Our home library

A little over six months ago, my family moved to a new-to-us house in an old part of town. If you haven’t heard the story about how we decided to slowly, carefully embark on a potentially long house hunt, and then bought the first house we looked at, read all about it right here.

When Will and I first looked at the house—twenty minutes after assuring our kids we were absolutely, positively not buying it—it seemed perfect for our family, except for one thing. Well, two, really. It felt like there were two extra rooms. We veer minimalist, and we hate to clean, and we didn’t want to be rattling around in a house too big for us.

The solution didn’t take shape immediately, but it did take shape, as we slowly realized one room would be a perfect office (I’m sitting there typing this right now) and the other could be a library. A smallish, beautiful, dedicated home library.

We bought the house.

Today I’m sharing a few details about that library, which now looks like this.

When we looked at the house for the first time, the now-library looked like an extra living room. It’s adjacent to the living room, just inside the front door, with plain white walls and three windows. This is the photo from the realtor’s listing:

When it came to building the library, we didn’t shop around. We bought our new-to-us 1912 home from a local remodeler, who’d bought the house a year before from his old family friends, who had lived there for generations. They sought him out because the house needed work, and they knew it, and thought he was the perfect person to take a beatdown old house off their hands. He spent a year fixing it up, and by the time we looked at it, it was gorgeous. Except for a porch swing, two light fixtures, and these bookshelves, we didn’t change a thing.

Before we closed, while the house was still under contract, we began talking through plans with the local remodeler. We trusted his taste, and liked that he knew this house inside-out.

We told him what we had in mind, and showed him this photo for inspiration. We explained that we loved the look of that library, and wanted similar tall white shelves, but also wanted details and accents that were true to our home’s style, not somebody else’s.

In early April, the shelves started going in. The process looked like this. (If you look closely, you can see a library ladder on its side on the bottom left.)

The shelves were custom-built. We have ten-foot ceilings; the shelf base is 5 1/2″, the ladder rail is 3 1/2″, the frieze above the top shelf is 5″, the crown is 5 1/4″. The shelves are 12 1/2′ wide and 11″ deep. The light fixtures are brass; the ladder was custom-built (by a chatty cabinet maker and avid mystery reader who loved to talk about his projects, whether of the literary or carpentry variety—I miss him now that the project is complete!) The shelves and walls are painted Benjamin Moore’s Simply White. (Actually, every room in the entire house is painted Benjamin Moore’s Simply White.)

More on those ladders, in case you don’t have a mystery-loving cabinet maker in your area: I’ve done some looking and readerly socializing over the years, and have found that many readers/library enthusiasts consider vintage ladders their first choice. (Check ebay, Craigslist, and your local thrift/antique shops.) Putnam Rolling Ladder has been in business since 1905 and has long been a trusted source. (I saw a few vintage Putnam ladders just now when I searched ebay!) Several readers I know picked up there ladders when a bookstore near them went out of business (our Borders here used to be full of library ladders). Wayfair also stocks several models.

Here’s a look at the other wall. We weren’t sure how to build around the window at first, but I was game for any solution involving a window seat.

We put a little concealed storage on this side, so we could stash our stuff out of sight. We have cabinets under the shelves, and the window seats open up for more storage. We tucked old beat-up books, board games, and extra blankets and pillows out of sight.

This is the view into the library from the living room:

Chairs: World Market
Rug: Unique Loom, Santa Fe collection
Table: IKEA
Book page wreaths: DIY instructions
Chandelier: to the trade; Louisville shop Stag and Doe found and sourced this for me.

Puppy not included.

The room feels cozy, but not cramped, and we all love spending time in here. The kids hang out to do their homework, play with friends, or just read. (A favorite kids’ game: seek and find, but with book titles. Can YOU find Hannah Coulter? This game makes my life.)

