styling brocante – the antique and vintage book

by Sharon Santoni
[blank]When I show my loot shoots, with pictures of  all the goodies that I or my clients have found in local brocante fairs, I am often asked ” but how are you going to use it?”, or “what do you do with all this stuff?”
And therein lies the dilemna.  Of course a lot of the treasure I find is sold on, and finds a new home on another continent, but there are things that I like to keep … for a while … or for ever.
Books are plentiful on the fairs here.  Antique, vintage, you can buy them individually or by the meter.  And for me the book is the perfect example of how brocante style gives new life to  an object.[blank]
[blank]Of course the first use of a book is to be read!  To be devoured even, but even the greediest bookworm may find their appetite fading after a few pages of an 18th century legal dictionary!
  That is when the book becomes an object in its own right, a thing of beauty to be displayed alone or among other beautiful objects, and even to serve a whole new purpose, like this pile of antique reference books, piled up as a side-table.[blank]


[blank] Books can be colour coded to great effect, particularly when they have soft covers in beautiful hues that can only improve with age.

I know I rarely manage to  walk past a pile of blue, green or grey books, they are just screaming out to be displayed.  I love this picture with the white ironstone and old books standing out against the pale blue background.[blank]

[blank]And then you have the vintage books, with their colourful and decorative colours that give a totally different style and mood.[blank]

[blank]Their covers make you want to settle into a big armchair in front of the fire, a cup of tea or glass of wine in easy reach.  Their style seems comforting, old fashioned and quite feminine.[blank]

[blank]I know there are many book lovers among my readers, so tell me, are you happy using books as props, or will you only keep the ones you can read?[blank]

[blank]Wishing you a wonderful weekend!
All pictures via Pinterest


I Dream Of October 4, 2013 - 4:49 pm

Yes! Even though I have switched over to a Kindle to do most of my reading, books will never ever lose their place in my heart. I have little stacks of antique books all over the house. Love the texture and the smell and always wonder about their lives the touched before they made their way to my hands. I love the different styling ideas you've shown here, Sharon. Lots of inspiration! Happy Friday! XO

Emm October 4, 2013 - 5:51 pm

Lovely styling, but I have far too many real books already, am trying to read and reduce. So mine are "working" books, lined up on shelves, piled under side tables, stacked in my office. The idea of bringing in more just for decorative purposes makes me shudder.

Susan Libertiny October 4, 2013 - 5:53 pm

I think books as props are wonderful. I love to see them sorted by color on a shelf. That is one of my favorite looks. I also use old books for collage work. There is something about written words that is so cool! Thanks for another great post.

Mor Inger`s hus October 4, 2013 - 6:35 pm

Beatiful 🙂

Eliza October 4, 2013 - 6:47 pm

I have far too many books already to keep them around as purely decorative objects. On the other hand, most of my books are the ugliest of the ugly -battered and yellowed paperbacks purchased secondhand. I'm a fast/frequent enough reader that focusing on quantity over quality is the only way to keep my book purchases within budget.
I'm slowly searching out beautiful antique/leather versions of the books I know I want to read over and over. Books that I want to keep for a while, but not necessarily forever get a custom dust jacket. A wallpaper shop gave me a whole stack of outdated sample books a few years ago, which I love to use for covering books. The patterned papers have a vintage feel which is missing from sterile white or craft paper covers. Plus, I can color-coordinate by subject or author, so it actually makes it easier to keep my books in order.

sandra October 4, 2013 - 8:07 pm

What a beautiful blog, i loved this post.
I am planning a first trip to paris next year, i am so happy about it. I wiil read all your posts.
Hugs from a brazilian reader,

david terry October 4, 2013 - 8:36 pm

Well, Sharon…never underestimate the power, so to speak, of books-as-props. A couple of years ago, my father's first cousin (she's now 78) came to visit. I've liked her a lot since I was very little, and we've always kept in touch by telephone and email (Facebook these days, which we both depend on). I hadn't actually SEEN her, though, in at least seven years, during which time she's had to take to a wheelchair, scarcely ever paints anymore (she's good at it), and she basically spends every waking hour in extreme arthritic pain (thank you, she'd prefer not to spend her days drugged-to-the-gills). In many ways, she's had a hard life. Getting her from Tennessee to North Carolina took some doing, but we did it, thanks to a lot of very helpful folks at American Airlines.

the high point of the visit came on the third morning. She'd parked herself in the front of the house, and I was working way back in the kitchen when I heard her shriek "Oh my GOD!!!!!!"…..and then silence….

I went running to the front of the house, expecting to find her slumped-over or dead. Instead?…she was sitting in her chair next to one of the side tables….on which,with my chronic flair for mise-en-scene, I'd stacked a few vintage books (all of which I regarded as merely decorative, "vintage" books) before topping the pile off with a lamp and God knows what other frou-frou.

