In Praise of Books

The “Bookshelf Wealth” trend is about more than just the books. Decorative objects, travel mementos, and sculptures add to the mix, making a truly individual statement–a visual snapshot of the homeowner’s interests.

The “Bookshelf Wealth” trend is about more than just the books. Decorative objects, travel mementos, and sculptures add to the mix, making a truly individual statement–a visual snapshot of the homeowner’s interests.

Photo by Gross & Daley

Social media influences culture, with ‘trends’ popping up on platforms like Instagram (see us at @glenngisslerdesign) or TikTok vying for our attention.

There is one recent craze with a catchy, but sorta silly name that did garner my attention: “Bookshelf Wealth,” here summarized by The New York Times, “…there has lately been much ado about people who own a great number of books and — this is critical — have managed to stage them in a pleasing manner.” 

And it is not only the Times that has written about the trend: House Beautiful, Apartment Therapy, and Architectural Digest have all weighed in! 

I mostly welcome the focus on owning books because there has been a seismic shift in reading preferences in the digital age, with more and more people choosing online content over traditional books and other printed matter.

For this client in Litchfield County, Connecticut, we lined the entire library perimeter with floor-to-ceiling shelves to accommodate their vast collection of books. The royal purple is a playful choice counterbalanced by the buttery-yellow paint.

For this client in Litchfield County, Connecticut, we lined the entire library perimeter with floor-to-ceiling shelves to accommodate their vast collection of books. The royal purple is a playful choice counterbalanced by the buttery-yellow paint.

I grew up in a home with lots of books, accumulated by my father as a newspaper journalist with curiosity about history, great books, the youth culture of the 1960s and 70s, feminism, politics, urban planning, and much more. Despite feeling ‘oppressed’ by the abundance and pervasiveness of HIS books during my rebellious teenage years, I looked at more than a few of them, expanding my worldview knowledge of history and eventually developing my own passions, including books. 

My book collection really started in high school, gaining increased momentum during the seven years I was in college, collecting seminal and influential books on architectural and design history, as well as contemporary architecture and design. As a self-described ‘perpetual student,’ I have found endless inspiration from printed matter, and unlike some people who are content with borrowing books from a library, I like to keep my books around me!  



An armless sofa with silk velvet cushions in my Brooklyn Heights living room provides the perfect spot to consider the many volumes that stand at the ready on my bookshelves.

An armless sofa with silk velvet cushions in my Brooklyn Heights living room provides the perfect spot to consider the many volumes that stand at the ready on my bookshelves.

The library in my Greek Revival home in Litchfield County, Connecticut, is populated with a collection of vessels, decorative objects, and furnishings. I encourage guests to spend time here, considering one (or more!) of the books on a pair of shelves there.

The library in my Greek Revival home in Litchfield County, Connecticut, is populated with a collection of vessels, decorative objects, and furnishings. I encourage guests to spend time here, considering one (or more!) of the books on a pair of shelves there.

Many decades later, between my apartment in Brooklyn Heights, my weekend house in Litchfield County, and my design studio, my extensive collection includes countless (I don’t dare count!) design, architecture, cultural history, fashion, art, and photography books, modern literature, unique artist books, rare editions, and signed copies by Andy Warhol and Patti Smith.

Today, like nearly everyone, I spend too much time viewing digital technology, but I deeply appreciate printed matter and the tactile experience of reading on paper. Many of my design clients also share a love for books. People’s book collections are often a revealing and very personal history of their evolving interests and subjects they enjoy.

The physicality of books is an entirely different experience than viewing a screen; typeface and paper selection matter, well-conceived and edited printed images, double-page spreads, and detail images selected to inspire,  And so, in designing spaces, I almost always incorporate books, sometimes a LOT of books, and if space allows, I include objects or artwork and implement practical solutions like short horizontal shelves for oversized books. 



We imagined a creative way to utilize the alcove at the bottom of this sweeping staircase in a duplex near the United Nations.
Sherwin Williams’ Languid Blue 6226 bathes the ceiling of this Carnegie Hill entryway, inviting family and friends to relax in the way porch ceilings–painted in a similar shade–do in the American South. Follow this link to see the rest of this home.

