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How IDEA Books Finds Head-Turning Design Books in an Instagram Age

Photo from The Interior Book; all images courtesy IDEA Books
Photo from The Interior Book; all images courtesy IDEA Books

Image, in a world of liking, tapping and swiping, is everything. And while Pinterest provides an endless loop of themed interior ideas, and project shots from newly finished buildings because ubiquitous on the internet seemingly overnight, IDEA Books still manages to showcase finds and photos nobody else has. The niche bookseller, started by Angela Hill and David Owen in 2009 in London's Dover Street Market and named after the couple and their kids (Iris, David, Edith, Angela), specializes in selling rare fashion, architecture and design books, using a simple, digital strategy to push the printed page. Showcase the eye candy on Instagram, from a Donald Judd furniture catalog or Rem Koolhaas's rare Delerious New York to New York Subway photos from the '80s and a 1970s issue of Paris Vogue by Salvador Dali, then have potential bidders email in their offers. Even when popular books sell in minutes, the account's aesthetic appeal constantly brings in followers looking for the next sale. We spoke with David Owen about how the business model works for rare design books.

How do you source all of these books? What's the secret to consistently finding such rare copies?
"We buy everywhere and all the time. We travel to Paris, Amsterdam, Tokyo, and New York and are always looking for books. The Internet works brilliantly if you know what you are looking for, but we are really focused on the books we didn't know we are looking for. It is very easy to keep selling the same books. It is increasingly a challenge to find books we have never seen before that generate as much excitement as the classics of our 'IDEA' genre did when we first found them."

In the age of Instagram, why do you think people are so attracted to books about design and architecture from a few decades ago? Do you feel the style and type of photography, especially for interior shots, has changed dramatically over the decades?
"I think this is actually the product of a simple equation. There are only so many good books that are going to be published this year. That is pretty much what a new bookseller has to deal with. We have at least fifty years worth of great books to work with. So it is perhaps not so much nostalgia that is motivating this interest but a response to the sheer quality of what has been previously achieved and published. The most common response to an astounding interior design from the seventies say is 'Can we do this?' They are not suggesting that they want to turn living area into a retro 1973 room set, they are saying, can we make our living room this cool?"

What are some of your favorite design and architecture books that you've sold?
"We have a very healthy obsession with Memphis, Alchimia and postmodern design in general. We are very happy posting images of Karl Lagerfeld's Monte Carlo apartment that seemed to have one of everything from the first Memphis collections. We also love Japanese traditional design but especially when filtered through mid-century modern architecture. This aesthetic is best expressed by the Hotel Okura in Tokyo and the book they self-published with an extra good title The Indigenous Patterns."

What are some of the most rare design and architecture books that you've sold?
"We have made quite a few books very scarce by selling all the available copies! The scarcest yet—that we have found once and never again since—is the Gufram design retrospective book that was called Rock Furniture and came packed in a small section of a brick wall made of rubber foam."

Do you often have the photographers or designers contacting you to get copies of these books?
"We tend to sell to people who work with the books they buy. So that is the pretty much the world's designers, stylists, architects, film directors, art directors, photographers, and interior designers. We are very fortunate in what we do as we greatly like and appreciate talent and we get very close to a lot of it. We have the original work of the designers that is featured in the books, then we get to deal with the talented people who buy them and then we get to see the work they produce themselves."

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