Here at Collins & Green, we are seeing a lot of coverage of a so called new trend.... 'Bookshelf Wealth'. It is all over TikTok, and even the New York Times has written about it. We have always shown our vintage artworks on bookshelves, leant up against walls, mixed with objects Julia loves and treasures, such as sculpture made by her mother or her collection of blue and white china, and always as as part of an eclectic mix. Clients send in photos of their own home showing what they have done with paintings they have bought from us and it's clear to see that lots of people share this approach.
This style of interior design has been around for a long while but is is currently being lionised on social media. Why now?
What is the broader context of this newly celebrated manner of decoration? This article takes a closer look at this trend, and how you can use it to decorate your own home if you don't already.
A Timeless Form of Decoration
An illustrated book plate by Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Putin, from 'Microcosms of London' 1809
The phrases 'wealth' and 'old money' are associated with this way of displaying artworks, but why? Perhaps it's because this has been the way interior design enthusiasts and art collectors have been curating their own houses for centuries. Unlike much modern museum and art gallery curation, where paintings are displayed far apart on bare white walls, art galleries originally displayed their works in what may seem a rather chaotic, yet exciting manner, and this was often reflected in aristocrat's homes. As seen in the illustration above of the Royal Academy in London from the early 1800s, paintings were hung on the walls like grand puzzle pieces. Perhaps houses were not as jumbled as this, but nonetheless this set the precedent for picture hanging in general. Over the years, many collectors and art enthusiasts have carried on with this more 'maximalist', exciting way of displaying their treasures. Institutions such as the Royal Academy have readopted this form of curation in recent times as the trend went full circle.
A modern snapshot of the Royal Academy of Arts London's Summer Exhibition 2023, © David Parry/ Royal Academy of Arts
The epitome of so called 'Bookshelf Wealth'; the wonderful home of the late artist and collector Pierre le Tan from Miguel Flores-Vianna's beautiful book "Haute Bohemians", published 2017 by Vendome. © Miguel Flores-Vianna
Another reason for this recent interest in the 'Bookshelf Wealth' trend is the more recent desire for maximalism. At a time when 'cutting down' seems to be the new normal, thanks to the cost of living and the justified concern for sustainability and the planet, maximalism goes against the grain of so-called 'clean' aesthetics and celebrates the jumbled and chaotic nature of modern life. You like a painting for sale? Great! Already have 20 others and don't have any wall space left? Hang it on the bookshelf. They all look great and you love them all anyway. It's rather ironic that this 'aesthetic' has a name, given it was born out of passionate and eccentric art enthusiasts who had no real concern to pre-plan their home decor. Working at Collins and Green I can see that Julia has decorated her own house in this way; it's full of interesting things, decorative art, and collections which are not themed and don't "match" but showcases what she loves!
The modern popularity of artists such as Yayoi Kusama and fashion designers like the late Vivienne Westwood have pioneered maximalist aesthetic and style adding to their current popularity.
© Miles Redd Photograph by Miguel Flores-Vianna, © elledecor.com
© @sean_anthony_pritchard who has a wonderful book, "Outside In"about bringing nature into the house coming out in the spring. You can pre-order it by clicking on the photo
At the heart of this aesthetic is the idea of collecting, whether that be artworks, books, interesting objets, textiles or furniture, and collecting has prevailed as a pastime even in the continuing cost of living crisis. This is because collecting 'things' and owning them is a reliable way of celebrating your interests and of decorating your home. The display of books and artworks, with other objects you love, in comfy colourful rooms, has never gone out of fashion, so it is slightly contradictory to say that it has come back into fashion! Collecting art, books, and the objects you love, shows your own unique tastes, interests and personality. What you like doesn't have to follow any particular aesthetic or fashion trend, it's just a collection of beautiful interesting "stuff" you love.
© M. James Design Group/Douglas Friedman
So how do you go about this? The emphasis of this so called aesthetic is based on your own unique tastes and personality. Often it is vintage or secondhand pieces that offer the best option as no one else is going to have the same!
If you are going to go for so called 'Bookshelf Wealth' there are a couple of things to do immediately. Firstly, if your books are organised by colour...un-organise them now! Arrange them by subject, or how much you love them, or where they will fit on your shelf but never, ever organise by colour!
As for paintings, buy what you love! One of the key things we do at Collins and Green is help people find art that will make their heart sing and their tummy tighten with excitment. Don't buy it because it "goes" with a certain look. Buy it because you LOVE it; you will always find space for something you love! Don't dwell too much on it; the most interesting walls and bookshelves walls are spontaneous and intuitive. Keep an eye out on places such as our website and in secondhand shops, you never know what you might come across. Just remember that you won't see one like it again!
© Getty Images/ Pieter Estersohn who's beautiful book "Life along the Hudson" is full of inspiration
Social media may be encouraging you to aim for a certain 'look' when it comes to the aesthetic of 'Bookshelf Wealth', but I hope this has reassured you that this concept has been around for centuries, and that there is no correct way of creating this look, other than using it to display your own eclectic taste, enthusiasms and interest however you like to. FOLLOW YOUR HEART and as artist Phoebe Dickinson says "layers of things you love"; it's simple, really as you can see in the photo of her sitting room her below.
So, if you see a decorative and affordable painting, object or textile that you love- then buy it. It is not often we see a trend that actually encourages us to not follow a specific trend, and long may it prevail!
By Eloise Saggers, Collins & Green Art