She'd moved the lamp and was holding a very pretty, circa-1910, richly illustrated children's book……"A Journey to the Garden Gate (it's about a little, Edwardian-age girl who gets shrunken and who, accompanied by a bluebottle fly and other insect "friends", has to meet her father at the garden gate when he returns from work).

My Aunt Martha (actually, as I said, a second cousin) , who was sort of half-crying (in a good way, I should add), simply looked up, holding the book in her lap, and asked "Where inthe world did you get my book? I LOVED this book!….How did my book end up here?????" (I'm not making a word of this up)

I'd never thought of it as anything but a decorative prop. Her initials (I'd never noticed, of course) were on the flyleaf.

I told her that I'd gotten it, along with a bunch of other "vintage" books when they were being de-accessioned from the Tennessee prep-school where I first worked after college. She told me that her mother (my great-aunt, who'd be 108 if she were alive today) had taken it, along with a lot of other "nursery" toys and books, from her when she was 10 or so, telling her that she was too grown-up for children's books. She'd never seen it again….in seventy-something years.

We put our heads together (and made a telephone call to my 76 year old father in Tennessee, five hours away) and figured that her mother had taken it and given it,along with a lot of other stuff, to my Father's mother (her sister, who was the matron of the orphanage, three hours north in the mountains, where my mother was raised)….and the book had probably stayed in whatever passed for the "library" at Holston Home Orphanage until the place was closed down in the late 60's….at which point everything in the orphanage went into storage at the tatty little prepskool (also run by the Methodist Church) where I ended up teaching in 1983. I bought the book (in a box full of other stuff) when they were clearing out the storage rooms and attics in that school (which was founded in 1798….so there was a LOT of stored stuff in the various buildings)……and here Aunt Martha was at age 78, sitting in my living room in Durham, North Carolina with "her" book.

That was a lovely afternoon. I gave the book to her, of course. she's since given it to her only grand-daughter, back in Knoxville, Tennessee (yes, American Airlines managed to get her BACK home also).

Thanks for the evocative (obviously) posting,

David Terry

David Shepherd September 26, 2014 - 11:30 am

I use books as decorative props through out my house. There is something comforting to walk into a room and see books stacked neatly upon a table with a lamp and other collectibles. I keep only books that I love and actually read.

The Girl in the Jitterbug Dress October 4, 2013 - 11:36 pm

Wonderful ideas, especially for the vintage and book lover which I am both ( I would like more information on the round table/book shelf. Is that an old spool? I also love the stack of large books for a table. Where do you find books like that? I haven't seen any in any antique shops I've been in. And the urn idea is BRILLIANT. Those I've seen and will look for! Thanks for the inspiration!

Jennifer Clark October 5, 2013 - 12:30 am

What a wonderful story from David!

We have soooo many books; I'm a re-reader. And a lot of my books are ratty paperbacks as well. I have 'em stacked in baskets on the bottom shelves of my bookcases. When my husband and I married and combined our collections, we found we had multiple copies of some books; 3 copies of the Lord of the Rings, etc… I try to get rid of books, to keep from being drowned in them! The ones I use for styling tend to be the old, old ones I inherited from and old-maid school teacher relative. Books on Greek mythology bound in leather and printed over a hundred years ago. And I read 'em, too!

Books, like roses, can be very addictive!

Sarah October 5, 2013 - 1:56 am

I'm happy using books as props as well as for reading. Many books are very artistic in their own right. Thanks for sharing the images which are full of inspiration for using books in vignettes.

Emm October 5, 2013 - 3:49 am

Your Aunt Martha is my kind of lady. I still have my copies of Winnie-the-Pooh and Alice.

Jennifer Clark October 5, 2013 - 6:26 am

Awesome story! How wonderful you could return such a treasure….

Magnolia Verandah October 5, 2013 - 8:05 am

Lovely styling – books make such great decorating tools old or not.

Patricia October 5, 2013 - 9:10 am

What a fabulous post! I devour books and I love reference books, so I have tons of new books. I also adore using old books for props and have often found that some of the ones that are over 100 years old are very interesting reads. The last picture you posted looks very much like my house!

Mumbai October 5, 2013 - 10:09 am

I would never separate from my books …old or new….doesn't matter and they found always an appropriate place in my house. Apart from a book shelf I place them on the floor, on the table, on a kitchen shelf, scattered everywhere. The main point is I keep it.

SALLY October 5, 2013 - 11:14 am

David Terry's story of his "Aunt" Martha and her treasured book is something I'll never forget. It's a story of love, for books, memories and especially his love for his Aunt Martha.

Vicky Dickens October 5, 2013 - 1:54 pm

What inspiration! Now I know what to do with many of those old – but not precious – books that crowd my mother's shelves. I never cease to be inspired by your blog and look forward every morning to your latest post.
And I loved David Terry's story!

