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What is bookshelf wealth? Inside the controversial new design trend

The latest home decor trend on TikTok has bothered book fanatics.

Bookshelf wealth is an interior decor aesthetic evocative of the warmth of a Nancy Meyers movie, with cosy yet classic furniture and most notably a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf that shows off the owner’s vast collection.

San Diego-based interior designer Kailee Blalock defined the term “bookshelf wealth” in a video she posted a video to TikTok in December 2023, and shared with viewers how they could apply the trend to their own homes.

“These aren’t display books,” Blalock, 26, explained. “These are books that have actually been curated and read.”

Typically, the literary collection is paired with carefully curated art pieces hung in a haphazard, free-wheeling way that gives the impression that the space is not only lived in but the product of years of collecting. The look is cluttered, but not messy, with tchotchkes and travel souvenirs tastefully displayed.

“I think to really achieve the look and the lifestyle, someone has to be an avid reader and has to appreciate the act of collecting things, especially art and sculpture,” she continued to comment on the trend in an interview with the New York Times.

The video - which has since been viewed over 1.3 million times - has sparked online discussion on the authenticity of the aesthetic. Many have pointed out that the idea of faking authenticity in the name of interior decorating and cultivating a collection of books rather than collecting books over time is strange.

“The day I ‘cultivate’ books instead of buying what I like to read is the day I’ll know I’ve truly failed as a human,” one person commented, while another added: “Here’s the thing, if you aim for this look you will fail. You only achieve it if it is authentic.”

“I would argue that to achieve this look you have to actually read a lot and appreciate real art,” someone else commented.

Others argued that “bookshelf wealth” was the product of coming from a high-income background, with one person writing, “This is a lifestyle more than a design style.”

Meanwhile, user Brianna Newton stitched Blalock’s video, showing viewers what real, unstaged “bookshelf wealth” looks like in her home in Princeton, New Jersey. Newton showed rooms with books everywhere — on shelves, in overflow piles here and there, and strewed across the bed - in what seems to be a product of her being a bibliophile rather than attempting to achieve an aesthetic. She added to the NYT that she worries that the way TikTok pushes trends like “bookshelf wealth” or “coastal grandma” will only lead to more overconsumption.

In another reaction video, user Keila Tirado-Leist commented, “Who does it benefit to constantly have to name and qualify and attach wealth to any kind of style or home-décor aesthetic.”

She added that “bookshelf wealth” is yet another social media aesthetic that glorifies the upper class, following in the footsteps of “quiet luxury” and “stealth wealth,” both of which have seen a rise in popularity in the past two years.