The Art of the Written Word

by Lily Hoagland

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The French have a way with words. Whether it’s the belles lettres of Madame Bovary or some roguish lines they use on innocent American ears, their bon mots are legendary.

This love of language lives on in Assouline, the publishing house at the forefront of turning the book into an objet d’art. Now, those same experts are turning their elegant eye toward the natural setting for their books: the library. With Assouline Interiors, they are offering their designs of an environment in which you can immerse yourself in not only a great story, but also in that famously unerring French sense of style.

On the second floor of the Decoration & Design Building on Third Avenue,  the power couple behind the publishing house, Prosper and Martine Assouline, walked me through their brand new showroom and its current displays. While we were talking, Prosper—self-
described as fastidious—would periodically stop to minutely adjust the vintage objects that he curates for each collection. He pointed out a screen in a trompe l’oeil style that appears to be made of metal engraved with Assouline’s signature “Didiot” character font, but is actually embossed leather (naturally, he scoured the globe for the exact right kind). That same pattern covered the wool rug, effectively tying the room together with typography.

Of course, the piece that should attract the most attention in a library must be the bookcase, and this one was designed to be a showboat. A dramatic black frame contains shelf spaces covered top-to-bottom in red lacquer, with LED lights lining the casings to create a three-dimensional effect from the  shadows within each block. There seemed to be an artistic statement about the structure: even without books, it could never appear empty.

Martine, who wears an aura of casual elegance like a scarf she happened to throw on, explained that, in fact, the idea of a wholly encapsulating Assouline experience was a return to their roots. She seems to possess a sharp vision and intuitive understanding of what appeals; a sort of conceptual ying to her husband’s logistical yang. She describes that when they opened their first boutique in Paris, she and Prosper would sell their own bookcases and trunks as well as the books that catapulted their success. Both had loved creating a comprehensive atmosphere, and were now delighted to do so again. Thus, this venture marks not an unknown first step, but rather a beloved homecoming.

The logic behind the collection is  obvious: if you want to create a beautiful environment, you should trust two people who have dedicated themselves to celebrating the good life in their work, with great success. The marriage of a tireless perfectionist and a self-possessed pioneer has made Assouline into France’s largest independent publisher, with new titles like Dinner with Jackson Pollock making their way to book lovers’ libraries swiftly after hitting the stores. Those stores themselves, from Paris to Istanbul to New York, are another extension of Assouline’s ability to create noteworthy settings. Each one demonstrates how valuable it can be to have a perfectly tailored space to display books for their artistic worth as well as the value of what they contain.

We’ve been misinformed all along—you can judge a book by its cover, and match your desk accordingly.