Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Saturday, March 3, 2012

A Paean to Painted Libraries

I have a dilemma. It's to do with the trend of colour co-ordinating your library. We've all seen them. The private libraries where the red spines are filed together, the green ones are in another shelf, and the pink ones beyond that. I might even be guilty of it. (Shhh, I didn't say that.)

Even since it appeared, this design trend has caused an uproar among Dewey purists, who believe that books should be categorised according to their subject matter, not the shade of their jackets. My partner's sister is outraged that books are being filed according to colour. She thinks its bibliophilia heresy. (By the way, she and her husband are lawyers and have THE most enormous library. Whenever we visit they always ask me what I'm reading. And whenever I hear this question I always feel like a criminal on trial for reading misdemeanors. Often I feel compelled to invent something. High-brow, literary titles. But I'm a terrible liar and so my literary fibs show. Once, I said "Churchill's biography". To which they immediately replied: "Which one?" Barristers! You can't fool them, can you?)

The thing is, if you're going to file your books according to colour, you'd better remember what the jackets looked like if you want to find anything again. I have a vague idea of what most of mine look like. But it's very easy. Garden books are often jacketed in green or purple covers. Architecture and fashion titles are quite often black. Books about the coast are often blue. And whimsical books are often white (The White Jacket was a big publishing trend five years ago.)

But now I'm changing allegiances. I'm starting to think books should be filed according to subject matter. I mean, Lily Brett may not want to sit next to A.S. Byatt. Lily probably wants to be in the New York section. Where she belongs.

And so I have a solution for all you design perfectionists who feel that libraries should match a room. PAINT YOUR LIBRARIES! It's so simple, I'm surprised Mr Dewey didn't think of it. I'm leaning towards navy blue bookshelves, which would be very sophisticated, but I've seen green and pink ones too. Here. I'll show you. (NB Library purists look away NOW.)

{Top image of a traditional library from a mansion in Maine via Peter Pennoyer Architects and House of Turquoise}

The emerald green library of Tony Duquette's legendary home. LOVE that leopard print carpet! {Via Christopher Sturman for Harper's Bazaar and Habitually Chic}

The whimsical and artistic library of Anne Gridley and Gary Graves, which has been painted in Benjamin Moore's Prairie Green. Located in the countryside, this is one of my all-time favourite libraries. So courageous, and yet so inviting. {Via Country Living}

And another green library, this time by rising designer Ken Fulk. {Via California Home + Design}

One of the most beautiful libraries I've ever seen, this enthralling, pale sea-green space is delicate and yet grand at the same time. It belongs to the Duchess of Alba in Madrid, and was featured in W magazine. {Via W Magazine. Photographed by Simon Watson}

You may not think turquoise bookshelves would work, but this library shows that even pretty tones can look stylish and distinguished, especially when the shelves are filled with much-loved old books. Personally I think the turquoise looks beautiful with the vintage beige covers. It makes the whole room seem very modern, without detracting from the fact that these are old books. {Via Sk├Âna Hem and Apartment Therapy}

A poem in navy blue, this library is part of a trend of darker-toned book rooms, many of which are being painted in rich hues of blue. {Via House Beautiful}

What about a red library? Red is often used in dining rooms to provide a theatrical backdrop, but it's rare to see it in libraries. I'm not sure I'd be brave enough to try it, but it's certainly dramatic. {Via Elle Decor}

Here's another one. I have to say, it's growing on me. It's such a delicious red. {Via The Decorista}

And another one. {Via Yatzer}


  1. Oh you are a hoot, Janelle. Did you really say you were reading Churchill's biography when you weren't???? I think one of our most loved books is of his quotes, by the by.

    And as for this trend of colour co-ordinating libraries, I am just biding my time, hoping it will pass as quickly as it came into fashion. For the whole fun of having a library is actually being able to find something. Otherwise, we may as well go back to the system of a few books in the bedroom, a few in the hallway, a few in the living room - when one can never find anything without tearing the house to pieces. We gave over one of our rooms to become a library, and it is quite fabulous. And no, it isn't organised by spine colour, but by genre. With the exception of the penguins - which are all in one fabulous orange block.

  2. Oh dear, I am guilty of organising books by spine colour. I've even been known to turn all the DVD's around so the spine doesn't show and they all look the same. I know...completely OTT. That one frustrates hubby no end.
    I am in the process of turning my formal sitting room into a library and I just might arrange the books by genre. Thanks for the inspiration.

  3. Yes Glamour Drops, I fear I did. So ashamed, I can't tell you...
    But I HAD been reading a biography of Churchill in the past. Just not then, at that point in time. So it wasn't MUCH of a lie... Not really.
    You never want to tell a white lie in front of barristers you know. It's like telling one in front of journalists. Or school teachers. They ALWAYS know.
    BTW. Just adore your blog. Or as my friend's little girl says "I dore it"!

  4. Oh Sharyn, you are a woman after my own heart. I actually colour co-ordinated my CDs. Until even that became too much to walk past, and so now I store them in a cabinet. But I think there comes a time when we need to celebrate the diversity of our book spines and CD covers. Besides, I think the colour thing is getting a little shallow. John Rockefeller didn't organise his books by shade. And I'm quite certain Winston Churchill wouldn't have. So back to the traditional system I go...

  5. Can I please, pretty please just have the Duchess of Alba's library?!!
    What a totally exquisite room and the flash of the red chairs just works!
    I wouldn't mind a red library but at the moment my bookcases are white and shades of grey, the books vaguely in alphabetical order by author which means I still can't find them because I never remember the name of the author!!!!!
    They are being redone over the next few days so I just might try the colour coding (just to see what it looks like!!!!) and maybe I won't!!!!!!!
    Julienne xx


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