I don't know how I got there, but one minute I was looking for a seagrass laundry basket, and the next minute I was staring at color-coded book sets wrapped in jute twine. Cool cool, I thought... until I looked again, and realized that this was no bookstore, and these were less about the books, more about... bundles of "cohesive decor." There was something for every kind of decor, too: Spanish moss (cottagecore!), inky black (moody vibes?), driftwood (midcentury)... even "paper and string", aka, exposed with spines missing (aimed at the antique lover?).
Books as color-coded decor? Wait, when did that...become a thing?
Perhaps around the same time we reported this trend of organizing your bookshelves by color. Posie (Harwood) Brien, author of the article, recalls the intensity of responses it received: "People are so passionate about it being either amazing or completely an affront to readers everywhere. Personally, I find that the trend is lovely and fun, just like beautiful book jacket art is."
No matter which side of the fence you fell on, the trend has grown real roots since. And if you're on Team Color-Coded and are going to be a real stickler for it, it's entirely possible you don't have nearly enough books to make proportionate piles of each color. In such a case, you may have to call for help.
Enter: batch books!
Turns out, there's a whole universe of 'em, all color-coded and ready to decorate: There's real books, faux books (!), books by the foot, oversized and fabric covered, even ombreé sets. All of which suggest less reading (faux books will make that easy), more adorning ("choose from 15+ colors").
You might say: Is it really that bad? If we're okay with using our books to decorate around our TVs, why can't we also buy them to suit those needs? Here's my response: the books-by-color trend was intended to use what books you already have (and read, presumably), not the ones you buy by the yard.
Caroline Mullen, Assistant Editor, Home52, and my gut-check on all things trendy, stepped in with thoughts: "Listen, I'm really guilty of form over function in many areas of my apartment — I never burn my squiggly candles, I rarely remove the decorative blankets from their ladder, and my books are arranged in a rainbow scheme. However, I've got to draw the line somewhere. Buying books just to fit in with a room's color scheme? And some of them even fake? No!"
So, just to be clear: it's a hard NO for faux books — but decorating with books is not a new idea.
Back in 1956, Betty Pepis, the home editor of The New York Times and the author of the guide, Books In Your Home, as noted here, believed that "decorating a living room with books was important": "They make an effective and pretty picture when used to decorate a whole wall. Often they form the focal point of a room, creating an appropriately personal (as well as colorful) background." She went on to provide 65 (yes, 65) book-styling decor tips.
A book-nerd friend also reminds me that "decorator books" has always been an established category, comprising books worthy for their "distinguished spines" that made their way to clubhouses and library bars with bookshelves stacked with leather-bound tomes. They were sold by the shelf foot, he added.
As a committed color-coder and an avid reader, (Harwood) Brien emailed to say she owns a few color-coded sets herself. "I think it's a cool way to visually make books — which deserve to be front and center — even more so." Brien's book sets, she tells me, are gifts bought from Juniper Books, which sells them by the foot and across colors, but also carefully curated by interest and subject. "Some of the best gifts ever," she adds.
"Maybe one way to think of this," said another friend I looped in for an opinion, "is like if it were a subscription box, where you pay to get a box of clothes or wine, but don't really know what you will get." Sure, so if you like surprise recommendations, you might possibly end up with an obscure gem tucked into your set of Blue Spruce that you'd never pick on your own. That way, she adds, you can decorate with them — and maybe just read one along the way.
I'll have to let that sink in.