Books as objects: Books by the Foot

March 19, 2006 | 3 2 min read

When I worked at the bookstore in Los Angeles,we would occasionally get customers who would by books based not on their subject matter or on who wrote them, but by the color of their spines. Somebody would come in looking for light covered spines. Another would peak behind dusk jackets looking for books that conveyed a “vintage look.” More often than not these shoppers were Hollywood set designers, trying to fill the bookshelves that would provide the backdrop for the action in a movie or television show. Ever wonder why movies cost tens of millions of dollars to make? It’s because these guys were paying full price for these books and not picking them up cheap at a Goodwill store. But other people shopped like this to fill their homes because full bookcases look nicer than wallpaper. One celebrity would routinely buy multiple copies of dozens of books, so that his bookshelves would be equally full in each of his multiple homes.

According to a Knight-Ridder article, this book decor trend is filtering down to the masses:

Perhaps the ultimate signal that books are decor came when a recent Pottery Barn catalog showed an entire bookcase with the books turned backward, annoying mismatched spines facing inward, all in an attempt to achieve a neutral, uniform look.

Luckily the article is mostly skeptical of this trend, but it goes on to mention Book Decor, “a California company that sells foreign books by the foot for the express purpose of looking at them rather than reading them. Danish books cost $100 a foot, German are $150 a foot and French are $200.”

In a way they’re right. Books look great on the walls, elegant and inviting. A well-stocked library makes an impressive statement about one’s taste, but of course, lest we forget, each of the books is filled with stories. Walking into such a room, one can almost see all the words and characters peaking out from behind the book covers and floating through the ether. It strikes me as insane that anyone would fill shelves with books that they would never be able to read. After all, books are multitaskers of home decor. They look great, but you can read them and share them with friends, too. Try to do that with wallpaper.

created The Millions and is its publisher. He and his family live in New Jersey.


  1. For another great example of this, go to any Ikea store. You'll find yards upon yards of bookshelves, all adorned with thoughtful looking, Scandinavian sounding book titles.

    Then, when you go to the next "room," you'll find the same books.

    The thing is, I think you can buy them too.

    I always liked looking at the books in a fake collection, be it the Pottery Barn ads or the Williams Sonoma catalogs. Sometimes they have some great picture/coffee table books that I'd actually like to have in my collection.

  2. Nothing says sophistication like a wall of Reader's Digest condensed books! I used to have to do the same when I worked at a used book store, and I hear The Strand does good business dressing movie sets with books by the yard…

    I do like the idea of a house in the suburbs of Houston having a good deal of the Danish canon on their shelves, you know, in case Denmark ever gets bombed or something.

  3. Oh get over yourselves. So what if someone wants to decorate with books. You all know that anyone buying a "Three Quarter Morocan Leather Edition in Fine Condition with Gold Gilt Spine and Pages with Marbled Boards and BLAH BLAH BLAH" is buying that book at least as much for its looks as its contents. Not mention that if you even touch a certain rare edition without cotton gloves you are looked as insane by many collectors, imagine if you tried to read the darn thing, you'd likely be beaten by a book worm. The books we buy to read are paper backs. That way if it ends up floating in the tub because you fell asleep you are not out a whole weeks pay. There is nothing wrong with decorating with books, if there was, they wouldn't make them so darn decorative! The age of fine book binding is for the most part passed. But don't kid youselves into to thinking those bindings were anything less than decoration and status symbols. If there was never a market for books as decor, they never would have been made that way to begin with and this conversation would not come up. Anyone who says they aren't pleased with the look of their antiquarian book collection is flat out lying and I'd bet that most of those books are never read again once purchased.

Add Your Comment:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.