House & Home

Stuff of Life: Turn books into decorative accents with colorful handmade paper

Stacking books covered with the handmade paper makes for a bright and pretty pedestal for picture frames, candles and plants.
Stacking books covered with the handmade paper makes for a bright and pretty pedestal for picture frames, candles and plants.

Interior designers love to offer tips for decorating shelves. They usually include mixing books with bowls, vases, picture frames and other decorative accessories. As far as I’m concerned, floor-to-ceiling shelves, packed solid with just books, make an excellent statement.

We have hundreds of books in our house, a result of a father-in-law who is a bibliophile and former library president. They nearly fill a wall of shelving in our TV/sun room and are arranged by genre and author. (Yes, there are accessories mixed in.)

Lately, designers have begun putting books on shelves according to the colors on their spines or covering the books with matching dust covers, usually white or brown kraft paper, to create a monotone accent. This states, in essence, that the books’ contents don’t matter as much as their appearance. That makes me uncomfortable.

Yet I’m proposing doing exactly that: using books strictly for their appearance. It stems from my love of handmade Indian wrapping paper, sometimes known as Khadi.

Skilled artisans create the paper by pressing remnants of recycled cotton fabric into 20-by-30-inch sheets using traditional silkscreen printing techniques. I found colorful, patterned ones with metallic images at World Market for $2.99 a sheet. You can find similar types of handmade paper at art stores and online at and

The soft, thick sheets of paper are gorgeous and highly textured. Using them as gift wrap, which is how World Market markets them, seems like a waste. So I made them into dust covers. Each sheet can cover at least two or three books. I used three sheets to cover several books I bought at Dollar Tree.

I felt a little bad covering the books, which included a memoir by Gen. George Patton’s son, Ben Patton, and “Niceville,” by Carsten Stroud. But, hey, I was rescuing them from a dollar store.

I used each book’s original dust cover as a template for cutting the new ones. I used scissors, but an X-Acto knife and straight edge would work better.

Then I folded one end of the paper around the back cover, taped it in place, flipped the book over and closed the front cover as far as I could before folding the other end of the paper around it and taped again. If you leave the book open when folding it over the front cover, the book won’t close. I even covered a small paperback.

The books will add a punch of color to any room. They’d look great on a fireplace mantel as a stand for a small vase of flowers or on a dresser with a small jewelry box perched on top. Several stacks lined down the center of a dining table could be topped with candles and flowers to make a stunning centerpiece.

Another use: cover glass vases with the paper using double-sided tape. Fill tall skinny vases with a single stem or a short squat vase with a small bouquet for a lovely hostess gift. You could also wrap picture frame mats with it.

Do you have ideas of things to do with this gorgeous paper? If so, share them with us at

Arhaus inspiration

Arhaus, a national retailer that specializes in handmade furnishings from around the world, opened a 17,000-square-foot, two-story space in Leawood’s Town Center Plaza on May 22.

Gary Babcock, chief creative officer for Arhaus, gave me a tour a couple of days before the grand opening.

The upscale store feels like a mashup of Restoration Hardware and Anthropologie with a splash of Crate & Barrel. In other words, there’s something for almost everyone.

The store offers a choice of several hundred upholstery fabrics to customize its furniture, fresh floral arrangements and a large selection of outdoor furnishings.

Every two weeks, a shipment of antiques, relics and handmade pieces comes in and the pieces are sold right off the floor.

Babcock travels extensively to buy products from Central and South America, China, India and other parts of Asia. But the largest portion lately, he says, is from Europe and America. He recently returned from the Brimfield Antique Show in Massachusetts.

Arhaus’ 56 stores sell the one-of-a-kind pieces.

“We put a lot of emphasis on individual merchandise,” said Babcock, who leads the team that designed the store inside and out. “We like to give customers an idea of what our product will look like in their home. A lot of people come in once a week to see what the store looks like, how we’re set up. We change things frequently and get new products all the time.”

Babcock and his team use pieces as inspiration for product development.

“We’ll find a sofa or chair that has great lines or a great color story to it and use that as inspiration for design of new merchandise,” he said.

We were standing in a vignette that contained a contemporary, clean-lined sofa, a crystal and iron chandelier and a large cowhide rug. I asked Babcock what the secret is to pulling off such an eclectic yet elegant look.

“All the colors have to coordinate and all the furniture has to be the correct scale,” he said. “It’s not an easy thing to do. A lot of people come in and say, ‘Oh my gosh, I love the way this looks,’ and they buy the whole thing: the chandelier, the rug, the sectional, the pillow, the lamps; they buy everything.”