The room is done enough, but I’m not finished tinkering. I’d love to replace the blue chairs with something low and leather, but I’m tired, and feeling poor right now. I’m in the process of painting an old $10 yard sale chair a brassy brown, and maybe adding a jewel-toned cushion; that chair would go right in front of where Daisy is sitting, above. And I’m constantly shuffling the shelves.

When we started planning the bookshelves, we were worried we wouldn’t have enough books to fill them. (And I mean truly fill them, none of this decorator’s rule-of-thumb one-third art objects, one-third empty space, one-third books for us.)

We needn’t have worried.

I’ll devote another post to how the shelves are organized (and for how, I’ll hop on instagram stories later today to do a quick tour; follow me @annebogel).

Here’s the short version. The books above the rail are sets, of special significance, oversized, or especially beautiful. Below the rail, books are organized by type, genre, and loose alphabetical order. (For example, the A’s are with the A’s, but not in strict alphabetical order—”Austen” might come before “Atkinson.”)

The far left holds hardcover fiction, with jackets. The next two shelves hold hardcover fiction, no jackets. (This jackets/no jackets distinction wasn’t carefully considered: I pulled a ton of dustcovers off to stage our old house when we moved. I love the look, but have a hard time committing to it for my whole collection. #indecisive)

The fourth shelf from the right, with the large ampersand (because I know you want to know: HomeGoods) holds a bunch of copies of Reading People at the moment. Under that we have shelves for personality, writing, personal favorites, friends and family, and memoir.

The fifth and final section is devoted to paperbacks, mostly fiction, arranged alphabetically. (The hardcover/paperback division is purely for aesthetics.)

Running along the bottom of bookcase sections 1 through 4, from the left, we have nonfiction, in any format, arranged loosely by genre.

The other side of the room currently holds a motley assortment of reference, picture books, children’s series, theology, and an assortment of books I don’t love but am not quite ready to get rid of yet.

I have a terrible habit of not cleaning up after myself, so we did drop a basket in the library (you can see it in the corner, behind the blue chair) as a holding area for the spillover when the shelves are full-to-bursting, or the books I pulled for a photo but didn’t put away, and have the room still look relatively tidy.

We’ll continue to shuffle the books around. The writing shelf is new as of two weeks ago; last spring I had two shelves devoted to Summer Reading Guide contenders; I know I should move the I-should-probably-get-rid-of-these-books out of here, and I’ll find something else to take their place. I keep waffling over where to put YA and children’s books. My single friends and family shelf is overflowing, as is memoir.

It’s a work in progress, as it should be, because we actually use this library, every day.


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  1. Agnes says:

    Your library is lovely and so sunlit! I’ve always worried that UV exposure would cause my books to degrade quickly – have you noticed any degradation on yours? Also, is your library air-conditioned? (It isn’t very common to have air-conditioning outside of the bedroom where I’m from.)

    • Anne says:

      Yes to air conditioning. (We’re in the Upper South, it gets HOT.) All these photos were taken in the early morning hours; the library faces east and the morning light doesn’t last long.

      • Our house wasn’t a house before we bought it; it was a restaurant and before that it was the showers for the local football stadium. Just to say–weird layout. We have an open little room/space that we turned into a library. There’s a 12-foot-tall east window, and yes, after 15 years, the spines of the books have faded–even though the sun only hits the shelves from April to August. I moved the antique books to a safer spot; the others are precious to me but would continue to be so even with faded spines (one reason to keep the dust jackets).

  2. Christine says:

    What a beautiful room! It’s so nice to see it all together here finally! I kept wondering how different parts of it went together. I aspire to have a lovely library of my own someday… Thank you for sharing yours with us!

  3. Debbie says:

    Love your room! Bright and cheery, a welcoming place. For my library the space is too small. We put most of our bookcases in our family room. My parents and sister have large libraries also. We also have kindles.

  4. Michele says:

    This room is gorgeous! I love every aspect of it (including those chairs). The window seat, a big cup of tea, a blanket, and a great book — now that would be the recipe for a perfect morning.

