Book Stories

Next, in my series of styling with objects: books.

So so beautiful, so symbolic, so useful. They have a solid purpose, a reason for being in the house - knowledge and pleasure. And then they have their decorating uses. Here's how I display them at home and in my work.


I love the look of a full bookcase. Like the library in Beauty and the Beast. Collections always give a space personality and soul. I love shelves full of records, of photos, of plants, of natural history. I like rows of multiples. I like record shops, museums and libraries.

My children have two bulging bookcases. We love children's books and they are all read over and over. Reading with my girls is one of my all-time favourite things. Pouring over beautiful illustrations, chatting, sharing stories while we cuddle is just the best. And it has so many memories of my own childhood too, And of all the childhoods in the stories we read.

But I must confess to not having a grown-up book case. We used to have high shelves running above the doors in our hall, full of paperbacks. They looked pretty but they were rarely looked at and got dusty. And things not being used makes me feel sad. We don't have the space for them elsewhere, so I gave them away. Some to friends, some to charity and, for a short while, we had a book swap box in our communal stair to share books with the neighbours. Better that these things are shared. Now I hardly ever buy a book. I prefer to borrow them from the library - less stuff, less expense and supporting one of the most wonderful of institutions. So we have art books, design books, coffee table books but not too many. Maybe if we had a bigger place, but for now, the books we do have are especially special and are often serving a second purpose as decoration.

Books in displays

I use them all the time. I don't go to a job without a box of books in my boot (of my car). They are so handy. Here are some things that they do...

They work as plinths. Adjustable plinths at that,as you can raise and lower the height with more or less books.

And they add height and shape to groups of objects, joining them together and making the display feel connected.

They add colour and texture with the spines. Arranging books in a rainbow is a long-running trend that's easy to do and can really cheer up a space (student me used to arrange my cds in colour order - I was widely mocked but I had such an instagramable college room in the late 90s) I did it here to work with the colours in the rest of the room and as a contrast to the dark walls.

I do stop at turning the books back to front though. Although it can look calm and neutral and is all about the texture, how do you find anything? Instead, why not do as an old art-school tutor of mine did and recover all of your books in the same colour of paper and write the title on the spine. No! Don't do that, that's too too much.

And they can act as a tray does to break up the expanse of surface, to connect objects together so that they feel more deliberate and less plonked.

Open to create the impression of life. In lifestyle photos, they can be opened and lying out to look as if a person has just stepped away from their reading, from their cooking. This can covey more of a story, of a personality to brand shoots and can really transport folk into the life the image is showing. Which can make for a useful piece of marketing,

Styled by me and photographed by Kevin McCollum for Murray and Murray kitchens.

In an actual photoshoot:

Study by Laurence MacIntosh, photographed by Kevin McCollum and styled by me.

I loved dressing this study. I love a good re-organisation and the home was so full of so many interesting books. When considering the shoot, I didn't want to over-style the space. The client was the craftsman of the beautiful shelving and the main subject was the woodwork and design. The shelf contents were there to inspire in a lifestyle sort of way, not detract. So I arranged them by subject and interspersed a few personal objects. I stood most of them on end, a few horizontally for variety, and I kept similar sized books together so that the heights flowed rather than jarred. I love the solid run of the white magazine spines. I could have hidden in that study for days.

Study by Laurence MacIntosh, photographed by Kevin McCollum and styled by me.

So that's my thoughts on books and their affect on space. Do you keep a lot of books? Do you decorate with them? I'd love to know.

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