Header photo by Iwan Baan

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In Search of... The Best Design Bookstores

Header photo by Iwan Baan
In Search of... The Best Design Bookstores
Published July 17, 2017 by Madeleine Morley

Every designer has their favorite bookstore, a place they go to savor the delight of different paper stocks, to admire various typographic treatments and cover designs, and to uncover great tomes investigating design history and theory in thoughtful detail. If you want to get to know a city’s design community, there really is no better way to do so than to explore its independent book and magazine stores: These are the source, after all, of great ideas. From ramshackle, historic zine shops to luxe, modern, and spacious art book temples, here’s our list of the world’s best design-oriented bookstores for the jet-set creative. (Disclaimer: We take no responsibility for any excess baggage weight you might incur as a result of these recommendations.)

Arcana, Los Angeles

Filled with over 100,000 books, with an enthusiastic and knowledgable staff, there is no better place to source rare and out-of-print volumes or hyper-specialized design texts than Arcana. A visual and intellectual treat, the store occupies a gorgeously designed gallery-like 5,000 square foot open plan room in LA’s historic Helms Bakery building, and its books are displayed on immense metal shelves that divide the space into intimate rooms, creating what the designer called “a forest of books.” Natural light floods the polished concrete floors, making the shop a retreat, and a rewarding space for local designers and international visitors to browse conceptual art titles, hard-to-find magazines, obscure catalog, and tantalizing artist monographs in monkish contemplation. As with all the greatest bookshops, you’ll visit looking for one particular title, and leave with something else entirely, possibly something signed and numbered and way over your budget.

8675 Washington Blvd, Culver City www.arcanabooks.com

Arcana: Books on the Arts, LA. Photo by: Joshua White Arcana: Books on the Arts, LA. Photo by: Joshua White

Livraria da Vila Lorena, São Paulo

Standing out provocatively in the busy, glossy neighborhood of Jardins, filled with expensive designer stores, Livraria da Vila Lorena is a tempting temple of books that smartly makes its own cool design statement in this most chaotic of cities. Great local architect Isay Weinfeld’s post-Brutalist masterpiece, complete with a dream storefront made of glowing revolving shelves, is a sharply modern, loving tribute to the classic idea of a secondhand bookstore; the selection here is general and varied, but with a precise and expert selection of graphic design and architecture titles that match the distinctly modern mood of the interior.

002, Alameda Lorena, 1731  www.livrariadavila.com.br

Papercup, Beirut

Specializing in art, design, architecture, and photography and ideally located in the fashionable, vibrant bar packed Mar Mikhael neighborhood in the liberal north of the city, Papercup features a wide selection of international and local magazines as well as children’s publications, graphic novels, and hand-made stationery. Gorgeous tiles cover the floor, and there’s a laid-back sprinkling of midcentury furniture and a small cafe area that makes Papercup a deliberately cosy spot for what the owners describe as “coffee-infused book therapy.” The shop draws its unique strength by highlighting the Lebanese capital’s lively and diverse history of publishing and it’s independent media and by providing an event space that local publishers use for book and magazine launches.

Agopian Building Pharaon Street www.papercupstore.com

Papercup, Beirut. Image courtesy of Papercup

Printed Matter, New York

No definitive list of bookstores for designers could ignore New York’s iconic Printed Matter. The venerable nonprofit founded by art critic Lucy R Lippard with conceptualist artist Sol LeWitt and other art-world personalities 40 years ago is more than simply a shop dedicated to artist’s books and related publications; it’s an experience. An archive teeming with paper, it overflows with decades of underground art zines, chunky hand-scrawled manifestos, small-edition curios, Risograph comics, and gorgeous, hard-to-find hardbound monographs. Printed Matter also functions as a salon for printmakers and print lovers; it’s been and still is the locus for artistic communities. From its early days it provided space for titles from Laurie Anderson, Edward Ruscha, and Lawrence Weiner (these now sit upstairs in protective glass vitrines). Today the shop promotes and – with its own mysterious, uncompromising logic – presents the work of esoteric independent publishers across the U.S. along its sturdy metallic shelves. It’s easy to lose yourself in the pages of photo-copied staple-bound zines, or to explore the narrow exhibition wing that showcases historical works on paper by various artists and collectives.

