Shelf Help

Artist Jim Rosenau transforms books into bookshelves.

By Alison Sherbach

In 1995, when author Nicholson Baker wrote an article called "Books as Furniture" for The New Yorker, he probably didn’t know anyone would take him quite as seriously as artist Jim Rosenau did.

"Baker only meant it as a metaphor," says 48-year-old Rosenau, “I took the idea literally. I thought, 'If I could turn books into lumber, what kind of furniture would I make?'"

After sketching out a few ideas, Rosenau took a step back, looked at his drawings, and cringed. Like most children, he had grown up believing it was wrong even to write in a book, and so the thought of repurposing its pages into pieces of furniture seemed beyond the realm of possibility. "I even felt guilty if I started reading a book and didn’t finish it," Rosenau admits.  

But eventually the book guilt faded, and after a few years of keeping his ideas to himself, Rosenau made his first bookcase out of a set of 1938 encyclopedias and salvaged lumber. With some encouragement from his family, he arranged a test at a local design bookstore. To his surprise, people were absolutely crazy for it. It wasn’t long before Rosenau began scouring the shelves of used bookstores and rifling through back-alley dumpsters in hopes of turning trash into treasure.

Using literature as opposed to encyclopedias, however, meant Rosenau would have to take each individual cover into account—and his shelving began to humorously blur the lines between function and art, creating pieces that didn’t just hold something, but that told stories about the people who bought them. The wife of author and attorney Sheldon Siegel, for example, commissioned Rosenau to build a shelf from the series of mystery novels Siegel had written. The shelf doubles as a coat hanger with gavels as hooks.

Continuing to push boundaries, Rosenau is currently working on a line of sculptures created from found objects in his This Into That studio. Some of his most recent pieces include a lamp made from a wooden tennis racquet and a mobile constructed from whiskbrooms. With this newfound appreciation for objects as lumber, is there anything Rosenau can’t create? "The only thing I can’t do," he says, "is make the same thing twice."

Project: Bookshelf From a Book
Do you have a ton of old books and no place to store them? Try making this floating bookshelf:

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