In one New York City duplex apartment, we designed curved bookshelves below a sweeping stairway, emphasizing the integration of books into living spaces. Another home I designed has 1,000 art books, and another has a vast library covering a broad range of classic literature.



Custom built-in bookshelves wrap the perimeter of this apartment on lower 5th Avenue, which holds more than 1000 books revealing the history of art. As such, the dining table doubles as a home office and research space.

Custom built-in bookshelves wrap the perimeter of this apartment on lower 5th Avenue, which holds more than 1000 books revealing the history of art. As such, the dining table doubles as a home office and research space.

For clients with a collection of rare art books and first editions, we designed elegant cases with glass fronts to protect them from dust and excess humidity.

For clients with a collection of rare art books and first editions, we designed elegant cases with glass fronts to protect them from dust and excess humidity.

Looking into the future, it’s hard to predict how changes in publishing will impact printed matter. Some suggest books will go the way of the dinosaur; others think they’ll be more appreciated than ever. I am in the latter camp, so here’s to gathering “Bookshelf Wealth!”

Considering Ceilings

I used a wallpaper from Farrow & Ball for the ceiling of my library in Litchfield County, Connecticut. The metallic glint of the bumblebees adds movement while reflecting the generous ambient light - glorious in the day and at night! The classicist T.H Robsjohn-Gibbings is well-represented in this room with Klismos chairs, a vintage Robsjohn-Gibbings for Dunbar table with arches and a rare Robsjohn-Gibbings sofa draped in an antique Suzani textile lending gravitas to the space.
I used a wallpaper from Farrow & Ball for the ceiling of my library in Litchfield County, Connecticut. The metallic glint of the bumblebees adds movement while reflecting the generous ambient light – glorious in the day and at night! The classicist T.H Robsjohn-Gibbings is well-represented in this room with Klismos chairs, a vintage Robsjohn-Gibbings for Dunbar table with arches and a rare Robsjohn-Gibbings sofa draped in an antique Suzani textile lending gravitas to the space.  

Photo by Gross & Daley

“Ceilings must always be considered. They are the most neglected surface in a room”

– Albert Hadley

The ‘neglect’ of ceilings may have been the case in the zeitgeist of American interiors in the mid-to-late 20th century when Albert Hadley practiced the craft with his legendary counterpart Sister Parish. However, a longer review of decorative arts history tells a different story.

The fact is ceiling decoration has played a significant role in architecture and design history, evolving over centuries to reflect each era’s artistic, societal, and technological developments.
In ancient times, cultures used ceiling decoration to express their religious beliefs, social status, and artistic prowess. In Egypt, for example, temples and tombs featured intricate ceiling paintings depicting mythological and sacred ceremonies. The vibrant colors and symbolic imagery conveyed a sense of divinity and spirituality.

Similarly, in ancient Greece, temples showcased elaborate paintings and decorative elements on their ceilings, reflecting the Greek appreciation for beauty and balance.

The remarkable coffered ceiling that tops the Pantheon on the Piazza della Rotonda in Rome. Image courtesy of Unsplash.com
The remarkable coffered ceiling that tops the Pantheon on the Piazza della Rotonda in Rome. Image courtesy of Unsplash.com
The Romans–never to be outdone by the Greeks–took ceiling decoration to new heights (quite literally!) with the invention of the coffered ceiling. Coffers, or recessed panels, were often adorned with intricate patterns and designs. This architectural innovation not only added a sense of grandeur to spaces like the Roman basilicas but also served a practical purpose by reducing the weight of the ceiling. 

The Pantheon, a seminal example of Roman engineering and design, features a stunning coffered dome that inspires architects to this day. 

As the Middle Ages arrived, the focus shifted to the ever-more ornate decoration of church ceilings. Gothic architecture introduced the rib vault and pointed arch, allowing for taller and more elaborate ceilings. 

Notre Dame in Paris showcased magnificent ribbed vaults and intricate stained glass, creating a celestial atmosphere that aimed to inspire awe and reverence. The ceiling became a canvas for religious storytelling in these medieval structures, with painted murals and detailed sculptures narrating biblical tales.



