Coralie Bickford-Smith Shares the Inspiration Behind Her Book Covers

The Penguin Books cover designer shares the tools and inspirations behind her stunning designs.

Please judge these books by their covers. Design geeks and bookworms alike have fallen in love with Bickford-Smith's beautiful — and thoughtful — work. "The challenge is to entice a new audience to the literature and also to not alienate die-hard fans," she says. To re-create a collection of Penguin Classics — think Pride and Prejudice, Great Expectations — the London-based designer chose Victorian-style cloth bindings that feature stamped patterns pointed to each book's content (for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, flamingos). An F. Scott Fitzgerald series features metallic art deco designs. "I want these books to be cherished like the literature inside," says Bickford-Smith of her obsessive attention to detail. "If something is well considered, it will entice. People want to explore it, feel it. That design shines through and connects."

1. LETTERING BOOK

She discovered the 1882 Modern Alphabets book in a Southport, U.K., shop. "It has a card in it from a library on Fleet Street, and I imagine it traveled to Southport with a typographer who lived there at one point. And then it traveled back to London with me."

TOOLS OF MY TRADE: CORALIE BICKFORD-SMITH

2. SWATCHES

"We're quite limited with colors and materials," she says of the cloth and paper samples. "But those limitations actually push you to explore."

3. PING-PONG SET

In a nod to the Olympics, London set ping-pong tables in public spaces. "A coworker and I played as a break. He bought this for the office, but we're so busy, it's not even out of the packaging. But it reminds me of our fun." ($8, npw.co.uk)

4. ENVELOPES

Lettering artist Stephen Raw, who worked on a series of historical cookbooks called Great Food, perks up his contracts with these personalized envelopes. "I've never met him in person," she says, "but I save every envelope."

5. CLIPPER WHITE TEA

"My morning tipple to wake my brain. It's all about the antioxidants." ($4, clipper-teas.com)

6. VINTAGE EVA ZEISEL BOWL

For Great Food, which launches later this year, Bickford-Smith's covers feature ceramics that correspond to each book's time period. An image of this bowl was inspiration for the cover of Love in a Dish and Other Pieces, by M.F.K. Fisher, and Bickford-Smith later tracked down the real thing for her own collection. "It was lots of Internet searching. I think I paid more for postage than I did for the actual bowl."

7. FABER-CASTELL PENCILS

After using a random stack of pencils as the cover image of The Craftsman, by Richard Sennett, Bickford-Smith adopted them as work tools. "I use them to highlight my lists, so I don't forget what I'm doing. It's hardly artistic."($30 for 12, fabercastell.com)

TOOLS OF MY TRADE: CORALIE BICKFORD-SMITH

8. DALER-ROWNEY SKETCHBOOKS

Bickford-Smith prefers these durable books designed for artists as the catchalls for her inspiration. "I need them for my bus journey into work. That's when I get my ideas." ($15, daler-rowney.com)

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