Join us for a peak into the world of Foxtail Books at our showroom on Wednesday, July 25 from 11am-5pm. Whimsical vintage book selection by Boutique Library Curator Foxtail Books, Styling by Styling the New West, Tea time treats by Wild West Bakery and Katherine's Kitchen.
Q&A with Christy Shannon Smirl of Foxtail Books & Library Services
We love collaborating with kindred creatives like Christy Shannon Smirl, founder of Foxtail Books & Library Services. Christy brings a designer’s eye to the classic traditions of librarian and bookseller. Whether building a home library for a client or helping preserve, organize and appraise existing stacks, Christy balances artistry and symmetry, content and character as she curates collections at once sophisticated and timeless. Whenever possible, we recruit her talent to help layer intellectual style within our interiors as we did recently on a new project shoot. From placing the perfect trio of coffee table books to artfully stacking titles beside bedsides, Christy finds fresh ways to tell her clients’ best stories. We are thrilled to share her story with you:
22H: At Twenty Two Home, our motto is “live beautifully.” You seem to epitomize this ethos and even expand it to encompass “learn beautifully.” In your practice, what is the role of beauty within an intellectual exercise such as book collecting?
CSS: I love that motto—which, yes, is a familiar theme for us at Foxtail Books. Books allow us to to expand the pursuit of beauty into the mind and the imagination. Like fine art and antiques, the context behind books adds meaning not visible to the naked eye. Contextual layers—like the story behind a book or behind your experience of it—have the power to affect an aesthetic. Beautiful cover design and fine book craftsmanship allows for presentation of a story or a resource, an object as outwardly attractive as its words ideas. What is wonderful in this day and age is the variety of editions out there, so that physical beauty need not be limited (or pigeon-holed) for the sake of intellectual beauty, or vice versa. Whether a client is passionate about English literature, fine art or the sciences, there are plethora ways to present those interests visually. It’s a joy as a curator to build a collection as wonderful inside its pages as its cover portrays.
22H: As designers, we must first be good listeners; only through engaged dialogue can we truly understand our clients’ needs and expectations. We know you operate with a similar sense of attunement to communication by helping clients best showcase the layers within themselves and their environs. Are there certain questions you ask at the start of every project?
CSS: The questions we ask at the beginning of the project inform every book we select for a client and how those books are later arranged in the space. Our first questions involve what they read and how they use the books in their home. If they are not big readers, we talk about what interests them, what they are passionate about, or what they think their guests might enjoy having on the shelf. I’m sure it’s similar to your dialogue in some ways: let’s get on the same page about what you need and what we can provide in this space.
22H: As designers, we enter the scene at many different phases of the construction or renovation process, which requires responsiveness on our part. Before we dive in, we must establish our clients’ expectations and needs. How do you remain responsive to your clients’ current book collecting habits while guiding them to explore new horizons?
CSS: We work with clients who already own extensive collections as often as we are building a room full of books from scratch. It’s also not unusual for a project to switch gears after it has begun: the variety of books in a room is, after all, endless. We ask a lot of questions at the beginning of the project so that we are able to be nimble if, for example, an interesting collectible book in a certain subject area comes on the market, or if one of the readers in the family develops a sudden interest in a new topic that could be explored with books. From research to installation day, we stay in touch with the client about what the end product will be. A library is never “complete,” though: a love of books always means a collection will grow, year by year. After installation, we are in touch when particularly beautiful or rare books that might be a nice addition to the space come on the market. We also help families who need to downsize or sell their collections down the line.
22H: You are attuned to the texture and character books add to a space. Within your world, can style trump content? Are there instances when judging a book by its cover and placing a pretty tome in a prominent position seems preferable to showcasing a more staid classic?
CSS: I check in with clients throughout a project to find the appropriate place their collection should fall on the spectrum of style and content. I am often surprised at how decisive people are about these lesser-of-evils decisions, large and small. Style can always trump content, or content, style. I help homeowners decide on priorities for form and function as we go. Sometimes the cost of a meaningful book with an unsightly spine or a beautiful spine with little of worth inside are worth the cost for the larger vision of the project.
22H: You are like us: you transformed your passion into your profession. How do you make space for your creativity amid the demands of providing a service?
CSS: Yes! We are alike in that way. What is wonderful about my work is that it allows for many different creative outlets: spatial, textural, intellectual, and literary. On any given day I could be sourcing agate geode bookends, arranging fabric, leather and paper bindings together, or exploring niche literary genres and subjects. Believe it or not, even organizing a large collection takes on elements of creativity alongside the technical.
22H: Thinking about Walter Benjamin’s “Unpacking My Library: A Talk about Book Collecting” (from Illuminations, 1969), several quotes seemed resonate with the work you do…
“Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector’s passion borders on the chaos of memories. More than that: the chance, the fate, that suffuse the past before my eyes are conspicuously present in the accustomed confusion of these books. For what else is a collection but a disorder to which habit has accommodated itself to such an extent that it can appear as order?”
CSS: Book collecting is the ultimate “beautiful mess.” What we read in our lifetime is only a small glimpse at how complex we all are, after all. Some of our favorite work has been to curate an enormous variety of books, to create a tidy serendipity of perfectly disorganized shelves in which readers never know what they might encounter.
Habent sua fata libelli: Books have their destiny
CSS: There is a saying you learn in library science, one of the “laws” of the profession: Every reader his or her book, and every book its reader. I believe in the power of books, of including them in a room. If each book has a destiny, think of the resting potential in a home full of books for those who wander its halls. When I design even a small collection, I imagine it to be a place where a child, a friend, a guest might encounter the story they need. There is nothing like the feeling of a wall full of books to choose from. It is an inspiration that colors the feeling of a room and the experience of a place.
“Ownership is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects. Not that they come alive in him; it is he who lives in them.”
CSS: Books are the most precious objects we own. They say who we are, they tell our stories. They remind us of where we were when we read them, or of lessons learned, gifts given. Whether in their words or in their physical nature, they connect us to our personal past, and to our greater humanity.