design

Home design: Curating bookshelves to 'tell a story'

Published 12th May 2020
Dara Huang's tips on creating a sanctuary
Credit: Simon Brown
Home design: Curating bookshelves to 'tell a story'
Written by Karina Tsui, CNN
In Sanctuaries, top experts share interior design tips for creating calming and inspirational home spaces.
With remote work becoming the new normal for millions of people around the world, home offices have never mattered more.
Bookshelves and walls have become conference call backdrops, exposing our private preferences or perhaps lack of time spent organizing or decorating.
From her own home, London-based architect and designer Dara Huang has been sharing simple tips on how to turn living areas into more stylish workspaces.
"You have to want to make small improvements that can build up over time. If you do things incrementally, you end up benefiting from those results," said Huang, the founder of Design Haus Liberty, an international firm that has worked on commercial, hospitality, and retail projects for clients such as The Four Seasons and Cartier.
Below, Huang discusses design tips for maximizing productivity, the importance of personal space and how to arrange the perfect bookshelf.
CNN: You've written about the importance of carving out a "cozy nook." How do you create a space like that at home?
DH: Everyone needs their personal space, even if they are living alone. So many people's quiet space is the bathroom because that's often the only space where they can be alone.
A fluffy rug completes this cozy interior.
A fluffy rug completes this cozy interior. Credit: Philip Durrant
(A quiet space is one) you create for yourself where you can sit and know you're in the zone. Ideally, it's facing a window so you can get fresh air. It's nice to have a small table next to you where you can put a cup of coffee or lay a book down or a candle you can burn. You need to create that ambiance for yourself so that you can really focus on your five senses.
This feels like the perfect time to organize personal libraries. How would you recommend arranging a bookshelf that is pleasing to the eye?
You should color co-ordinate your books and arrange them in height order on your shelf.
So many hardback books have paper covers and they are actually covering the most amazing craft of the book. If you want your house to look really sophisticated, show those beautiful binds and arrange them in a way that's color coordinated.
Another key thing is not to arrange all books vertically, but to lay some down horizontally. Place the largest book at the bottom and build a stack of two to three books on top. Make room for potted plants or other decorative objects in between.
Huang recommends placing 'beautiful and interesting objects' on bookshelves to help tell a story.
Huang recommends placing 'beautiful and interesting objects' on bookshelves to help tell a story. Credit: Adrian Dirand
Putting beautiful and interesting objects on your shelf tells a story about yourself -- the same goes for your home office. This is a domestic setting so you want to make it presentable.
If you need to store documents or loose papers, keep them in folders and binders. What's really nice is having canvas boxes that you can label on the outside. Storage components will make your home office look both organized and well-designed.
What are some other simple ways to freshen up a home?
Artwork makes a huge difference. It's not just what you're putting up, it's the size, it's how it's hung, the combination of how you've done it. I'm a big believer in white space and not overcrowding things, but if you have the right piece, or if you take the time to think about what you're missing, it can make a huge difference.
Consider re-organizing your space. Shuffle your furniture around and let it sit with you for one or two days. There's no technical way of doing this because it's based on how you feel. The way we live is so malleable, so the ability to try different things while we are living in spaces for longer is fun.
Portrait of Dara Huang.
Portrait of Dara Huang. Credit: Paul Khera
Are there any specific materials -- woods or fabrics -- that are best suited to the home?
When deciding on materials for your home, it's best to start with a small sampling of the largest items and see what goes with what. Always have a huge mix of textures within that sample and don't look at things in isolation.
Design is all-encompassing, so when you pick materials it's so important to contrast that material with something else -- for example pairing something rough, like stone, with something (smooth) like Italian plaster.
This interior showcases a mix of complementary textures and materials.
This interior showcases a mix of complementary textures and materials. Credit: Simon Brown
What tips do you have for adapting your home for work?
More people are turning their dining room or kitchen table into their office table, so it's important to organize your workspace and put everything away at the end of the day.
People are not just working from 9 to 5, they are working whenever they want. Houses naturally have poor lighting for work so putting a small desk lamp can help with focus.
Your workspace can be as simple as a small desk but it needs to be presentable -- it needs to be a domesticated, stylish version of what you would normally be used to.
Huang says to keep your designated workspace organized.
Huang says to keep your designated workspace organized. Credit: Philip Durrant
Do you have any design tips for enhancing productivity?
Give yourself a limit on how much time you spend in an area of your home -- tidy it when you're done and move on to your next space. You have the ability to change the mood of where you are, like drawing a curtain or opening a window to mark the start of your day.
Turn things off after a certain time. Your body needs downtime and that can be controlled through lighting. If you start to dim the lights, you are creating an awareness that this is not your work environment. Compartmentalize your home and be mindful of the function of each space.
What does a sanctuary mean to you?
A sanctuary is a place where you can go and feel the safest, the most at ease and relaxed. I think "safe" is a really good way to describe it, because it's your private space. You have the ability to own and know that this is your bubble and that no one can come into it. It needs to be a place where you can calm the clutter.