London’s Libreria Bookshop

A warm, inspiring place with floor-to-ceiling reading options

London’s Second Home is an inspiring workspace for entrepreneurs and creative businesses that’s bathed in light and overflowing with plants. It’s also the home of the Jago restaurant and has brought new life to the Tower Hamlets area where it’s located. On 25 February, the creative minds behind the initiative, Rohan Silva and Sam Aldenton, opened a second space on the same street: the Libreria bookshop. “I’d always wanted to open a bookshop, and we felt that a physical bookshop would make a lot of sense given Second Home’s mission, which is to expose people to as many different influences, industries and philosophies as possible,” says Silva. “That’s why we really curate the mix of companies we have at Second Home; that’s why we have an events program that has featured Annie Lennox and Stella McCartney as well as Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal.”

Libreria, like Second Home itself, was designed by Spanish architects SelgasCano and took about a month to create. “It was a job for a form worker rather than for a carpenter. A job for thick hands,” says José Selgas. The result is a warm, yellow space filled with books from the ceiling to the floor, a place to wander and discover new titles as you go. Reflecting surfaces in the ceiling and rear wall create a feeling of infinity, a nod to Jorge Luis Borges’ short story “The Library of Babel” (in which the universe is made up of a never-ending library), which inspired the design for Libreria. “Borges is such a wonderful interdisciplinary writer. Yes, he’s a brilliant author, but also deeply steeped in mathematics. ‘The Library of Babel’ is many mathematicians’ favorite story. Every aspect of this bookshop is about celebrating the collision between different fields, and of course that includes the architecture,” Silva says.

Unlike regular bookshops, books in Libreria won’t be catalogued according to alphabetic order or arranged by subject matter; instead, categories include “The Sea and the Sky” and “Mothers, Madonnas and Whores” and each features a wide range of authors. Silva explains that this approach was fundamental to the store, ”I really believe that a key to being creative is to be open to ideas from different fields and different domains, and a physical bookshop is fantastic for that. Compare it with Amazon, where the recommendations based on algorithms are so narrow, so limiting—if you click on a book about physics, all you’ll get are recommendations for books about physics. Whereas in a physical bookshop, and with the way we’ve designed Libreria in particular, you might go in looking for a book on physics, but come out with three books of poetry by Seamus Heaney. And that’s the idea, the way it’s been designed—that’s the mission.”

Electronic devices are banned in Libreria, which is meant to be a place where you can lose yourself and become immersed in words and ideas, rather than screens. The shop also has its own printing press in the basement, and the plan is for Libreria to become a publisher later this year, working with emerging authors. It will also host workshops on subjects like letterpress printing and book binding, underlining the store’s emphasis on creating something physical, rather than digital. Silva explains that the Brick Lane area, where Libreria and Second Home are located, historically used to have a lot of printers and publishers who are now all gone, and that Libreria is partly an attempt to bring back this artisanal spirit. “For all the cutting-edge things that our Second Home members are doing—technology and innovations—the truth is we’re a pretty old-fashioned company. We want people to be able to meet in a space, talk, read, and exchange ideas. So it makes sense that we’re looking backwards, as well as forward,” he says.

Libreria is located at Second Home, 68-80 Hanbury Street, London.

Images courtesy of Iwan Baan