When U.K. publishing scion Philip Blackwell sold The Blackwell Group in 2006 he was in his late forties and not quite ready to retire—though no longer keen on office life in London, either. Suitably, his second act, Ultimate Library, curates libraries for hotels and private residences around the world, capitalizing on Blackwell’s two greatest loves: books and travel. “A well chosen hotel book collection should add to the creation of a sense of place, leave you better informed,” he says, “maybe even prevent you from getting out and about as much as you would like.”
Libraries for properties like Four Seasons, The Doyle Collection, and Aman resorts are designed to reflect the needs of the guests—where they come from, why they’re visiting—and aim to combine the intellectual with the fanciful: London Stories and How to Speak Money in the library of London’s new 67 Pall Mall, or early editions of Out of Africa and cheeky almanac The Book of Animal Ignorance in tents at Kenya’s Angama Mara. In private homes, Blackwell may design a dream collection based on client interests or library colors or he may be asked to follow guidelines as specific as “books on Italian Renaissance architecture more than seven inches high to fill 20 linear feet of shelving.” That, he says, is a true story.
Blackwell is happy to report that design tastes have returned to the more opulent even as technology moves the world away from paper—and not just for the sake of his bottom line. “I have never got on with reading on a device; it sacrifices so much of the experience,” he says. “Physical books are like candles. While electric lights meet our rational and industrial needs, only candles deliver the texture, subtlety and atmosphere that make a house a home. Let the counter-revolution to technology overload begin!”