Italian and Flemish artists painted the Hall of Maps in the Vatican Museum in Rome under the direction of Ignazio Danti, mathematician, astronomer, and cosmographer. Image courtesy of VaticanMuseumRome.com
Italian and Flemish artists painted the Hall of Maps in the Vatican Museum in Rome under the direction of Ignazio Danti, mathematician, astronomer, and cosmographer. Image courtesy of Vatican Museum
Trompe-l’oeil techniques, where paintings create the illusion of three-dimensional space, also became popular during this period, adding depth and dimension to ceiling designs. One astonishing example is the curved ceiling in the Hall Of Maps in the Vatican Museum (a must-see in Rome!)

By the time the Renaissance arrived, a revival of classical ideas led to a renewed interest in symmetry and proportion. Artists and architects like Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci explored new techniques for ceiling decoration. The Sistine Chapel ceiling, painted by Michelangelo, is an awe-inspiring masterpiece that transcends time. 

Ceiling decoration during the Baroque and Rococo periods became even more extravagant. Over-the-top stucco, gilded moldings, and awe-inspiring frescoes adorned the ceilings of palaces and grand estates across Europe. The Palace of Versailles in France is the most famous, with its Hall of Mirrors featuring a ceiling adorned with gilded stucco and paintings that reflect the flashy style of the brazenly ostentatious Louis XIV.

A return to simplified, classical motifs arrives on the scene in the Neoclassical era. The emphasis on clean lines and restraint marked a departure from the excesses of the Baroque and Rococo styles. 

The 19th and early 20th centuries saw a range of successive styles, from the revival of Gothic architecture to the emergence of Art Nouveau and Art Deco. It’s also interesting to note that the Industrial Revolution brought about new materials and technologies, allowing for innovative approaches to ceiling design. Metal ceilings became popular as they provided a cost-effective alternative to traditional plaster. Tin ceiling tiles with intricate patterns became a staple in Victorian buildings. 

In the mid-20th century, the design shifted towards simplicity and functionality. Minimalism became dominant, with clean lines and unadorned ceilings gaining favor. 

These days, the approach to ceiling decoration is wildly diverse, reflecting a blend of influences and contemporary aesthetics born of design’s advancing democratization since the advent of the internet. It’s no wonder–designers have access to an unprecedented amount of reference material to spur their imaginations.

Showcasing that range, a recent story in 1st Dibs online magazine INTROSPECTIVE highlights various current approaches to ceiling designs, including a room by Glenn Gissler Design. 

Here are a few more examples of rooms where we took a creative approach to decorating ceilings.



For the ceiling of this waterside dining room in Nyack, New York, we chose Benjamin Moore’s “Bridal Bouquet 632” in a matte finish in contrast to the sheen of the mantel and moldings. Linen curtains in the same blue-green soften the interior architecture while framing the spectacular view. Follow this link to see the rest of the home.
For the ceiling of this waterside dining room in Nyack, New York, we chose Benjamin Moore’s “Bridal Bouquet 632” in a matte finish in contrast to the sheen of the mantel and moldings. Linen curtains in the same blue-green soften the interior architecture while framing the spectacular view. Follow this link to see the rest of the home.
Sherwin Williams’ Languid Blue 6226 bathes the ceiling of this Carnegie Hill entryway, inviting family and friends to relax in the way porch ceilings–painted in a similar shade–do in the American South. Follow this link to see the rest of this home.
Sherwin Williams’ Languid Blue 6226 bathes the ceiling of this Carnegie Hill entryway, inviting family and friends to relax in the way porch ceilings–painted in a similar shade–do in the American South. Follow this link to see the rest of this home.
In this West Village townhouse, a rock crystal Morrocan star chandelier hangs below a ceiling sheathed in Porter Teleo’s hand-painted “Refracted” wallpaper. Together, they create a sophisticated visual dialogue of angular shapes.
In this West Village townhouse, a rock crystal Morrocan star chandelier hangs below a ceiling sheathed in Porter Teleo’s hand-painted “Refracted” wallpaper. Together, they create a sophisticated visual dialogue of angular shapes.
Here is a corner view of my library in Litchfield County, Connecticut. The house is an early 19th-century Greek Revival structure with many original details intact. The burled-wood Beidermier cabinet serves as a bar; I invite guests to help themselves when cocktail hour arrives!
Here is a corner view of my library in Litchfield County, Connecticut. The house is an early 19th-century Greek Revival structure with many original details intact. The burled-wood Beidermier cabinet serves as a bar; I invite guests to help themselves when cocktail hour arrives!
A massive scale and of the striking English Arts & Crafts Armoire boldly holds one side of the room with its evocative form, and earthier finish a counterpoint to many of the more glossy, refined elements in the room.
A massive scale and of the striking English Arts & Crafts Armoire boldly holds one side of the room with its evocative form, and earthier finish a counterpoint to many of the more glossy, refined elements in the room.
The walls and inset panels of the arched and coffered ceiling in this dining room were painted in Farrow & Ball's Loggia No. 232, setting the tone for lively conversation. In contrast to the rich russet-red, a series of framed botanicals reference the gardens on the property beyond the glass.

