Millennials are killing the bookcase industry, apparently.
Even the biggest bibliophile cannot deny that there has been a gradual change in the way we consume written media. Coinciding with the eroding status of books as symbols of sophistication and knowledge, whilst our living spaces are getting more and more compact, it’s no wonder people are buying fewer bookcases than ever. Just think of the grand old Encyclopaedia series, once a staple of the aspiring middle classes and now the scourge of charity shops and recycling centres everywhere. Novels too have become disposable – shall the one who has never binned a paperback throw the first stone!
Yet I keep books: great big folios on fine arts, selected hard-back novels and a hoard of non-fiction titles, mostly relating to the history of the middle ages. I recently got into folklore ‘zines and now I collect those too. All of these print works, alongside my sketchbooks and James’ cricket memorabilia need to live somewhere so I’ve been on a lookout for a decent bookcase ever since we moved to Ilfracombe, almost a year ago now.
If you look at any fashionable interior design publication these days an abundance of bookcases may be found, but more often than not, an abhorrent absence of books. Well, unless the books are organised by colour or artistically curated in piles, oftentimes stealing the spotlight of occasional tables, in themselves a dying breed. My least favourite of these design gimmicks has to be the trend of displaying books with their spines facing the wall. I get it, you don’t read but c’mon.
It could be bookcases, once the corner stone of every lounge alongside the three piece suite, do exist but are not seen as aesthetic enough to feature in glossy magazines. I recently listened to a podcast interview of an editor who spilt the beans on art direction. A warning for the curious: the absence of power outlets in fancy houses is a fallacy: just like the humble book case, those get edited out of house tours of the rich and famous.
We have books in France, sitting comfortably in an ebony black IKEA Kallax unit, covering an unsightly toilet plumbed in our stairwell, but that’s another story. The few we brought with us or acquired here in the UK used to sit on top of a coffee table, disorganised and vulnerable to an occasional spillage of wine. I had my eyes on a mid-century thing, but even with a full time job I could not justify spending several hundreds of pounds on a single piece of furniture plus the cost of delivery from South Wales.
Yes, Wales. Turns out Pontcanna is the modern capital of affordable mid-century furniture. Look it up if you don’t believe me.
Ultimately we needn’t travel as the perfect bookcase had been waiting for us in a backroom of our local vintage store all along. Built sometime between the two world wars, it falls into that awkward not-quite-antiques category of furniture that goes largely un-appreciated. Also, vitrine-type bookshelves aren’t exactly all the rage at the moment so there are amazing bargains to be uncovered in charity shops, car boot sales and even auctions. With a price tag of just 15 pounds, our little gem was unusually cheap, but according to the store owner, it had been waiting to be purchased quite some time.
If you allow me to oversimplify this a bit, things are only worth what someone is willing to pay for them. Those mid-century pieces we all seem to be obsessed about? Not an awfully long time ago, you couldn’t give them away. Now, having been picked out by a generation of designers, decorators and style influencers, the prices on these types of furniture has risen steadily as the demand for them has grown, and I don’t think we have quite reached the zenith of this particular trend. Other bygone styles, such as my between-the-wars design mongrel aren’t on many peoples wish list and there are lots of them about, hence why they are cheap as chips.
There are three questions to consider when buying furniture:
Firstly, is it well made?
Is it affordable?
And finally, is it trendy?
An item seldom hits all of these marks, but two affirmatives is more than realistic, i.e. it is easy to find a piece that is durable and affordable, but not necessarily trendy. A trendy piece that is well-made tends to cost you an arm and a leg, and so on. It is also good to remember that just because something is not fashionable just now, it could not be charming, characterful or out of this world stunning.
I love my new bookcase to bits and by raving on about it, I hope to inspire others less confident to shop second hand to give thrifting a good old college try, as I believe they say in America. As a consumer, buying second hand when you can, upcycling or embellishing, and simply making do and mending more is the best way to be environmentally conscious while saving a ton of money.
Plus you get to be all smug about it later on a blog post.
‘til next week,