage Press edition of Candide). I know I will have to choose what books go with us on our next adventure and which do not. But even in the Future Dwelling With Fewer Stairs, there will have to be bookshelves. Maybe not quite as many. Or maybe, like the photo above, I’ll find other ways to store the books (although deciding you want to re-read that book at the bottom of a stack could lead to a lumpy night’s sleep).

One thought on “Decorating with Books

  1. At the moment, I regard almost all my possessions with a sense of dread, but that does not keep me from bringing more books into the house even though we are not only out of bookshelf space, but out of places to put more bookshelves.

    I am appalled by the idea of removing built-in bookcases for real estate reasons. When I was apartment shopping in Austin, I was shown something that was like the apartment I would get (someone was still in the one that would be available when I got there). It had wonderful bookcases. The one I actually got had a fireplace instead. Fireplaces seem like a cozy idea and I bet realtors love them, but (a) in a typical winter in Austin you might use for a few days at most and (b) they make me cough. It was a nice apartment, but I’d have preferred the bookcases.

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