Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

Beauty and the book

The other day, for the first time in months, I bought a real paper book. Since getting my iPad, I’ve been so caught up in the instant gratification of purchasing books through the Apple store that I had been neglecting p-books entirely. And I have to say, other than the few occasions on which I’ve been foiled by the glare of the screen (note: fashioning a sort of towel tepee in order to read on your iPad poolside yields little success and epic migraines), it’s been tremendously satisfying.

So satisfying, in fact, that I had almost forgotten how much I enjoy the heft and balance of a beautiful hardcover. I don’t just like reading “real” books, it turns out; I like the simple sight of them. All too often, scaremongers consign paper books to the scrap heap in an electronically dominated future, yet there is one essential and enduring difference between ebooks and p-books: Paper books exist in real space. They have their own singular presence; their covers bring grace, whimsy, and color, enriching their environs to such an extent that many of us bibliophiles can’t imagine the loveliest and most comforting spaces in our home unlined by bookshelves.

Although I’ve often considered a future in which the paper book will be a relic, an artifact with historical significance rather than practical value, I’m coming to think that a hybrid marketplace with room for both digital and hard copy titles will revolve around the idea of a book as an object of beauty, on par with other works of art. This concept is already featuring in the works of talented designers, such as He Mu and Zhang Qian’s sunflower chair, which is ringed by an integrated bookcase. The whimsical chair has already garnered the Redtory Design Award at the Design for Sitting Gran Prix competition.

Sunflower Chair


Levitate, a London-based architecture and design studio, has also created the Bookcase Staircase: stairs that double as bookshelves to save space in cramped city dwellings. The design can hold over 2,000 novels, and the stairs incorporate toe guards to protect the books from damage.

Limited by space, we melded the idea of a staircase with our client’s desire for a library to form a ‘library staircase’ in which English oak stair treads and shelves are both completely lined with books on three sides. With a skylight above illuminating the staircase, it becomes the perfect place to stop and browse a tome.

Bookcase Staircase


For those who prefer more meta  bookshelves, Jim Rosenau crafts furniture, particularly shelves and bookcases, out of actual books. Behold a bookbookshelf:



And why paint your walls when books could do all the work for you?

Color Bookcase


For that matter, who needs shelves? Peeps who haven’t gotten with the program, that’s who.

Invisible Bookshelf


Cool, right? I wants them all. As my iPad has taught me that anything I want will be delivered unto me about ten seconds after I find myself wanting it, I’m assuming the Sunflower Chair will materialize in my living room at any moment. Probably right after my apartment sprouts a second floor so that I can integrate the Bookcase Staircase.

While I wait for that to happen, the Assouline Lounge is about to take “hybrid” to another level in Seoul. Assouline, publisher of illustrated books and luxury editions and owner of a dozen brick-and-mortar stores in Europe and the United States, has launched a hybrid café, bookstore, and art gallery in South Korea. According to, the lounge “aspires to become a cultural hotspot in one of the most expensive areas of Seoul. The 3,800-square-foot locale is located in front of Dosan Park in Cheongdam-dong in between the Hermès and Ralph Lauren flagship stores.”

Assouline Lounge


Along with crimson walls adorned with quotes rendered in calligraphy, a floor-to-ceiling Mondrian Book Wall, and wooden tables featuring dainty library-related curios like carved leaf quills and crocodile letter openers, even the carpets pay homage to the literary gods with Didot-typeface lettering. The gallery space is slated to showcase art by Asian and European artists.

One comment on “Beauty and the book

  1. margosnotebook
    August 20, 2012

    i love p-books and can’t imagine life without them … e-books can be good for travelling but getting an e-book as a school award or inheriting a family e-book hasn’t got quite the same aesthetic … when i look at my bookcases i know that its not only the text inside the covers that gives me pleasure but the covers themselves, and the people and memories associated with them … long may the p-book reign!

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This entry was posted on August 20, 2012 by in Culture and tagged , , .

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