Design: Shelves that speak volumes

We give nearly 70 million books to our friends and relatives at Christmas, but where should we store them all?

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The Independent Online

The run up to Christmas is a bumper time for the books industry. Apparently we buy nearly 69 million of the things in the 12 weeks leading up to Christmas. Which is all very well, but where to put them all? Of all the rooms in a house, a home library is surely the ultimate self-indulgence. What else does it say about its owner other than that they are smart, bookish and have a collection worth showing off.

And let us not confuse the library with our humdrum home office spaces. The former is where we house our of books, lovingly accumulated over the years, the latter is any bit of space where we can plonk our computer and a pile of tatty paperwork.

These days a simple home library needn't cost the earth. There are high-street options which can start small and be built up as your collection grows. Here is the essential guide to turning one little corner of your home into a place to escape from the world.

Be adjustable

"Firstly it's important to consider the two Ps – practicality and personality," says interior designer Rachel Forster, of Forster Inc. "Use adjustable shelves to accommodate different sized books in an efficient way. Remember they don't all have to stand vertically, play around with composition so it doesn't look too dense and allow space to lay out books for reference. Don't go overboard cramming the shelves – leave spaces for pictures and objects so you create something visually interesting."

Pick the right room

The room is a very important consideration. "If your room is south-facing the direct light from the sun will change dramatically over the course of the day and can also fade your books," says Forster. "North light is a much more balanced light and much more suitable."

Forster believes you should also allow the room in which the library is housed to dictate its shape. She is currently working on a library in an east London home where they have removed the ceilings and have take the shelves right up the wall to follow the line of the roof. "It's more than 8ft high," she says, "so they have to use a library ladder to get around."

Fix your budget

There are shelving systems on the high street to suit every budget. John Lewis do a good range of cube style shelving starting at just £15 (johnlewis. com), Muji, the masters of home storing, have a customised storage range which you can build yourself (starting at £19, or you could opt for a practical, adjustable Spur shelving (

"It's really flexible," says Forster, "and you can customise it further by placing wood on the shelves."

The modular range by Cubit, is also value for money. It has 21 different shelf formats in eight different depths and can be built up as your book collection grows. You start by buying just one shelf (prices start at £18 and build you library from there.

It's worth noting prices vary wildly. Christopher Prain, of Christopher Chanond interior design company, has just completed a library for one of his clients made from renewable mahogany at a cost of £350,000 among other more affordable designs.

Make references

The interior designer Max Rollitt believes the most important rule is that a library must reflect the architectural period of the home that houses it. Rollitt specialises in classic, high-end design and will always turn to reference books before starting any job. "I would begin by seeking inspiration from the great libraries of the past," he says. "Start with Samuel Pepys's library, then have a look at the one Chippendale junior did at Stourpaine House, Dorset, or the one in Holkham Hall, Norfolk, by the 18th-century architect William Kent."

Play around

Vogue stylist Charlotte Stockdale and her designer husband, Marc Newson, have installed a library in their Edwardian home in London's Victoria. They have mixed things up with classic shelving from an architectural salvage company, a decadent zebra-skin rug and a James Bond-style plasma screen hidden behind a secret panel above the fireplace.

Plan ahead

"It's important to consider whether the library is for an existing collection or one that is going to be added to over time," says Prain. If it is for a collection of books that is going to get bigger, then it's worth looking at shelving systems such as Vitsoe (prices start at £155, which can be added to over time and taken with you when you move house.

Think outside the box

Quite literally. Taking centre stage at this year's Grand Designs House of the Future was Mancunian designer Thomas Mills's freestanding circular library. He designed it a little over a year ago and since then it has captured the public imagination – proof that shelving doesn't have to be square. "The idea of the circle is so that you sit on the seating within it and you become totally immersed in it," he says.

Mills's library comes in a choice of finishes and colours (prices vary, and holds about 1,000 books – another important factor to his design. "It's not massive, so it gives you the chance to create a smaller library, an edit of all the books you really appreciate," he says.

Another circular option is Doris Kisskalt's fabulous spherical modular shelving for Danish company FlexiTube, which, like Vitsoe and Cubit, can also be built up over time.

It's not just about the books

Considerations other than just storage and shelving are vital. "Because you are going to be spending time in there sitting and reading, other elements such as lighting become really important," says Forster. "Probably the best options are floor lamps directed over a seated area and directional lighting on tracks directed at the shelves"

Forster also believes it's important to consider the acoustics. "A large number of books will change the acoustics in a room," she says. "You may want a carpet for a cosy feel, but you could go a bit harder as a lot of the sound will be absorbed by all the books." Seating is also crucial. "A home library is not somewhere you will go just to choose a book," says Prain, "but somewhere you will to sit down and spend time, it's about getting the balance right."Never colour code

This was a trend a few years ago, popularised by various interiors magazines, to colour-code your books. That is, to group them according to the colour on their spine to make them look pretty on the shelf. Never do this. All it says is that these books aren't meant for reading but just for looking at.

While Prain believes it is important to categorise your library's books, colour definitely isn't the way to do it. "You can do categorise it any way you like," he says, "by subject, title or by author, but it's important to do it, otherwise you are the only one who knows where anything is."

Think about cleaning

"Years ago books were considered so precious, they were always kept behind glass to keep the dust off," says Rollitt. "These days we have open book cases, but it does mean cleaning is an issue."

He has a very good point. In the magnificent 19th- century library of architect Sir John Soane it has just taken two people seven months to clean the 7,000 books.

Each book had to be removed one by one and carefully dusted using a soft, squirrel hairbrush so as not to damage the delicate ancient pages. While a home library might not need this level of care, it's a consideration worth thinking about.

Use trickery

If you haven't got the budget or the space in the house for the real thing, why try a bit of visual trickery. "There is a fabulous library shelving print by Fornasetti that Cole & Son have recently done as wallpaper (," suggests Prain.

Don't forget to fill it

Once you've got your fabulous new library it's going to need a few books. "If you're buying 10,000 books to fill your library, you're hardly going to sit on Amazon and click away," says Prain.

He suggests using the invaluable book-buying service that Foyles offer. "You just tell them the area you want – maths, photography, science or whatever – and they will go off and source the very best books on the subject for you." (

What about my Kindle?

"For those clutter-free types," says Forster, "perhaps one small shelf for a Kindle is all that's needed."