Bookshelf Book

Alex Johnson, of Shedworking fame has a great looking new book out this week, called Bookshelf, based on his popular blog of the same name. The blog is always worth a quiet browse, and the book promises a similarly pleasurable experience. Alex kindly came out of his hut at the bottom of the garden to answer a few questions and tell me about it. Don’t miss the video at the bottom of this post, where Alex shows off the book, and the wonderful book-related domestic architecture inside.

What’s in the book?

A huge variety of bookshelves, bookcases and things that look like them from designers around the globe. So there are bookcases shaped like animals (including porcupines, dogs, elephants, humpbacked whales, cows and polar bears), ones made out of elastic, some built into armchairs, and others which are circular. And there are single shelves, some which only hold one volume, others in the shape of cartoon bubbles. It’s quite amazing how ingenious designers can be using something as simple as a bookcase as their starting point. Oh, and there are two bookends.

Where did the idea come from?

On my Shedworking blog I’ve always covered interior design of garden offices and sheds and about five years ago I started noticing that there were increasing numbers of incredible bookshelf and bookcase designs emerging. Rather than flood Shedworking with these, I felt it would be fun to start a new blog, Bookshelf, really for my own pleasure and this inspired the book. Over the last few years the blog has really snowballed and is now almost as popular as Shedworking.

Why are bookshelves important?

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Penguin Group CEO John Mankinson made the distinction between the ‘book reader’ (who is as happy to read digital books as paper ones) and the ‘book owner’, who wants to ‘give, share and shelve books’. It’s an important distinction – there is still a very strong emotional attachment to the printed word.

Alberto Manguel’s portrayal of reading at home in The Library at Night (2007) is one of the most evocative descriptions of how a collection of books becomes more than a pile of papers, how even the very smell of his wooden shelves relaxes him. This is the library as emotional sanctuary. Of course there are many online bookcase sites but what they cannot provide is that sense of public display, offering visible pointers to guests and clients of who you are (or who you would like to be perceived to be). Your bookcase design says (almost) as much about you as the books on show.

Do they have a future?

Absolutely, though their presence in the home might change a little. With fewer physical volumes to be housed, perhaps readers will look for more exciting ways of storing their home libraries than a mere shelf, with the bookcase becoming closer to a trophy cabinet. The determination to save the book may also see people move towards treasuring their volumes in fitting surroundings (special edition furniture, including bookcases, is now being sold in galleries that were once the domain of the artist). And I take heart from a survey by Legal & General (‘The Changing Face of British Homes’, 2008) which suggests that many people really do value this kind of space.When asked which feature room they would most like to have in their new home, 15 per cent said they wanted a library, compared to 13 per cent who chose a gym, 9 per cent a music studio and 8 per cent a home cinema. I think the bookshelf is in rude health.

Find out more about the book here, and view a slideshow of images from it here.