Is “Bookshelf Wealth” the Most Authentic TikTok Interiors Trend Yet?

Photographed by Daniel Arnold, Vogue, March 2021

As the writer and filmmaker John Waters famously stated, if you go home with someone and there are no books, get the hell out of there: what you read (or don’t) and the titles you display in your home matter. While showcasing an abundant book collection as part of your interior design scheme is hardly a novel idea, it seems that droves of TikTok users recently discovered the appeal of a well-stocked bookshelf. And, because it’s TikTok, the social-media masses were quick to appoint it a snappy name, coining the bountiful look as “bookshelf wealth.”

But what exactly does that mean? It depends on which of the thousands of #bookshelfwealth videos posted you look at. But, if we’re talking general “aesthetic” (thanks TikTok), it’s the antithesis of the glossy coffee table books you’ve seen on repeat. Bookshelf wealth is more personal—and maybe even a little bit unhinged? (Frankly, that’s why we’re here for it.) It’s heaps of worn-in tomes packed tightly together and spilling out, with a thoughtful memento tucked in here and there.

“It’s the counterforce to a growing virtual life,” says interior designer Leyden Lewis. “Bookshelf wealth is not an economic status symbol as ‘wealth’ implies, but an affirmation of a life lived and explored. There is something really powerful about objects acting as an external symbol of an interior facet of ourselves.”

Photo: David Land / Courtesy of Leyden Lewis

Essentially, these pages aren’t arranged in an effort to rack up likes, but are a selection of tried-and-true reads. They are travel companions, have dog-eared pages throughout, represent niche interests, and are reflective of the individual. They silently declare: “Yes, I actually read.”

On this, Rachel Schwartzmann—an author who uses Instagram to share what she’s reading, source recommendations from her book-obsessed following, and document her piles of books and journals in her Brooklyn place—agrees. “Movements like bookshelf wealth offer an opportunity to go deeper and engage with what’s on the shelves,” Schwartzmann shares. “As someone who consumes and posts #BookTok content, there are people just as interested in conversation as they are in aesthetics.”

Still, some commenters were quick to criticize the trend, arguing that bookshelf wealth simply indicates you have the financial means (and the space for a built-in) and that it can lean inauthentic. But, in actuality, it’s all about authenticity. “I don’t believe this is really a trend,” shares Taylor Sterling, a freelance creative director and author of the children’s literature newsletter Moonbow. “If your home has bookshelf wealth, it’s because that’s how you like to live. There’s no cheat sheet.”

Photographed by François Halard, Vogue, January 2013

Sterling echoes this sentiment: “It’s more about lifestyle choices than wanting it to look a certain way. I have piles of books all over my house, in every corner, on every surface, not as decor—although I adore them as objects—but because I want my library to be like a living, breathing thing. I ‘designed’ it to be used.”

So a living, breathing thing, then: An interest in cultivating something that extends beyond the external validation of Instagram, and an evolving showcase of your tastes. “‘Bookshelf wealth is about honoring ourselves, our journey, our interests, and proudly displaying it all,” says Lewis.

Schwartzmann agrees. “As I’ve gotten older, my tastes have become more refined, so at this point, it is more about quality over quantity. It’s not about showcasing as much as possible but rather serving the space and your needs within it,” she says.

The takeaway? Bookshelf wealth can be as grand or humble as you want to make it. It’s not prescriptive. Still, there are places to start when thinking about how you want to nourish your at-home library. “If you don’t already have a book collection, I would recommend finding a very good used bookstore and visiting often,” shares designer Eliza Gran, whose lived-in nooks in her Hudson Valley home are bursting with books. “Thrift shops, even Goodwill, often have surprisingly great books, and of course, that’s the best place to find affordable secondhand art, ceramics, and furniture.”

Photo: Courtesy of Eliza Gran

But, above all, true bookshelf wealth is about investing in yourself and personal exploration. “Sometimes, I have to remind myself of this, especially in the digital age, that your home isn’t a backdrop, it’s your sanctuary,” Schwartzmann adds. “You can—and should—decorate and engage with details that inspire you.”

“Take the time to find the thing that speaks to you,” Lewis adds. “If you let your heart and eye guide you, I promise it will make you happier than trying to recreate a cookie-cutter style you’ve seen online.”

A trend that encourages people to get off the screen and behind a book? How novel.

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