Growing up, we’re encouraged to love books. We snuggle up with our favorite stories, enjoy the whimsical illustrations, study and learn from them. Today we live in a digital world, where there are countless ways to share printed words – e-readers, laptops, billboards, even blogs like this one! But for many, the unique magic of a real book never leaves us. The smell of the paper, the weight of a well-loved volume in your hand, sipping a mug of coffee; these things bring us calm and joy.
What we often overlook is the incredible potential of the book as an object – these treasured tomes take up physical space in our lives, and should be treated with the same care and creativity we spend in arranging the rest of our living space. For those of us with overflowing bookshelves packed with outdated textbooks, torn paperbacks, old magazines and forgotten odds-and-ends, a spring cleaning can work wonders. If a book doesn’t hold special meaning to you and you can’t imagine reading it again, pass it along to someone who will, or donate it to your local charity shop.
Once your everyday books are neatly organized and sorted, it’s time to get creative. Books (especially vintage books), make great decorative pieces in any room (not just the library!) Arranged by size, style, or even color, they can be used as centerpieces, bases for other objects, barriers between rooms; just about anything! In the same way that a beautiful vase or unique statue can draw the eye through a room, book stacks allow you to decorate with both color and content.
In a space where design is key (such as a mantlepiece or shop display), books are a fantastic way to create visual levels – they literally can be stacked as tall or as short as you wish, and make a fantastic base to display individual wares. Books are versatile in that you can pick and choose the ‘feel’ of your display – a rustic outdoors display might include books of green and rust orange, worn leather bindings and battered covers. A cozy library study might be best suited to large academic volumes, matching spines neatly in a row between stately brass bookends. A mother’s day brunch display might pair pastel pinks and baby blues, with charming children’s books wrapped in lace.
Perhaps the most exciting place to use vintage books as decor is at a wedding – I’ve seen dozens of creative, gorgeous DIY wedding decorations that recycled and reused well-loved volumes and gave them new life as one-of-a-kind centerpieces. Even better is that these pieces can be customized to perfectly suit the individual couple – matching their wedding colors, showcasing their wedding theme, even sharing stories that are important to them as a couple. They can be unbound, carved, and reused to create pieces of art, or simply arranged in small bundles as colorful pieces amongst flowers and other natural items (my personal favorite combo is antique books and moss).
When looking for vintage books, its important to have your needs in mind. Are you shopping for books that you intent to use for crafts and paper art? Will these be displayed in stacks? Are they meant as gifts? Are you looking for a first edition of your favorite book? Books can range in value from free (often on carts outside of libraries and tag sales), very affordable (in bulk from auction websites), face value or a bit higher (antique shops and decor-focused retailers) to the lavishly expensive (antiquarian book fairs and dealers, who often are the best choice for collectors). Depending on your goals and budget, any or all of these resources might find what you need.
When approaching a space that needs new life, think ‘old’ – vintage books are an economical and fun way to decorate, bringing a bit of the past into your daily life. And who knows? Perhaps one of them holds your next favorite story.