The bookshelf attained star status during the pandemic. Shelves and cupboards full of books—whether they had been read or not—became reliable backgrounds for the barrage of virtual meetings, even offering up topics for lighter conversation. A popular anonymous Twitter account (@BCredibility—with over 116,000 followers now) even started posting screenshots of public figures and C-suite bosses flaunting bookshelf backdrops.
More people now seem to be re-imagining them as spaces for intimate gatherings. Small wonder, then, that reading nooks and bookshelves—small and big—have been coming in for some TLC.
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Mohammed Islam, a business analyst and fledgling YouTuber and Instagrammer, who generally posts about trekking and books, is one of those who decided to transform a corner of his home into a nook for work, video calls and reading.
Over five days this year, he sandpapered and repainted his compact, wall-hanging bookcase, an integral background for his videos, transforming it from a dusty brown to a minimalist white that pops against the chalky blue of his walls.
Artsy Nest, a Hyderabad-based e-portal for DIY furniture and décor paints, says it has seen an uptick in the number of people opting for such projects. “Things really started picking up for us during the pandemic because people couldn’t have painters and carpenters enter their homes. People also realised how easy these projects are to execute and like the personal touch that they bring to the space,” says Akshita Patel Chadda, founder and creative director, Artsy Nest.
It’s something you can do too.
Barkha Kathuria, head of interior styling at the Rosabagh studio in Delhi, recommends adding a small trolley bar to begin with. It will create the right atmosphere, enabling you to sip on hot toddy or a tall spritzer with a friend while discussing the classics on the bookshelf—or anything else you want to.
Art can add vibrancy to neutral-colour walls—it needn’t leave a hole in your pocket either. “You could add some framed posters, which can be changed according to the season or mood. I think a reading area should have a bit of art, as having only books all around can make the space look very cluttered,” says Kathuria.
For that personal touch, you could put up family portraits or posters with quotes, perhaps from some of the favourite titles that line the shelves. Again, these portraits and posters can become conversation starters at a small gathering.
Just the way you arrange the books can make a world of difference to the feel of the space. Go in for a mix of vertical and horizontal, says Kathuria. “It might be nice to keep one or two candles on the books—not lit at all times—just to give relief to the eye,” she says.
Her advice comes with a note of caution, though—don’t “complicate” the styling. “Don’t pick small objects to create clutter. Go big with a tall vase and big vertical candles to give a larger feel to the space. Have different heights and scales. Big, decorative chess pieces, for instance, work well.”
Lights can add warmth and ambience, says Priyanka Singh, studio head at Chalk Studio in Gurugram, Haryana. She ensures that clients add enough plug points on the walls to allow for lamps and speakers. For those who don’t have electrical sockets built-in already, Singh has an alternative: battery-operated adhesive strip lights.
A welcoming armchair or two near the shelf, with a rug underneath and a floor lamp at the back, will complete the look. If you are short on space, fairy lights in corners and around closed bookcases can help create a warm literary salon-like vibe. These spaces could even serve as sanctuaries for introverts who want to escape the bustle of the main party and relax for a while.
A monochrome palette can work for a bookshelf—since books are colourful and will offer visual relief—but Singh says you can try contrasting colours too.
Swati Daftuar, an editor at HarperCollins India, painted her shelf in “Amsterdam Green”, one of the shades from Annie Sloan’s chalk paints that seem to be all the rage on Instagram and Pinterest.
Not only was the final outcome striking but the process, mostly executed late nights after work and over weekends, was satisfying too.
As it happens, so too were the discussions on marrying her and her husband’s book collections. It was one of the most “fun things” they have done together, she says.
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