  5. Susan V says:

    Love it! I actually had hubby come and look at it too. His comment, “Where are the recliners?” We love ourselves some Lazy-Boys!! Your kids are older, so a ladder isn’t problematic. I can just imagine the fun our grandkids (ages 1-9) would have with the ladder (covering my eyes), which might include ER visits! ;-O

  6. Renae Reis says:

    Everything about this is perfection…I can’t even tell you. And we have three tall bookshelves waiting for us to do something with them in a storage shed owned by my husband’s boss. This is exactly what I had in mind, and now I don’t have to explain it or draw a picture, I’ve simply sent him your link. Thank you! What an amazingly beautiful space.

  7. Vanessa says:

    It’s lovely Anne, and I guessed the inspiration came from Jenny before I even clicked over! I a home design nerd to be sure.

    • Barbara says:

      It is a beautiful library. I envy it. Love the window seat where you can look outside and dream as you are reading your books. Very nice job in organizing it as well. I know you will always be happy with this arrangement.

  8. Cori says:

    Beautiful room, Anne! How do you manage to limit the number of books you own, though? I’d really like to know. I hate to think of books as “clutter” but I have to confess, we must have about 10,000 books and I don’t know how to deal with the superfluity of these precious friends! They are all over the place!!! Please share some mental strategies you have for loving books while having a minimalist lifestyle. I wish I could depend on the library but they have regular, frequent book sales and bookshelves are slowly being overtaken by rows of computers so you can’t count on them holding onto your loved books. I read ebooks, too, but nothing feels as good as a REAL book, you know? 🙂 Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

    • Anne says:

      We live within walking distance of quite a few little free libraries, regularly drive by some more, and live near a library with a sale table that is stocked by donations. So I am constantly reminded of the many easy and useful opportunities to turn over my book collection.

  9. Elizabeth says:

    I love it! So happy for you! It looks like you get some lovely natural light, and I really like your light-fixture, but it looks like it just has one bulb. I think I might be getting old, but I need reading light! Is this an issue for you? Do you have not-so-beautiful snake lamps hiding somewhere? I was inspired by this post and I’m trying to think through some issues of a space at our house.

    • Anne says:

      And that one bulb is very dim! It’s strictly an ambiance light. 🙂 But the brass lights above all the shelves (on both sides of the room) are very bright (but are on dimmers so we can still keep the mood lighting if that’s what we want at any given time).

  10. Mandi says:

    It’s absolutely lovely. You did something beautiful with the space – I’m sure you and your family will enjoy it for years!!

  11. Susan says:

    Love it! It’s so stylish and looks as if a decorator had done it. Definitely pinning the shelves as I want a library but don’t have any walls at the moment to put bookshelves. You did a great job and I hope you show your readers after you finish fixing up the chair. And it’s great that it’s not a show room but a place where everyone in the family feels comfortable enough to come and sit and read or play.

  12. Torrie says:

    I’m dying over this! What a beautiful space! We just bought our first home, and one of the first things we decided was to turn our office space into both an office AND a library, so we’re also doing wall-to-wall bookshelves. I might just use yours as inspiration when we show our builder! Thank you so much for sharing.


  13. Sarah says:

    I, too, would like to know how you determine which books get to stay in your library and which have to go. I can never figure out what I should keep and what is a “love it and leave it” type book.

  14. Deb says:

    Your Instagram tour earlier today was so generous . . .what a treat to see your gorgeous library. A comforting space (made even cozier with a perfect Yellow Labrador:). Thank you for opening your world to all of us!

  15. Loretta says:

    Oh my god, you’re living my dream life!! I’d love to have a spare room just for all my books, but have settled for shoving them all (somehow ?) into one bookcase. And you even have a BELLE BOOK LADDER! You’ve done an amazing job, it’s gorgeous!

