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The Best Bookstores in the World: Maison Assouline London

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What are the best bookstores in the world? London is blessed with several of the book shops that we have on our list. We recently visited Maison Assouline on Piccadilly in London. Dear reader, next time you’re in London, definitely visit this shop. It’s a stylish book lover’s dream. And it’s not only one of the best bookstores in London – it’s one of the best in the world.

The Best Bookstores in the World is an occasional series here at Dandelion Chandelier. Whenever we visit a new destination, we love to check out the interesting bookstores in town. When we really love them, we’ll share them with you.

On a recent visit to London, we decided to squeeze in a bookstore or two in our limited free time. We had a few in mind. Then our friends at The Beaumont Hotel in Mayfair suggested that we pay a visit to Maison Assouline in Piccadilly in addition to our other planned stops. We confess, we had never heard of it before. And probably would have walked right past it if we hadn’t been directed there. This is why it helps to have a great hotel concierge to send you in the right direction!

Maison Assouline London

Open since 2014, housed in a landmark building designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1922, Maison Assouline in London is a transporting place of beauty, glamour, and literature – and treasures to be discovered and loved.

The idea for this bookstore originated with founders Martine and Prosper Assouline. They created Maison Assouline “as a refuge for those seeking style, culture, and art de vivre.”  This wonderful space more than delivers.

the location

Maison Assouline London is on Piccadilly, just down a few steps from Fortnum & Mason, and across the street from the Royal Academy of Arts complex. It’s on the same block as another wonderful London bookstore, Hatchards. The building in between the two bookstores is currently under construction, so you could easily walk right past Maison Assouline (which we would have done if we hadn’t been on a mission to find it).

Need a visual cue? Just look for the sheep. The narrow entrance to Maison Assouline is guarded by two furry sheep who look a bit out of place amidst the bustling roar of Piccadilly. Nevertheless, they serve their appointed purpose, which is to mark the spot. And make you want to investigate what’s beyond the threshold.

Maison Assouline London
The Entrance to Maison Assouline London. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.

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the store

One you cross the threshold, you’ll feel as if you’ve entered another world. Or at least, another country. It feels incredibly French and chic, in the best possible way. Not bad for one of the best bookstores in London.

Maison Assouline London
Maison Assouline London. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.

Gorgeous stacks of books are everywhere. The toughest decision is where to begin your treasure hunt.

Maison Assouline London
Maison Assouline London. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.

The towering bookcases create a sense of grandeur and gravitas. But the brightly-colored volumes the line the shelves convey a different sense: of playful, discovery, and high adventure.

best bookstores in London
Maison Assouline London. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier
Bookshelves at Maison Assouline London. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.
maison assouline london
Maison Assouline London. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.

There’s a splendid small balcony at the far end of the shop. The view from up there is equally magnificent.

Maison Assouline London
Maison Assouline London. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.

There are flashes of wit and humor on subtle display throughout the store. Under the clock, for example, you’ll find the words “Tempus Fugit” engraved in the wood.

best bookstores in London
Maison Assouline London. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.

Our favorite grace note, though, is the excerpt from a poem carved into the molding that runs beneath the balcony. Poetry lovers will recognize the final lines of High Windows by Philip Larkin:

And immediately

Rather than words comes the thought of high windows:
The sun-comprehending glass,
And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows
Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.

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the books

Assouline publishes grand-scale coffee table and art books. They’re well-known for their beautiful volumes about the worlds of fashion, haute couture, home decor, and iconic travel destinations.

Maison Assouline London
Maison Assouline London. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.
Maison Assouline London
Maison Assouline London. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.

ephemera, gifts and home decor

In addition to massively-scaled books on refined and elite topics, Maison Assouline also has an extensive and whimsical collection of ephemera – a cabinet of curiosities – supplied by Objet de Curiosité. These are whimsical and delightful objects meant to find a home in contemporary residential libraries around the world.

Maison Assouline London. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.

There are lamps, desktop items, and a model Ferrari among the decorative curiosities. They tell stories of travel and adventure, grace and ease. 

Maison Assouline London. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.

There’s also a collaboration with Gucci as part of the “Gucci Places” line. So if you fall in love with the store (and you will), if you’re so inclined you can leave with a bag that is an extremely luxurious version of the canvas tote bags that can be found in bookstores the world over.

Maison Assouline London. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.

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the café and bar

Tucked away behind the bookcases is a wonderful spot for a meal, a snack or a drink. Swans Bar and café is a perfect place for a flâneur or flâneuse to stop in for an espresso. For friends to meet for lunch. Or for a drink after work.

Maison Assouline London. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.

Maison Assouline is even open for breakfast, which sounds like an excellent way to start a busy day in London.

For a limited time, you can also have a Barbie Tea in celebration of the publication of the Assouline book tracing the history of 60 years of Barbie. We have to say, we love the expression on Barbie’s face on the cover of this book. She doesn’t convey a dopey California beach girl vibe – she looks sophisticated and knowing – much more Parisian than we’ve ever seen her. That feels totally right for this space.

Maison Assouline London. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.

the staff and the service

You might think – and we did – that such an imposing store with such expensive merchandise and such a refined air would be staffed by associates who might not be particularly friendly to random customers.

Happily, the opposite was true. We asked one of the sales associates lots of questions about the store and she was engaged and genuinely helpful. We received lovely service from the staff at the cafe, even though all we ordered was a coffee. Everyone we encountered was warm and knowledgeable. Really first-rate.

the clientele

Of course, part of the experience of any retail store or restaurant is who else is there. In the case of Maison Assouline, the patrons of the store and the cafe are pretty much exactly what you would expect.

Maison Assouline London. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.

When we were there, they were slightly older and far more serious than the typical person on the sidewalks outside the store. Impeccably dressed, confident, well-mannered and urbane, these were fellow shoppers and diners you’d be happy to hang with. Which is one more reason this is one of the best bookstores in London.

Maison Assouline London. Photo Credit: Dandelion Chandelier.

the bottom line

You can purchase Assouline books in many places – they’re available at almost every well-stocked bookstore in a major city. And all of them are available online at the Assouline website. But there’s something magical about seeing these books in their flagship location. They’re larger, and definitely more desirable, when you can hold them in your hands.

Here is a place to linger in a world of good taste, intelligence and whimsy. It’s among our picks for the best bookstores in London. And in the world.

Whether you’re browsing or buying, stopping in for a full meal or just an afternoon espresso, this is a jewel-box. If you love books, and love London, we think you’ll love this, too. Well done, Assouline! We’ll definitely be back.

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For access to insider ideas and information on the world of luxury, sign up for our Dandelion Chandelier newsletter. And see luxury in a new light.

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see luxury in a new light

Join our community! For access to insider ideas and information on the world of luxury, sign up for our Dandelion Chandelier newsletter. 

WAIT! see luxury in a new light

Join our community! For access to insider ideas and information on the world of luxury, sign up for our Dandelion Chandelier newsletter. 

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