Frieda October 5, 2013 - 3:03 pm

Superbe article qui parle de l'amour pour les livres
I always have one near me, in my bag, on my desk in the office
But where i really enjoy resading is…Le petit coin.
L'histoire de David me fait revivre une merveilleuse il y a quelques jours
Les contes de Leuk le Lièvre…Just receive from a friend
All my childhood souvenirs are in that book
Thanks for this wonderful moments

Anonymous October 5, 2013 - 3:04 pm

Me too, I love the styling also. But between us my husband and I have simply thousands of books in our house, so I'm slowly trying to work through mine, identifying ones that are no longer keepers, to give to Op Shops, rather than buying books purely for decorative purposes. I still do buy books to read however. That said I love old leather books of the classics, specially those tooled in gold or silver with some (but not too many) signs of age and wear. Have also found French markets to be a good source of these. Last holiday I picked up a beautiful old leather bound volume of poems by Baudelaire for 2 euros, it's made friends with others of that ilk on one of my book shelves. Also collect books I think I'd enjoy that are signed by the author. We used to know Arthur C Clarke when we lived in Colombo for a couple of years. He was a great collector of autographed books and showed me his shelves full of wonderful editions with signatures from very famous writers and American Presidents etc. He even gave me some of his own works, autographed of course.
As my husband is a collector of books by all the Nobel prize winners for literature, he has an enormous collection and would never part with one. But in appearance they're a very mixed bunch, collected all over the world, and probably wouldn't suit a decorator's eye. He's an intellectual who doesn't care about how his books look on a shelf – they're all crammed together according to his own system.
Love David Terry's story about his Aunt Martha. Best wishes, Pamela

Nella Miller October 5, 2013 - 3:56 pm

David, this is very special….put me in a lovely frame of mind early this Saturday morning…N.xo

Nella Miller October 5, 2013 - 3:59 pm

Sharon, I am a confirmed bookworm…vintage, old worn books just beckon to me…I just found a beautiful vintage French cookbook a few weeks is safely ensconced under a bell jar in my kitchen…I enjoy it's beauty everyday….N.xo

vicki archer October 5, 2013 - 4:26 pm

The best props of all Sharon… there can never be too many books to read or to display… xv

david terry October 5, 2013 - 4:55 pm

Coming back here to read the comments (and almost entirely off-topic, but still useful)?…..My Aunt Martha is an unusually placid/calm (given everything that's happened to her in life) woman. My father (who's known her well since they were raised together as small children) and I regularly remind ourselves of the time he was vociferously complaining about some notoriously-horrible woman we know back home. At one point, though, Aunt Martha just raised her eyebrows and said "Tommy?….why go ON about her? Just remind yourself that she's probably being as good as she knows how to be….and drop the subject."

It's a useful line to remember when you're about to expend a ton of energy and unproductive irritation over someone who simply isn't worth it if you stop to consider the matter.

—david terry

Colleen Taylor October 5, 2013 - 5:34 pm

Can't help but love the displays of these rare reads Sharon. As always, David has a very dear & charming story. I just received a few old vintage books myself last week while at my mother's. Some of them have insert pages that were hand written by my great grandfather with this beautiful calligraphy as well as music notes. He was a musician and a school teacher.

Leslie in Little Rock October 5, 2013 - 6:27 pm

Thanks for giving me a good excuse for collecting more books, old and new. I forwarded to my daughter who is enjoying collecting these as well, with a nod to the children's books you pictured, because there is one of a collection I have had as a child. We are going to redo a bookshelf and "load them up" on it! I always enjoy your posts of your beautiful french life. (-: (Especially the dogs).

manuela carvalho October 5, 2013 - 6:39 pm

Gostei destas imagens tão sugestivas!! Ideias cheias de estilo para dar aos livros antigos um lugar de destaque em qualquer canto da casa! Bom fim de semana!

Castles Crowns and Cottages October 5, 2013 - 10:49 pm

Bonsoir Sharon! I love all of your finds, and one never knows what these gems could be used for, so I like to collect, tuck away and then pull out the object when I get an idea for decorating for the holidays! Lovely post. Have a super weekend, Anita

Patricia Gilbert October 6, 2013 - 3:51 pm

I love the books in the glass cloche topped with coral!

Sophie's mom October 6, 2013 - 11:31 pm

I love using books for displaying beautiful objects d'arte–or a pretty lamp.
Thanks for the inspiration.

Karen (Back Road Journal) October 7, 2013 - 2:17 am

Old books are a favorite of mine…I love the patina of the cracked and aged leather. They are just not made that way any more.

david terry October 7, 2013 - 11:46 am

P.S.I this town, the best used-book store is cleverly (and meorably) named "Books DO Furnish a Room".
—-david terry

DecadesofVintage November 14, 2013 - 1:06 am

Always loving antique and vintage books as part of any decor. Vintage books curated by color as part of any decor can have such a dramatic, sophisticated and unexpected effect.

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