The walls and inset panels of the arched and coffered ceiling in this dining room were painted in Farrow & Ball’s Loggia No. 232, setting the tone for lively conversation. In contrast to the rich russet-red, a series of framed botanicals reference the gardens on the property beyond the glass.     

It is interesting to think about how the evolution of ceiling decoration from ancient times to today mirrors the broader history of art, architecture, and design. Each era left its mark on how we approach the sometimes-overlooked “fifth wall” of a space. Synthesizing those historical references into fresh ideas for ceilings is just one of the many joys of my work as an interior designer.

LENS versus LOOK

Shades of muted aquamarine, cinnabar, and sandstone serve to punctuate this gracious living room, with seating for six--or more--when the homeowners entertain family and friends. At the far end of the space the window wall is framed with lush curtains, tailored from Cowtan & Tout's 'BROMLEY' printed linen.

Shades of muted aquamarine, cinnabar, and sandstone serve to punctuate this gracious living room, with seating for six–or more–when the homeowners entertain family and friends. At the far end of the space the window wall is framed with lush curtains, tailored from Cowtan & Tout’s ‘BROMLEY’ printed linen. 

Many successful interior designers have a LOOK; they create instantly recognizable rooms, either through the employment of specific color schemes, blue and white spaces, for example, distinct styles, like traditional or modern, or signature elements that they favor, like particular light fixtures, finishes, or furniture silhouettes.

We take a different approach.

 Instead of having a LOOK, Glenn Gissler Design utilizes an aesthetic LENS through which we make choices, edit materials, and accessorize spaces. This LENS is informed by decades of crafting singular rooms–rooms specific to the homeowner we are working with. We take this approach because we believe the most successful interiors are those our clients have inspired us to create.

 Other factors, like the project’s location in the city, country, or beach, guide our decisions. The exterior architecture gives us clues, too; we consider the structural vocabulary of a home so that the exterior envelope and interior decorations are harmonious.

 Another guiding principle at GGD is that we NEVER SAY NEVER in the project’s planning stages. This way of thinking leads to distinctive and personal rooms. When everything is on the proverbial table, the creative process is only limited by the breadth of our (and our client’s) imagination. 

 Let me give you an example.

A vibrant canvas by the late American abstract impressionist painter John Opper (1908-1994) takes pride of place in the apartment’s gracious living room. Two deep-seated sofas are upholstered in lush blue velvet, with a pair of club chairs covered in a Zak & Fox textile and two Regency-style benches covered in paprika-hued velvet. The curtains were tailored from a Cowtan & Tout floral fabric.

A vibrant canvas by the late American abstract impressionist painter John Opper takes pride of place in the apartment’s gracious living room. Two deep-seated sofas are upholstered in lush blue velvet, with a pair of club chairs covered in a Zak & Fox textile and two Regency-style benches covered in paprika-hued velvet. The curtains were tailored from a Cowtan & Tout floral fabric.

