Right At Home: Repurposed Books Can Get A New Life, Off The Shelf

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Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

Stacks of books turned into tables? Volumes made into shelves? Pages turned into sculpture?

Library purists, remain calm. Because we're going to talk about doing things to books that might, under other circumstances, send a shiver up your spine (pardon the pun).

As mountains of encyclopedias, atlases and almanacs become outdated, and an ocean of literary books succumb to the tides of time, craftspeople have come to the rescue.

Using glue, cutting tools, bindings and even belts artists -- book lovers all -- are turning abandoned books into creative furniture and art.

Chicago's Brian Dettmer turns vintage medical, art and history texts into intricate Escher-like 3D sculptures. Susan Porteous, a sculptor and artist in Denver, spins paper from old books on Gandhi into string, and winds it on antique spools. British designer Jeremy May laminates hundreds of pages into exquisitely rendered jewelry.

Jim Rosenau, of Berkeley, Calif., makes thematic shelves: One is made out of vintage cookbooks, another out of sports books.

And Lisa Occhipinti, a mixed-media artist and designer in Venice, Calif., who wrote "The Repurposed Library" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2011), makes looped, birdlike mobiles out of old book pages -- such as the 1952 illustrated children's book "Paws, Hoofs and Flippers."

She festoons mirrors with pages from an old edition of "The Wizard of Oz." She sells some of her work on Etsy.com and does commissioned work. For a piece called "Flora Grid," she turns paper into flower bursts assembled in a contemporary pattern. And her "Circulation" binds a collection of weather- and time-beaten volumes into a graphic sculpture.

"It's about giving books a new life; it has nothing to do with destruction. It is all about honouring books, and that comes from a profound and lifelong love for them," Occhipinti says. "I'm fascinated by how they connect people, places and time. Books contain vigour, and by reconfiguring them into new forms, I aim to give them a life off the shelf."

Her book gives advice and instruction on how to source old books; and includes make-at-home projects like a lamp base, utensil holder and switchplate cover.

Jason Thompson is the founder of Rag & Bone Bindery in Pawtucket, R.I. His store sells new bound journals and stationery, but he also has written "Playing With Books" (Quarry, 2010), which showcases the work of several artists who deconstructed and re-imagined old books.

Once your own imagination has been sparked, you can try your hand at rolling, folding, decoupaging and papier mache-ing printed pages into all manner of creative objects. Some projects are easy, such as paper butterflies, blossoms and orb ornaments. Others involve more advanced origami, or a whole lot of patience, such as the basket made of dozens of tiny tightly folded pages.

Online are several sites with ideas on how to stack books to make tables of all sizes, using heavy-duty glue or thick leather belts to lash them together.

Tips on book repurposing:

. Look for old hard covers -- they have sturdier outer cases and, usually, high-quality pages.

. Outdated textbooks have lots of photos and illustrations.

. Look for books with supple, non-brittle pages, with no mould, mildew or musty odour.

. Library sales are a good source of old books, especially nonfiction volumes and paperbacks. Thrift shops, tag sales and even the neighbour's recycle bin are all worth checking out.

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Sourcebook:

www.etsy.com/shop/theshophouse - Lisa Occhipinti's work

www.ragandbonebindery.com

www.designsponge.com

www.spasticgoat.com

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