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  • Writer's pictureWendy Elizabeth

The Art of a Bookcase

I love old books. The thing that makes me coddle and sigh over a vintage handbag, is the same feeling I get when I look at an old book. Especially children’s books, with handwritten notes inside, pages so worn you’re almost afraid to turn them. I hastily try to find the dates they were written, but many of my books don’t have them. They are from a time when it was simply enough to say “The End”.

This week I decided to redo the bookshelves in my living room. They had been the same way for too long, and the display had become like milk, important but bland. A hodge podge of crafts, paintings, books and collectibles; none of them valuable, all of them precious. I took everything off (the shelves 🙂 and thought about it for a while. What did I want to see on there instead? What feeling did I want to evoke? I wandered my house looking for things that I had not noticed in a while, things that maybe needed some attention. I didn’t know what I was looking for. I began to find the children’s books, scattered in piles, in different rooms. I hadn’t taken the time to look at them lately; they were all so beautiful and different that they had to be appreciated, if only by me. I had forgotten how many I had collected. All my favorites, comfortably loved. They became the inspiration for my shelf decorating. I collected the books, then began to look through what I had taken off the bookshelves. My intention was to edit out some things, but I quickly realized that my optimism was not a reality. Within an hour I had covered the dining table and the sofa with my “stuff”. Instead of minimizing my collections, I seemed to have added to them. This wasn’t what I had planned, but I was determined to try and fit everything back on the shelves. I began with the books, as they were the largest group of items. I loosely divided them into categories – old and worn, poetry and fairies (yes, I know, but I’m being really honest), decorating and design, inspirational and modern. The old books I stood in a row, at eye level, because they were my favorite things at the moment. I didn’t line them up according to height; I wanted them to look a bit disheveled, collected over time, with no apparent thought as to how they looked on a shelf. The other books I either stood up or laid down on their side, depending on the size of the book and what their topic was. After that I took the paintings and placed them so that their scale coordinated with the books (eg. large pile of books, small piece of art work). Once I had the large items in place, it was time to play with the accessories. Small objects can be placed anywhere, but once you start to really look at what you have, you will see that themes have already begun, and it becomes easier to play with what you have. A small tree in front of a painting of a tree, a bird on top of a fairy book or a handcrafted, aged piece of clay nestled against a worn copy of Treasure Island. An easy way to create interest is to place things at different depths and levels. Lining things up in a row creates a sort of visual indifference, but if our eyes have to dance around to look at things our brain is tricked into thinking it is looking at something more interesting. Try to think of it as an Art composition, rather than just sticking things on a shelf. If you can’t find an apparent theme, emphasise the opposites. Fine bone chine next to an old flower pot, or a birds nest next to (or inside) a sleek, modern bowl. One of my favorite pieces is a crystal Tiffany bowl filled with real cotton buds that have just popped open from their casing. The soft, naturalness of the cotton inside the gorgeously, brilliant crystal takes the formality away, encouraging people to touch it. If you do have a collection, and you don’t want to play with opposites, group them together, deliberately,with no apology, in uneven numbers. Or, for more interest, add an unexpected element. For example, twigs, feathers or rocks lying next to a Lenox collection. Grab something from outside if you need to. Fill a plain glass bowl with dirt as a whimsical counterpoint to the fine china. When you look at my photograph, you may not like anything on the shelf, and you may think it cluttered, but that’s my point. Regardless of how you feel about the items, they are displayed with deliberation. My goal was to display my treasures in the most decorative way possible. I want you to see that it does not matter what we have, it can all be appreciated and cared for. It is not a matter of style or taste. With a bit of thought a bookshelf can be an interesting (and changeable) part of our home. It can reflect who we are in a provocative way that makes people want to take a closer look. The End

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