In this recently completed apartment in the Carnegie Hill neighborhood of Manhattan, our clients asked us to create a home cohesively inflected with traditional references–including floral patterned textiles, which, while not a house code for our firm, became part of the scheme.

Having gathered floral fabric samples from various showrooms, we set off to present them to our clients. And as it turned out, they favored many from the heritage brand Cowtan & Tout. Something was alluring about the quality, texture, and sensibility of the firms’ selections. Below are some of their fabrics and how they were used in this apartment, including stripes and solids we sourced through Cowtan & Tout as well.

SEE THE ENTIRE PROJECT HERE

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One last thought: In a world of impersonal and ever-more-automated interactions, we wanted to tip our hats to our sales representative from Cowtan & Tout, the delightful, energetic, fun, and responsive Anne Hanavan. She’s always available to help us source a textile–and her professionalism is first-rate! Here’s to you, Anne!

Throw pillows on the living room sofas were made from Cowtan & Tout’s JAGO in the colorway BURNT ORANGE.Throw pillows on the living room sofas were made from Cowtan & Tout’s JAGO in the colorway BURNT ORANGE.

Throw pillows on the living room sofas were made from Cowtan & Tout’s JAGO in the colorway BURNT ORANGE.

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The living room curtains were tailored in Cowtan & Tout’s BROMLEY, in the colorway SAND/RED.

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Dining Room has existing Cowtan & Tout upholstered walls in a discontinued Cabbage Rose.

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The Roman shade is tailored in Cowtan & Tout’s GISELLE STRIPE in the colorway PATINA in the home office. That pattern was also used as trim for the leading edge of the portiere curtain.

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Additionally, the window seat cushion and desk chair were covered in Cowtan & Tout’s ASTA in the colorway OCEAN. That fabric was also used for the headboard in the blue bedroom.

“We want to give clients a new home with carefully edited pieces that reflect their lives in a way that brings joy.”

– Glenn Gissler

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A sage-toned Bridgewater-armed club chair provides the perfect spot for afternoon reading or a cup of tea before bed. When paired with the curtains–tailored from Colefax and Fowler’s GREENACRE print–the tableau mirrors verdant Central Park just outside the window.

Quality, Visual Interest, and Editing

In the apartment’s entryway, an arresting painted-wood Lanna Thai Buddhist manuscript holder, which once held contemplative texts, now provides a surface to display an ever-changing montage of books, flowers, and object d’art. The ink-on-newspaper drawing above is by the Vietnamese artist Dinh Y Nhi.

In the entryway to a collector’s apartment we designed, an arresting painted-wood Lanna Thai Buddhist manuscript holder, which once held contemplative texts, was part of the homeowner’s collection. It now provides a surface to display an ever-changing montage of books, flowers, and object d’art. The ink-on-newspaper drawing above is by the Vietnamese artist Dinh Y Nhi.

Photos by Gross & Daley

When potential clients approach us, they have ideas about how they want to live in their new (or newly renovated) home. In a series of phone calls and meetings, we work to understand that vision, paying close attention to detail. 

Next, we work to discover deeper information such as specific color preferences, how they imagine entertaining guests–and how often, and their relationship with the art they already own.

This interview process is vital for understanding a client’s needs and aspirations long before we consider any structural changes to their space, furniture plans, textiles, or lighting. 

Occasionally we are approached by clients who have collected furnishings, object d’art, and decorative artifacts from traveling, as was the case with our Bachelor’s Apartment. The homeowner has spent decades traversing the globe–zealously discovering and collecting from newly explored cultures. He asked that we incorporate some of his collection into our new design.

“We want to give clients a new home with carefully edited pieces that reflect their lives in a way that brings joy.”

– Glenn Gissler

For some decorators, this creates a challenge because they strive to control the entire creative process; wherever possible, we take a more relaxed approach.

But we have been hired to give them a “new” home, not just a rearrangement of their existing furnishings, which means change. So we study existing pieces, focusing on their quality and visual interest to see where they can enhance a new scheme. We want to give clients a new home with carefully edited pieces that reflect their lives in a way that brings joy.

