Displaying Antique & New Books in a Home Library

Displaying Antique & New Books in a Home Library thumbnail
Home libraries vary widely in size and formality.

Home libraries can be as simple as a single shelf of much-loved favorites or as lavish as a millionaire's multiroom collection. One thing they have in common is that to visitors, they are a visual expression of the owner. That simple premise has led to home libraries becoming a carefully planned showcase, with both new and antique books artfully shelved and displayed for maximum aesthetic appeal.

  1. Planning the Space

    • For a home library to have its greatest visual appeal, it's important to first think about the space it will occupy. Calculate the quantity of shelving you'll need for the books or, if the shelving is built in, how many books you'll need to fill the shelves. Decide where additional shelving can go without taking away from the room's traffic flow. Make note of how sunlight tracks across the room, and avoid putting books where they'll receive direct light. Exterior walls can trap cold and moisture that damage books, so avoid putting shelves there if possible.

    Planning the Look

    • As with any other decorative element, books' aesthetic appeal depends largely on how they're displayed. In a library, most books are shelved so their spines are the only part that can be seen. For visual appeal, organize the titles in clusters of complementary colors. If your collection is primarily of vintage books, scatter a few colorful, newer works throughout the shelves to brighten them. Conversely, if your collection is mostly new, use vintage books to give the shelves some gravitas. Some suppliers stock collections of older books, specifically to fill in large quantities of shelving with eye-pleasing shapes and colors.

    Arranging Accents

    • A library consisting entirely of vertically shelved books is impressively monolithic, but this doesn't necessarily match the impression you want to create. Vary the arrangement of the books by placing some in horizontal stacks. This is the best way to shelve very large books, which are less prone to damage when horizontal. Select individual new or vintage books to display on end or coffee tables or in corner shelving. An especially rare volume in a protective display case makes an impressive note in a more formal library. Movable track lighting allows you to highlight different portions of the collection easily.


    • If your collection includes numerous rare and old volumes, those books need special treatment. Printed books will last for centuries with proper care, but they also can deteriorate rapidly without it. Both Florida's Division of Library and Information Services and the Northeast Document Preservation Center note that an ideal storage environment maintains a steady temperature of approximately 65 degrees Fahrenheit, with relative humidity near 40 percent. This is dry enough to deter mold and mildew but moist enough to prevent the materials from becoming desiccated and brittle. Stable temperature and humidity are crucial, so treat the room as a humidor with its own climate-control systems.

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