231 11th Avenue www.printedmatter.org

Printed Matter, New York City. Photo by: Azikiwe Mohammed

Artazart, Paris

And of course, there has to be Paris. Shouting out across the banks of artistic neighborhood Canal Saint Martin like a home-made protest poster is the irreverent orange exterior of Artazart. Naturally declaring itself the number one design bookstore in Europe, possibly the universe, this captivating art wonderland and “bookstore of creation,” open an unusual-for-Paris seven days a week, stocks a comprehensive collection of niche, international books covering typography, illustration, graffiti, public art, maps, and interiors, with a particularly good photography selection. The inviting space also serves as a gallery, with new exhibitions twice a month, and a meeting spot for the local creative community, who at night gather at the nearby bar Le Comptoir General, an offbeat converted barn that functions as a local art venue. A definite Parisian paradise for the art-and design-minded.

83 Quai de Valmy www.artazart.com

Artazart, Paris. Image courtesy of Artazart. Artazart, Paris. Image courtesy of Artazart.

Mix Paper, Shanghai

This smart international bookshop of art and design titles opened in Shanghai in 2015 amongst a stylish “Mix Place” trio of stores. Branding itself as an “art and culture life space,” it’s quickly become a key center for the city’s thriving design scene. The three-floored haven has an atmospheric café-bar downstairs to aid contemplation, and its art-based second floor is filled with exquisite, heavyweight hardback visual editions and features a small pop-up exhibition space. At the top of some cool gray stairs, it’s the attic of Mix Paper that makes the store so unique. Its impressive, 12-meter long wall exclusively featuring independent magazines from around the world feels more like a permanent exhibition than a regular shop; the owners have taken to calling it a “magazine museum”. The extensive selection of design-orientated titles is noteworthy, and easilyon par with the likes of London’s magCulture shop and Berlin’s infamous magazine store, Do You Read Me?!

880 Hengshan Road, Shanghai (no website)

ProQM, Berlin

ProQM is situated in a late-1920s building originally designed by idiosyncratic modernist architect and set designer Hans Poelzig. Its striking progressive exterior reflects the forward-thinking, comprehensive selection of titles you’ll find inside; the outside is a gentle suggestion of what’s to come – when you enter, be ready to think, and spend some time browsing, as this shop is the world’s ultimate destination for design theory, and can easily become your own private library. The store was founded in 1999 by a group of artists, architects, and art theorists who decided to rethink the way bookshelves are organized, continually rearranging their wide-ranging selections in unexpected but ultimately logical thematic clusters. They do this to reflect current debates and topical issues. If you’re looking for a particular design thinker, you’ll not only leave with that author but find yourself introduced to a whole new set of others. This is an inspirational space that encourages the making of surprising new connections.

Almstadtstraße 48, 10119 www.pro-qm.de

ProQM, Berlin. Photo by: Katja Eydel

Libreria, London

Don’t expect coffee or Wi-Fi at this newly opened, self-consciously beautiful East London bookshop – you can get that across the street instead, at the buzzy new co-working space Second Home. Libreria, founded by the same optimistic conceptual entrepreneurs behind the work hub, is an antidote to a day on the laptop, a retreat for traveling designers who have temporarily set up camp at Second Home. The shop is stringently, if not a bit gimmicky, digital free (emphasizing the importance of separating however occasionally from your chosen device of distraction) and it doesn’t organize its stock into standard categories like fiction, science, or photography. Instead, there are playful, almost poetic themes – like family, love, magic, and the sea and the sky – purposefully designed to inspire browsers to make unexpected connections and open up new creative avenues. These thematic bundles are the perfect elixir for a stuck designer needing an imaginative solution to a creative problem. Ambitiously named after Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Library of Babel," this seductive bookshop is perhaps a little smaller than Borges’ infinite space, but honey-colored wood, soft, curving shelves, and warm orange light produce a soothing labyrinthine environment dedicated to books as ideas and their own infinite spaces.

65 Hanbury Street www.libreria.io

Liberia, London. Photo by: Iwan Baan Liberia, London. Photo by: Iwan Baan

Mendo, Amsterdam

The interior of this intimate home for substantial volumes on fashion, photograph, architecture, travel, and graphic design looks as if it were painted black but it’s actually the spines of black hardbacks wittily creating the appearance of darkened walls. With its squared-off sections of shadowy shelves pierced by colorful bursts of design books, Walking into MENDO, with its squared-off sections of shadowy shelves pierced by colorful bursts of design books, feels like you’re entering a spatial rendering of a Swiss design poster – which is perhaps to be expected from a bookshop run by a graphic design agency. This clever interior is the work of Concrete Architectural Associates, and inside you’ll find inspirational books for designers, and those who love designers, curated by designers.

Berenstraat 11, 1016 GG www.mendo.nl

More about Madeleine Morley

Madeleine Morley is a design and architecture writer based in Berlin. She studied English literature at Cambridge University and went on to complete an MA in art history at the Courtauld Institute of Art. She has written for Creative Review, AIGA, Monotype, magCulture, AnOther, and The Guardian among others.

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