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:
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.