Place I’d Like to Move Into: Shakespeare and Company

About a million years ago, when I was hip and moving around a lot in Europe and  feeling generally very good about my life, I visited a dear friend in Paris and she took me to Shakespeare and Company. I remember Paris fondly and I had a great time and everything, but this used bookstore is why I want to go back RIGHT NOW.

The place is every stereotype of a used bookstore exploded. The owner, George Whitman, opened the place in 1951, and worked there until he died at the age of 98. He was behind the counter the day I was there, along with a lot of impossibly good looking expatriates.

Cramped, overstuffed shelves loom over your head, and any false turn could result in your stumbling into some unshaven auteur’s bedroom (there are murphy beds there for people who move to Paris to write and need a place to stay while they get situated). I think we were there three hours until Kristina made us go to eat coq au vin or go look at the Notre Dame or something very French.  So if you’re me, your life is 100% about acquiring more books than you could possibly read, an anti-library, if you will (please click that link. You will be enthralled). But hey, books are expensive, and they’re a huge commitment to move. They’re so heavy and they make me hate everything until I unpack them and am all, “OH MY GOD, I LOVEEEEEE NELLA LARSEN!” Anyway, it would take me 30 years to acquire enough books to approximate the look of this gorgeous place, so I am doing the best I can to get there a little more quickly. The idea of the place is that everything has been acquired over time, and that no one is standing on ceremony. Nothing needs to match, and whatever you’ve acquired from your life will probably just make it look EVEN BETTER, so by all means, pile it on. Shakespeare and Co. is very cozy, and there’s not a lot of emphasis on practicality– it’s a life-of-the-mind-come -alive kind of approach to interior design.

So how do we get from a bare room to this? A great alternative to filling your rooms floor-to-ceiling with books is library wall paper. Here are three options at a few different price ranges. The results are gorgeous.

original image from

Right? A great first step, and an action that will make you feel as though your life is on the right track (other than the bell jar dog, which is both creepy and somehow saddening). I envision this room as someone’s office that could pinch-hit for a guest room, so why not get yourself a murphy bed? I was obsessed with Get Smart as a kid, and Maxwell Smart had a murphy bed, so I grew up into an adult who dreams of having a murphy bed, and now here we are.

I did some research on these for you (you’re welcome), and it turns out those suckers are expensive, so I found a good DIY option for you. I’ve made a few things from this site, and they always turn out like one might imagine they would, so I have no reason to believe this wouldn’t. It also gets you out for a mere $500. If you aren’t crafty, though, may I recommend this option? It’s on sale AND it has built-in bookshelves, and your books-on-books-on-books look will be very cool indeed. Please, please, please stain it or paint it or something, though, if you go that route. When guests come, toss some mismatched blankets and pillows from your travels on the cot. Fold the bed up for the floor space on all other days.

If you want to carry on, might I suggest a vintage secretary desk to work from? No need to spend a fortune on this; you can usually pick one up from an estate sale for very little. The worse shape the thing happens to be in, the better. Shakespeare & Co. is on the shabby side, so a shiny new thing would be out of place.

This one is from Go ahead and stain this, too.
This one is from Go ahead and stain this, too.

I have a pretty old typewriter that I actually do work from, and if this were my room, this is where I’d put it. Push up a comfortable-but-not-too chair to it so you can encourage yourself to get your work done.

If your room isn’t yet too tight between a foldout bed, fake bookshelves, actual bookshelves, and a little desk, having a pair of chairs and a low coffee table atop a threadbare Persian rug would be THE DREAM.

Wait for it.
‘ Wait for it.

I would pile that little table with so many old books and terrariums and half-empty wine bottles. I’d be hell on wheels.

Okay, so what do you think? Is the book wall paper decal too much or not enough? Have you been to Shakespeare & Company? DIDN’T YOU WANT THEM TO ADOPT YOU? Any other good inspiration ideas from used bookstore (aka my native country)? I’d love to hear from you.

This is so blurry, but I would rather you see it than not. This is above the exit to the shop, and is their guiding light.
This is so blurry, but I would rather you see it than not. This is above the exit to the shop, and is their guiding light.

(all antiques from Etsy)

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