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Through her Jackson, Wyoming-based company, Foxtail Books & Library Services, Smirl works with homeowners to help design and curate their dream home libraries, reading nooks, bookshelves, and more.
She not only tracks down books that clients want to have in their collections, but also selects and styles them with an eye toward interior design — she might source the British version of a book because it has a white spine, which goes with the room’s overall color scheme, for instance, then place a basket or a metal bookend nearby to help balance out the shelf.
“Most of us have too many books for our shelves, which can look and feel wonderfully cozy and provide a wallpaper effect in the room,” she says. “But if you have the shelf space for a more spaced-out look, and you like the idea of a few objects on the shelves, they can nicely complement the books.”
Even if you can’t afford to hire a private librarian of your own, you can still shop like one. Here are Smirl’s top picks for styling your own home library.
You don’t have to sacrifice practicality just to make your bookshelves look beautiful, Smirl says. She loves dual-function objects that help keep a space organized while at the same time adding visual interest, like these earthy leather baskets and colorful small trays.
“A pretty dish or stone tray at waist level is a good spot for a notepad or as a landing pad for keys,” she says. “A basket on the bottom shelf can hide toys or electronic clutter. Shallow containers can look nice on top of a horizontal book. A tray can add interest to a shelf, but also be available for drinks next time you need it.”
Unless there’s a basket or container that you really want to show off, Smirl recommends placing these items at waist level or lower on the shelves.
Here’s a genius idea: You don’t actually have to use bookends to keep your books in place. Any heavy object will work just fine, Smirl says.
“I often search for paperweights, doorstops, or interesting stone sculptures that have some heft to them,” she says.
And if you’re going a more traditional route for your bookends, consider mixing and matching.
“I don’t recommend using multiple pairs of traditional bookends — this isn’t your grandfather’s library, and there are more creative ways to mix it up,” she says.
If space is at a premium or you just want a cleaner look, go for bookends that blend in, Smirl says. If you’ve got a shelf full of hefty books, make sure you seek out a bookend that can actually do its job — some of the smaller ones can’t bear as much weight, she says.
“It’s a needle in a haystack to find attractive ones that don’t make you feel like you’re in a middle school library, but they are out there,” she says.
It’s your home after all, so your shelves should reflect your personality — your likes, dislikes, most beloved treasures, and inside jokes. Shop your home for items you already own, or visit thrift stores and antique shops to find objects that speak to you.
“Your books are the most personal things you own, and your bookshelves are an opportunity to show personality and a sense of humor,” Smirl says. “I love it when a client has something personal they want to show off: a family heirloom, an abacus from their childhood, an antique camera they love.”
Smirl is a huge fan of mixing different materials into her designs: metal, leather, stone, wood, just to name a few. Ceramics, too, play a big role in many of her projects, in part because they’re both functional and attractive.
She recommends choosing a color that contrasts with your shelving. Go for one ceramic item on its own, or group three to five together. She also suggests buying ceramics in-person (ideally, directly from an artist so you can support their work!) because the texture can vary so much from piece to piece.
Wander around your backyard or stroll through a local garden shop for something organic to add to your shelves, Smirl says.
“Look for natural pieces like dried moss, an air plant, an interesting stone, a piece of driftwood,” she says. “Some of these will look fine on their own, while others might need a bowl or a dish to sit upon. Half the fun here is getting out there and hunting, and it’s an extra bonus that the seashore, forest, and plains don’t charge for their treasures.”