In East Hampton, the work of bookbinder Paul Vogel speaks volumes
Paul Vogel likes to take his time on a project. Journals, photo albums, and rare book restorations are all specialties the bespoke bookbinder offers, but his favorite of all is creating a book from scratch with just some paper, needle and thread.
Paul Vogel likes to take his time on a project. Journals, photo albums, and rare book restoration are all specialties the bespoke bookbinder offers, but his first love—creating a book from scratch with just some paper and a needle and thread—can require up to two months of work. “If I really push myself, I can make a book in just a few days,” he says. “But that’s too much pressure.”
Twenty years ago, after living and working in Manhattan, Vogel brought his bookbindery to his home in East Hampton. “Having my business in the Hamptons has created a more flexible schedule and a family-like atmosphere,” he says. “Clients drop by at a moment’s notice, often after a sail or a day at the beach, to check up on their projects. I work seven days a week because I want to, and I open and close whenever I want. I like to sail myself, and if I’m not in the shop I’m most likely on the water.”
With customers ranging from Ralph Lauren to Oprah Winfrey to decorator Charlotte Moss, he also has a flourishing partnership with the book publisher Assouline, selling his wares from a small corner of the company’s Plaza Hotel outpost in Manhattan. But it’s his Hamptons headquarters—stocked with colorful rolls of buttery leather, old-fashioned presses, samples of gold leaf, hand-cut papers, and metal stamps—where all the work takes place. There are about 50 steps in making a book, he says, but he’s been doing it for so long that it’s practically second nature: “My process is embedded in my head. I can almost do this with my eyes closed.”
Vogel starts by working with his clients to choose leather, paper, binding, tooling, and leafing. Then he cuts and folds hundreds of pieces of paper (also known as the text block) and sews them to what he calls the headband, or the spine of the book, which is the most tedious step because each page is created by hand. Cutting and stretching the leather (or sometimes silk, depending on the client) comes next. “You really have to force the completed book to take shape,” he says, “and I usually do that with a backing press, a few small hammers, and a lot of muscle.” Vogel’s latest project: binding Lauren Santo Domingo’s private collection of Vogue issues from the last 13 years into a set of 48 red leather volumes. “We kept the volumes to three or four issues apiece,” he says. “Otherwise, they’d be too heavy for such a small woman to lift!”