Here's a novel idea: Books are not just good reads, they are good-looking reads whose shades and textures can be used to enhance decor.

At Books by the Foot in Frederick, decorative book orders started trickling into parent company Wonder Book about 10 years ago, and the trend has blossomed in the last five years, said owner Chuck Roberts.

His book props appear on Broadway and TV, in Fifth Avenue retail displays and in homes with trendy colors, such as a block of sea foam-green volumes for a summer beach retreat.

Sue Burgess
Annie Elliottt
Books by the Foot

"The trend's win-win," he said. "It preserves books from pulping and is a creative resource for designers and artists."

Chevy Chase designer Sue Burgess brings the same eye for order, rhythm, color and composition for books as she does for walls, upholstery or furnishings. "I don't buy books for their colors, but I group and organize them by color," she said. She also alternates horizontal and vertical stacks, and punctuates the visual rhythm with antique bookends or sculptures in metal, stone or glass.

Burgess loves old books with illustrated vellum pages, or cognac leather bindings and gilt titles stacked between antique bookends. "Part of the appeal is their aged patina," she said.

For an exquisite tablescape, AbeBooks offers rare, antique and collectible books with exquisite covers in leather and gilt. Leather inlays create mosaic patterns or stylish illustrations. Also worthy of star treatment on a coffee table or desk are illuminated manuscripts and limited editions with stunning illustrations.

While Burgess enjoys making old volumes a focal point, she also intersperses books with casual, personal items, such as family photo albums. "I don't want shelves to look like display cases in stores. I want people to see the books and grab one off the shelf," she said.

Like Burgess, Washington designer Annie Elliott of Bossy Color believes books should be read. So neither designer turns books backward to add texture, nor wraps them in glossy paper to echo a room's tints.

"It suggests they're not being read," Elliott said. "I was in a room where all the books were wrapped, and I nearly broke out in hives."

Elliott uses books as a warm, inviting strategy. "Books invite a visitor into a space to learn more about the host who lives there," she said.

Elliott also makes shelves sparkle by interspersing books with objets d'art and creating rhythm with spine colors. But she eschews grouping colors in a solid swath.

"I think of books as an Oriental carpet. They don't have to be all blue or red; all the colors together form a harmony," she said.

Start with a bookcase and make that space intimate, she advised. Pack it full of books, then step back and rearrange. "Make the overall impression an inviting, multicolored pattern," she said.

For an informal room, let multicolored spines echo a rag rug, Tiffany-style stained-glass lamp and pillows.

Don't leave bookcases out of the equation, Elliott added. When considering shelf design and placement, think outside the rectangle. For a Bethesda family room, Elliott is creating floating, asymmetrical walnut shelves of an intricate design against a sheer, glossy wall.