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Decorative Books

Convention has a definite influence on the choices we make when decorating a room. Most of us will select complementary artwork, a favorite vase, or other items to suit our taste. But one choice not often considered is a book or, more accurately, stacks of them. Designer Thomas O'Brien has a vast book collection, including vintage selections, newer printings, art books, and architectural guides. Instead of keeping them behind glass or in a row on shelves, Thomas places these volumes of books on tables, sills, and other surfaces around his home, grouping them according to title, color, design, or subject, and using them to complement other decorative elements in a room.

In one room, on a mahogany mid-century modern table, Thomas displays a blue glass bowl and a silver porringer with stones piled inside. Next to them, he sets a several New York-related books (Thomas is a Manhattan resident; those who live in others part of the country will probably want to select volumes more closely related to their regions). On a library table in his living room, there's a stack of dictionaries as well as some architectural books with white, black, and red covers. In his guest rooms, Thomas likes to display vintage children's books, such A. A. Milne's "Winnie-the-Pooh" series or his mother's copy of "Bambi." Thomas says that adults often have a wonderful time revisiting the same books that captured their imaginations when they were children.

Thomas prefers not to stack his books in too orderly a fashion, opting instead for arrangements that convey a sense of motion. He also leaves some of his books open -- an approach that invites potential readers to come and take a look.