A Chinese scroll painted by Shanghai-born, Singapore-based artist Hong Zhu takes pride of place above an expansive four-seat sofa in the style of Jean Michel Frank, which is upholstered in lush velvet.  Framed and hung in landscape format, the work creates a horizon, establishing a dialogue with the striped club chair seen to the left. The small Isamu Noguchi lamp enhances the linear motif. The Choros Chandelier, designed by Barry Goralnick, strikes a serpentine counterpoint.

A Chinese scroll painted by Shanghai-born, Singapore-based artist Hong Zhu takes pride of place above an expansive four-seat sofa in the style of Jean Michel Frank, which is upholstered in lush velvet.  Framed and hung in landscape format, the work creates a horizon, establishing a dialogue with the striped club chair seen to the left. The small Isamu Noguchi lamp enhances the linear motif. The Choros Chandelier, designed by Barry Goralnick, strikes a serpentine counterpoint.

Another critical consideration is the sentimentality connected to belongings. We try to be particularly sensitive to deeply personal pieces–like an object handed down through generations. 

In Carl Dellatore’s book, Interior Design Master Class, I wrote about my views on design alchemy, “Alchemists have existed in every major civilization—along with great artists and artisans— all engaged in an attempt to transform base metals into gold. Similarly, a good designer possesses a knowledge of elements that, when amalgamated, create magic in an interior.”

So when a client brings objects to the table, we study them to see where we can create an alchemical spark by mixing them with newly acquired pieces–establishing a moment of excitement larger than the sum of a room’s parts.

A pair of Korean blanket chests, one taller than the other, serve as bedside tables in the master bedroom. The walls are sheathed in muted sapphire and are complemented by the terracotta-toned pic-stitched bed cover. A seagrass area rug and a canvas by Southeast Asian artist Eric Chan anchor the room.

A pair of Korean blanket chests, one taller than the other, serve as bedside tables in the primary bedroom. The walls are sheathed in muted sapphire and are complemented by the terracotta-toned pic-stitched bed cover. A seagrass area rug and a canvas by Southeast Asian artist Eric Chan anchor the room.

 

One final advantage to incorporating vintage and antique furnishings in a new design is that they lend a historical narrative. That has immense value because successful rooms appear collected over a lifetime of experience and adventure versus spaces that feel “placed” there on the installation day. 

The intricately painted surface of a table purchased on vacation to Thailand, several toss pillows fashioned from a centuries-old Persian Suzani, or a pair of Chinese urns repurposed as lamps: these historical notes that you won’t find in a space principally populated with newly manufactured pieces.



Ten Steps to Creating your Own Personal Space

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I recently had the pleasure of joining my friend and client Steven Shalowitz as a guest on his popular podcast, The One Way Ticket Show.
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If you haven’t tuned in, Steven’s show has an interesting premise: He engages an extremely broad range of guests from journalist Charles Osgood, to politico Anthony Scaramucci, to fashion icon Tim Gunn, to entrepreneur India Hicks, religious leaders, writers, educators, and many others, typically ending the conversation with the question about where they would go with a one-way ticket to, any place in space or time. Destinations may be in the past, present, future, real, or imagined with no chance of coming back.
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To mark the 10th anniversary of “The One Way Ticket Show” podcast, Steven is doing an entire themed series with the premise of a “One Way Ticket to Optimal Mental, Physical and Spiritual Well-Being.”
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Having been through the process of creating Steven’s home in New York City, I was happy to discuss and share my thoughts on creating your own personal space. You can follow this link to tune into our conversation.
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And while we are on the subject of personal spaces–here’s the dining room in my historic Brooklyn Heights duplex. I invite you to join me on a virtual tour of the rest of my home by clicking on the image, or by following this link.
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Melvin Dwork – An Honorable Man

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I don’t recall when I first saw the interior design work of Melvin Dwork, it might have been in the 1970’s in Architectural Digest; his work had a big impact on me. I remember it to be current with both minimalist and ‘high-tech’ sensibilities, but it also included select antiques (and even some color) to create spare yet rich environments that were ‘his alone‘. Time and time again I would be drawn to his work…

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