Remember that awestruck feeling of walking into the public library as a child? An organized sea of books and more books, chock-full of ideas and characters and stories? Then the thrill of bringing them home to dive into—that love of reading, of learning, of finding yourself inside the pages of a novel.
Entering that playground of favorite authors and story lines, classic and new, may be what some book lovers seek to rekindle in their own home libraries.
Some swear by rigorous filing systems akin to the Dewey Decimal System. Others are more lax when it comes to their book organization. But all share an utmost respect for their voluminous favorite tomes of yesteryear, as well as an appreciation for more contemporary paperbacks.
Despite today’s WiFi-enabled homes and connections to sleek, hold-everything e-readers, experts say there’s still nothing like curling up with a good book in a comfy well-lit reading nook.
“I think there’s something really relaxing about being surrounded by printed volumes,” says Shanon Munn, principal of Ambi Design Studio in McLean, who has fashioned a number of libraries, or combination spaces. “I don’t know if it’s just the physical books themselves or maybe it’s the mentality: You have to be quiet. You’re taught that very early on in your life.”Simply put, books equal comfort.
And it’s that space—that feeling—that’s exactly what homeowners want to create.
Ethan Landis, co-owner of Washington, D.C.-based Landis Architects/Builders, recalls a recent whole-house renovation of a historic home on Capitol Hill. The homeowners wanted a light-filled library, and that’s exactly what they got. Landis added a skylight that pours natural light into the room, which includes three walls of custom floor-to-ceiling built-ins of American cherry.
But besides books, what goes into a great home library? Experts agree: solid shelving, good lighting and a sweet spot to plop down with an open book.
Landis ticks off a few more specifics: It’s “the idea that the room is a happy place for you, a place you really want to be in, whether you’re selecting a book or browsing. Or whether you want to sit in it and really read.”
Among the libraries Landis has worked on, he says there’s one common theme, and that’s showing off one’s books in a space that is crafted, not just utilitarian. A home library should, he says, “look pretty and elegant and well-balanced, and also have some space for knickknacks, photographs and a little bit of art, and, of course, is well-lit.”
Recessed lights illuminate the Capitol Hill homeowners’ collection of books at night; other beloved objects are artistically placed among the books in the shelving throughout: a well-tended showcase of sculptures, paintings, bowls, vases—life’s building blocks.
Making the shelves even more individualized is a design technique Munn refers to as “Pottery Barn-ing.” And it’s something she’s done for many such spaces. Filling in the shelves with eye-catching works of art or heirloom family photos makes a library space feel even more thoughtfully curated.
Munn also offers a handful of tips for those looking to create libraries out of found spaces. If space affords, consider constructing a nook from a small, unused closet. Remove the doors and fill the niche with shelves of varying heights, accounting for oversize art books and the smallest paperbacks. Renovating? Consider the space between studs as a recessed alcove for books. And a favorite tip: don’t be afraid of going vertical. Think about the option of space above your head, says Munn. For a project in Silver Spring, the owner envisioned his home’s turret as his office. He had wanted to line those walls with books, but the octagonal shape proved too challenging. Instead, Munn turned the home office’s book-lined hallway into a library. High above on a catwalk shelf she stashed his collection of stained glass houses.
A happy marriage of books and collectibles. Playful, but not too serious. “No matter how old you are, you still have books,” she says. “It’s human nature to want to collect things,” says Munn. –Jennifer Shapira