  16. I love the shelves…especially that window seat! I just moved into a new-to-me house as well and am working on filling my first ever set of built-in bookshelves. Since I’m a 100% e-reader, I actually had to buy books to fill my new shelves. A book blogger without any books…amazing.

  17. Lisa Zahn says:

    I adore those blue chairs! They look so perfect with the rug and everything else in there. I wouldn’t change a thing! It’s gorgeous. Now you’ve got me dreaming and pinning for *someday*. I’m wondering how many years my daughter has to be at college before I can turn her bedroom into a library!

  18. Janice Rine says:

    Love your library! If I had an extra room, that’s what I would want to do. Mine would be full of books & yarn. I think everyone should have a quiet place.

  19. Lauren says:

    Thank you for opening up your home to us all and sharing your lovely library. You have really done a beautiful job with it; it is so easy for libraries to look overly decorated and cluttered and messy. I like my home library because it is also less about the ornament and more about the books –although I do mix my paperbacks in with my hardbacks and I have several pieces of my daughters art mixed in the shelves from her days in ceramics. She was quite good and it gives a little breathing room between the books. Besides… it reminds me of her now she’s away at college. Your post was motivation for me to finally finish alphabetizing the whole thing and I’m so glad I did! That has been hanging over my head for too long ☺️

  20. Katie says:

    Ahh! I love this room! My favorite room in our house has beautiful built-ins, though not nearly enough to house my extensive collection. I’m trying to persuade my husband that we should shift the desk we NEVER use into a little seat. And I’m trying to persuade myself to tend minimalist but I’m just too much of a bowerbird by nature.

  21. Mary Ann says:

    You’ve hit the mark on all the great things a dream library should have. Plenty of natural light, check, gorgeous shelving, check, window seat and other cozy seats, check, place to set tea cup and for furry friends to lay, check check. Perfect! Thank you for the tour Anne.

  22. Pam says:

    I love your library. Beautiful built in shelves, and a great layout. Fantastic!
    I also have a large collection of books – three floor to ceiling book cases – built by my Dad – full of fiction, and two smaller bookcases full of hobby related books. I also have five or so large boxes of mostly fiction books in storage on my basement shelves. That’s after downsizing over the last couple of years. Charity book sales at my parents’ church, a give away shelf at my local public library, and local charity shops have all received boxes of book donations from me over the last few years! Minimalism is the eventual goal; a small permanent library of all-time favourites and then the best, most current hobby related books.
    Right now I have my fiction organized by author into groups, based loosely on popularity of the author or series. But that means that hard covers and paperbacks are intermixed, and the shelves look really sloppy to me. I’m thinking some reorganizing is in order, inspired by your lovely library!

  23. Ariel says:

    I LOVE your library! And I’m super jealous. Having a library in my house one day is definitely a dream of mine, and with a window seat in it? Ideal!

  24. Becca says:

    Love the room!! This is the definition of house goals and we cannot wait until we live in a house that has a room we can transform into a library. Question — do you keep any kind of log or catalog of what books you all have?

  25. ing says:

    Perfection! Thank you for all the pics and details! Im curious about cost/sq ft was for these lovely shelves. Also wanted to ask you what your ceiling height is?

  26. Heather says:

    I am in love with your library! We are currently getting a built-in library – do you mind sharing the height of the ladder you had made? We have 10 foot ceilings as well and I’m working with a ladder guy from EBAY and not sure what height would be right. Thanks!

  27. Jessica Kennedy says:

    Love your library!
    Can you please tell me what hardware you used for the track system and the ladder? I found some on Amazon but I wanted to see if you know what you used before I commit to buying.
    Please send me an email if you can!

  28. Debbie Ball says:

    I am so thankful you gave details on your library room. Each time your blog contains a small photo I get inspired and dream away fantasizing how to do something similar in my own home. It is a truly beautiful place! I am saving this w photos! Happy New Year of reading ! Also TILE devices 70$ for a pack of 4 have been such a time saver in our household for lost phones or keys !

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