The Book's the Thing

As a designer, I admire all things paper. As a bibliophile, I am drawn to the power of books. So, I was intrigued when I heard of Thatcher Wine who custom-tailors libraries from his workshop in Boulder, Colorado. Juniper Books, Wine’s studio, focuses on building tailored libraries, curating unique book sets and designing custom book covers.

Wine began selling rare books more than a decade ago. Several years later, he was asked to put together a custom collection for a friend’s beach house in South Carolina. But, more than just building a collection based on interests, themes and topics, he was asked to select books that would match the design scheme of the house. And, so began his foray into design where he uses bookcases as canvases and the volumes that fill the stacks as art objects. Of course, excellence in book and book cover design has long been celebrated by schools, publishers, and magazines, such as Print and Communication Arts. Since 2011, Design Observer has run the 50 Books/50 Covers competition, the venerable, yearly event running for more than 90 years—it was formerly part of AIGA’s annual competitions. We can all recall iconic covers and their designers—The Great Gatsby, designed by Francis Cugat; S. Neil Fujita’s The Godfather; the work of legendary figures such as Paul Rand and Roy Kuhlman and contemporary artists such as Chip Kidd, Karen Goldberg, Push Pin Studios or Angus Hyland and Masumi Briozzo at Pentagram—who have inspired and shaped our visual aesthetic. But what of Wine’s approach where the cover is a re-design to reflect the owner, not the contents of the book? While the work is an innovative and expressive way to incorporate paper and books into our daily lives, does the book then become a prop or another decorative object like a lamp? Traditional book retailing is more challenged now than ever before and must compete with iPads, Kindles and laptops for buyers. But, I’m not sure that re-designing a book cover and turning it into a tabletop accessory for the home is the way to increase book sales. Although they offer custom work, much of what Juniper does is sold by the yard—similar to how interior decorators have often purchased books for décor—they are never meant to leave the shelves nor ever to be picked up and read. Is a book a commodity, a decorative item or an experience and a journey? Is it both or all of them? It’s an interesting conundrum. Where do you stand? Let me know.

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