Home & Garden

Book smarts

Floor-to-ceiling windows, steel appliances and slick floors meant that the Washington condo that lawyer David Joy and diplomat Offy Ismojo moved into a couple of years ago looked mod right off the bat. Well, except for the boxes of books, which they packed into the den.

Designer Shannon Wang came to the rescue, picking out a pair of modular white bookcases and placing them behind the room's gray wool sofa. Now, cookbooks, novels and travel guides fill the bookcase cubbies, along with vases and family photos.

"It encourages us not to collect junk," says Joy, 44.

Ironically, part of loving books is learning to let them go.

"Some people hold on to every book they've ever read," says Libby Langdon, an interior designer and author of "Libby Langdon's Small Space Solutions" (Knack, 2009). "If keeping organized is tough, thin out your collection. Keep hardcovers that mean a lot; donate the zillion little paperbacks."

Still, many people aren't happy unless they live surrounded by old novels and new art books.

"Books add warmth to a home," says D.C. interior designer Sarah Wessel, whose plush library at this spring's D.C. Design House featured built-in bookcases painted white. On the shelves, hardbacks covered in wallpaper scraps mingled with artwork and shells, creating a room both bookish and beautiful.

Coordinating storage systems, either by building shelves into walls or using matching bookcases, can make a mass of books seem like a meaningful collection.

"Instead of having a million bookshelves all over the house, put them in one area," Langdon says. "It'll look like a library."

You don't even have to stash books on shelves. Instead, artfully pile them on a table or ottoman.

"One client had these neat vintage leather benches," Langdon says. "We stacked them on top of each other for very cool book storage."

Another task for bookworms is organizing. You can alphabetize by author or group by subject matter. Design fans have been known to display books by color, though some pros and bibliophiles dislike that idea.

"How do you find what you're looking for?" Wang says. "It seems like lots of work."

Place your most prized books, be they along the lines of "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" or "The Iliad," between bookends near a cushy armchair.

"Some readers have a chaotic order that no one in the outside world understands," says John Thomson, co-owner of Bartleby's Books in Washington. "It's just important for them to keep the books they love close."

Now you know

tips for displaying books

* Alternate placing books vertically and horizontally on shelves to add interest. Older volumes should stand upright. "Laying them on their sides makes spines bow," says John Thomson of Bartleby's Books in Georgetown.

* A pop of color, such as a brightly painted wall behind floating shelves or built-in bookcases with wallpapered backs "makes a display look much more interesting," says D.C. designer Shannon Wang.

* Have a particularly pretty art book? Open it to a stellar image and put it on a bookstand such as the geeky-cool Atlas Ultra ($65, www.bookandcopyholders.com).

* A stack of books (similar sizes or piled large to small) adds height to a lamp or serves as a base for treasured objects, such as fossils or a sculpture. "You can make a big stack into an end table," designer Libby Langdon says.

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