The 28-year-old heir to a luxury publishing house explains how he creates some of the most exclusive — and expensive — private libraries in the world

  • Alex Assouline, 28, is a creative library designer at his family's luxury publishing company, Assouline. 
  • Founded in 1994, the publishing house has a specialty in creating highly curated libraries for private residences and commercial businesses.
  • They're also a publishing house, releasing thematic coffee books. Books in Assouline's latest collection range in price from $75 to $1,000.
  • In an interview with Business Insider, Alex explains how he creates some of the most luxurious libraries in the world, and gives advice for those looking to make their own libraries at home. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The first step to creating a quintessential Assouline library is, of course, getting in touch with the Assouline publishing house.

Founded in 1994 by Martine and Prosper Assouline, their eponymous publishing house is known for creating some of the most luxurious — and expensive — private libraries in the world, in addition to publishing some of the chicest coffee table books. 

Ranging from $75 to $1,000, Assouline's books are highly researched and honor various well-known people, places, and businesses. The most recent catalogue offers books on subjects from cigars to Rolex watches; feminism to the Amalfi Coast. These books often take years to produce, and sometimes come bound in silk cloth and velvet. 

"Now we're launching a book on Marrakesh and Miami beach in the next few months," Alex Assouline, the company's 28-year-old heir and creative library designer, told Business Insider. "Our book on Paris took us a year to do. It's 300 pages and it really brings you into the essence of Paris."

Alex talked to Business Insider about his creative process in building these high-end, commissioned libraries, and how much it would cost if you hired him. 

"We're selective in what we choose to incorporate in each curation and who we touch because we're really hands on. So, we cannot take every project," he told Business Insider. "Also, the minimum investment that we need to start a project is 25,000." 

Since he began working for his family's company full-time, Alex has helped design private and exclusive libraries in the Middle East and Mexico. In New York City alone, his recent work can be seen in Hudson Yards, the 432 Park Condominiums, and the Tribeca Towers in New York City. At the same time, he's helped produce the Assouline coffee table books on St. Tropez, Versailles, Ibiza, and Mykonos.

Born in Paris, he and his family moved to New York when he was 15 years old. He studied marketing, art history, and graphic design at Concordia University in Montreal, and attended Columbia Business School for an executive program in digital marketing. 

Alex seeks to make each one of his libraries "one of a kind" so that no two are ever the same

After a business or a private individual commissions an Assouline library, Alex said it takes him about two weeks to come up with a design plan. First, he said, he studies the surroundings of the building where the library will be housed. For businesses, it's studying the neighborhood; for individuals, it's studying the families. 

In both instances, the goal is to understand the people that will be interacting with the space the most. From there, he said he can figure out which books and objects will best capture the essence of who will be using it. 

"The idea and concept is to create the most beautiful and sophisticated space that will enable people to unplug and enjoy the moment," he said. "It's doing a deep dive to really understand what will inspire people, and it's understanding the tonalities that people would enjoy, along with themes and subject matters." 

He also spends time working with the initial interior designers that designed the establishments in which he is placing a library. This is to ensure that the Assouline libraries are harmonious with its interior surroundings and ambiance. 

"It's again, understanding the tonality," he said. 

An Assouline-designed library is most often filled with Assouline-published books 

Alex said he aims to fill at least 70% of Assouline commissioned libraries with Assouline-published books. The most recent releases from the Assouline publishing house include the 300-page "Paris Chic" book that pays homage to the City of Lights and took a year to produce, and "Vital Voices: 100 Women Using Their Power to Empower," which includes a forward by National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman. 

Alex said he also seeks to include a variety of book genres, and adds decorations to the library space, such as rare statues and sculptures — objects that help take guests on "visual journeys" and add "conceptual depth" to the library. 

"It's always interesting to have the eyes bounce back and forth," he said, adding that he loves to work with lots of wooden clamshells and mix in other various textures such as, perhaps, a velvet couch. 

His signature touch is adding a piece that is rare or first edition, that would only otherwise be found at an auction house or a flea market. The goal, for him, is to create personal libraries that are "one of a kind."

"It's also about the elements of engagement, and maintaining class and sophistication," he continued. "We'll pair that with a hint of playfulness, like a game, or an old wooden domino or something."

"A library tells a lot about you, and there's a lot of individuality in them"

Alex said his requests for physical libraries and hard-covered books have remained steady, even as the world continues to pivot to digital. His comments aren't surprising, however, as CNBC's Lucy Handley reported last year, physical books still very much outsell ebooks.

In 2018, print books in the US made up $22.6 billion in revenue, while e-books only made $2.04 billion, according to the Association of American Publishers' 2019 report. Even as digital continues to disrupt every other industry, from television to retail, Meryl Halls, managing director of the Booksellers' Association in the UK, told Handley that physical books still very much appeal to people. 

"Publishers are producing incredibly gorgeous books, so the cover designs are often gorgeous, they're beautiful objects," she told the outlet. "The book lover loves to have a record of what they've read, and it's about signaling to the rest of the world. It's about decorating your home, it's about collecting, I guess, because people are completists aren't they, they want to have that to indicate about themselves."

And this is especially true for coffee books, Alex said, before adding that books his family produces cannot necessarily be compared to novels that can be translated to a Kindle Reader. 

"In terms of coffee table books, it's the whole experience of seeing your thematic interest," he said. "We spend so much time finding the right images and finding the right resolutions to actually print them on paper, and provide experiences to appeal to your emotions and intellect through the text. So it's totally different."

Advice for those looking to create their own personal libraries at home

Alex has some advice that broadly applies about library creation.

His first piece of advice: be mindful of how you use your space. It's not really about the books that you buy, he said, but rather how you show off each respective title. 

"Take into account an excess of books and let each title breath. A large quantity of books may take away from how special each book is," he said. "It's a science of visuals." 

He also adds that it doesn't hurt to incorporate small objects that show off your personality, and there should be color, but perhaps not too much; everything should, he stressed, hold aesthetic value and be placed with intention. 

"A library tells a lot about you, and there's a lot of individuality in them," he said. "It's really something you make for yourself."

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