Don't furnish your walls by the book

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 September, 2011, 12:00am


In Hong Kong, where residential space is often tight, a large collection of books can overwhelm a small apartment. There are, however, ingenious ways to store and display volumes while integrating them into your home d?cor in a stylish and seamless manner.

If you're looking to create your own library at home, custom-built shelves are usually the best option. Build up and over - doorways, windows, beds. Think unconventionally. An entire wall lined with books is a design feature in itself; the colours and textures have a visual richness of their own.

Take a bookcase as high and wide as possible to create an impressive reading corner in your home and have your contractor build shelves tailor-made for particular groupings of books - wide solid shelves at the bottom for heavier tomes, narrower shelves at the top for paperbacks.

'Customised shelving and units make the best use of space and are most easily integrated successfully into a design scheme,' says Mark le Feuvre, interior designer and director of Max Property Investment and Design (tel: 9331 9402). 'They will optimise storage solutions and add to the way the books can be displayed.'

If space is really at a premium, having a contractor build a platform bed with storage underneath - for books and music, for example - is the ultimate in upwardly mobile living.

'There is always space for shelves, even in a small home,' says Christopher Bailey, who collects and sells rare and vintage editions through Picture This Gallery (212 Prince's Building, Central, tel: 2525 2803; 'Halls and corridors can be a good place to store books - but don't keep books in the kitchen. The grease from cooking will kill them.'

The Storyline Bookshelf, designed by Frederik Roij? and available from (US$338 plus international shipping), takes book storage to the level of artistic display.

If you don't have the temperament for categorising your library alphabetically, one of the most stylish ways is to organise books is by colour. Colour co-ordinating them is visually pleasing and works for everything from a small stack of paperbacks to a whole library.

Very large, heavy art books can be stacked for use as side tables or even seating. Just remember that someone might want to read one, thereby destroying your careful furniture arrangement. Alternatively, a tower of coffee table books against the wall (to keep it from toppling) is a sculptural statement in itself.

The Sapien Bookcase, designed by Bruno Rainaldi in 2003, is a unique solution for those with a lot of books and little space to store them. By holding texts horizontally in a vertical stack, the tall Sapien can accommodate up to 70 small and large books in a compact footprint. When fully loaded, the bookshelf (available from for US$198 plus international shipping) virtually disappears behind the books.

'If you want to source something more interesting than regular wall-mounted shelves, there are some creative options around which to turn book storage into a kind of mini art installation on the wall,' says Sharon Leece, editor-at-large of Architectural Digest, China. She likes the Between the Lines bookshelf by Shanghai- and London-based WOKmedia (, which is composed of rubber-coated black stainless steel letters and can be reshaped in different ways. 'You can personalise the length and configuration to suit your space,' she says. Another design classic is Ron Arad's eye-catching Bookworm bookcase for Kartell (shop 105, Ruttonjee Centre, 11 Duddell Street, Central, tel: 2810 0408). Made from coloured PVC, it can be shaped in any way you like - S-shaped or circular, for example - but bear in mind that hanging it in a curved shape lets you store more books than in the round.

A free-standing open bookshelf can be used to divide an open-plan room (Expedit shelving from Ikea,, is a low-cost option), while also offering extra storage. Open shelves are also ideal for pulling light into a room. Remember to intersperse your books with personal mementos and accessories to create a stylish display.

Reversible and interchangeable, the sturdy blocks of the Tetrad Mega Piece Set by Brave Space provide for endless stacking configurations. They are available in a set of five interlocking pieces or a set of 10 (from for US$3,000 plus international shipping).

If you have lots of windows in your apartment, consider storing some books along the windowsill. But don't leave precious books in the sun because they will probably fade. Books are susceptible to mildew, corrosion and staining, particularly in Hong Kong's climate.

Bailey has custom made bookshelves in his study at home.

'Three of the bookcases have glass doors to protect the more valuable books from dust and damp and the glass doors have UV-protective film to prevent fading of the spines,' he says.

His advice for storing your books: 'Avoid direct sunlight and humidity, always run a dehumidifier and don't store your books in a closed-off, airless or damp place such as under the bed or at the back of the wardrobe.'

Watch out for grease and dirt too. 'Hong Kong's air is very dirty and this can leave a residue on the tops of books that won't come off,' Bailey warns.

'Most importantly,' he adds, 'enjoy the books and the delight of owning and building a library - one of life's most fulfilling pleasures.'