Elements of an ideal traditional home library


For readers who are contemplating making their own home library, this is an incomplete list of elements that are nice to have in home libraries. However, certainly not all of them are necessary (or even desirable if overcrowdedness is to be avoided). These are all my personal opinions, and many will disagree with me about one item or another.

1. Books.

That a library should have books should go without saying, but many of the most beautifully-designed "library" rooms have very few books. Some interior designers appear to believe that wood paneling, a fireplace and one or two bookcases (often filled with "books by the yard" of unknown subject – and even random language, rendering the books unreadable by the inhabitants of the house) qualify a room to be called a "library," when it is in fact, merely a fancy den or family room with one or two bookcases in it.

I understand the love of being surrounded by books, and I certainly have not read every book in my own collection, but in my opinion the books should come first: a library should be constructed (or purchased with a house) because the owner has books that need a place to be stored.

But – live and let live – wealthy people have every right to spend their own money constructing comfortable, cozy rooms that they call "libraries," even if they haven't read a book since their student days and own only a few travel guides. Let's face it, we all feel smarter when we're surrounded by books (and in fact, studies have shown that households with more books produce more-educated children, regardless of income). And the world cannot help being better with more libraries in it. So by all means, bring on the trophy libraries.


2. Bookcases.

Whether your price range and life situation dictates that you have this:

Or these:

...once books enter the picture, bookcases become necessary – and of course, the more, the better. Built-in ones are best if the room is to be a permanent library, but renters and those who know they will move again before long are best served by off-the-shelf free-standing bookcases sold at mass-market discount stores.

Avoid the lowest-end bookcases made completely of particleboard: the shelves will sag almost immediately. Target sells a nice "Carson" line of bookcases that are quite sturdy and beautiful that I have had good luck with.

But if you will be staying in your current house for the long run, building in bookshelves that specifically fit your library room is not a bad idea. Built-ins, if well-constructed, add to the value of a house and are also sturdier and more long-lasting than bookcases.