Two New York designers face off on the shelf life of the color-coded library.
Juan J. Carretero
Capital C Interiors
Cicero once said, “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” Books give a room gravitas, substance and interest by adding texture and color; perhaps more importantly, books give us a sense of chance and positivity at a subconscious level. They are the best kind of company one can wish for. Bookshelves can be spatially helpful as room dividers, or they can bring balance and symmetry to a room. There is nothing like the peaceful beauty of a fireplace flanked by a landscape of books from top to bottom. I’m not against interspersing artwork and decorative objects—I like to pepper my shelves with objets d’art and mementos acquired during my travels—but for a bookshelf to feel meaningful and honest, it must be filled with mostly books.
With a multitude of titles comes the challenge of organizing them. When you have a large collection, organizing by genre or subject makes the most sense. Alas, this is not always practical. You could also arrange your books according to how often you read them, so that the ones you reach for regularly are within arm’s length. I also like to gather the books I haven’t read yet in their own special section so they don’t get lost among other titles.
Arranging books by color feels distracting and somewhat disrespectful to the books and their authors. But beyond any ethical or moral reasons, which I must admit seem pompous, I simply don’t like the look of bookshelves bunched up by color: It sends my OCD into overdrive, and it’s too contrived and premeditative, like you’re trying too hard. I suspect a client who likes that look is simply craving color, and I would encourage them to look for art instead. As much as I enjoy big, bright rainbows, I think they are better suited in the sky, or flown as flags. Style should never outrank substance.
Chiara de Rege
Chiara de Rege Interiors
I have always been a voracious reader, and I hold the books that have impacted me deeply close at hand. The books on my shelves are like old friends, and they resonate in different ways as I return to them at different stages in life. When reading Richard Scarry storybooks with my daughter, for example, I was flooded with my own childhood memories; I find something new in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden every time I return to it.
To quote Paul Klee, “One eye sees. The other feels.” Like books, color is a powerful tool—the bridge between seeing and feeling—and directly influences one’s sense of environment. Arranging books by color offers a sense of order that can be very calming. Color can also help you remember where things are. If you have a section of magenta books, you’ll think, “Oh, that YSL book is on that side of the shelves.” Even if the colors do not designate a genre or subject, their grouping allows us to take in something that feels thoughtful and organized, and brings peace of mind.
When I began designing the women’s club The Wing, the founder requested a “rainbow of books.” The bookshelves—a collection of titles by female authors—were always a focal point in our discussions of the overall design of each Wing location. That’s the dream situation, of course: to have enough of a library to color-code it, and to set an order for genres and subjects within each color group. In other situations, a color-coded bookcase can serve as an art wall—a visually thoughtful focal point that gives the books more presence. I have yet to find a moment where I choose not to color code, except for one client who was a collector of rare books! And although I am not about to discredit the value of the Dewey decimal system, public libraries and bookstores might benefit from a bit of color-coding, too, don’t you think?