Library Elements (Page 2)


Books and something to store them in are really the only necessary elements in any library, but the ideal private library has more than that. Some of the following items are based on utility, some purely on tradition. But many people will agree that a number of the following items call to mind a traditional "English country house" library, the kind where Professor Plum is bashed with a blunt object, the kind that many people picture as "A Real Library".

3. Lighting.

It is essential to have good lighting if reading will be done in the library itself (rather than the library simply serving as a storage room for books). Good lighting usually consists of a mix of types: General overhead lighting, table lamps and floor lamps, and sometimes lighting directed onto library bookcases is also appropriate. The photo above is of a very modern library with beautiful lighting, but the general rules apply for more traditional style rooms.

4. Seating.

At least one comfortable chair or sofa is nice to have in a library where reading will be done. In a small room, one is enough, although if there is space (and it doesn’t cut into bookshelf space), several comfortable chairs are nice. The sofa and chair upholstery is also a good way to add color and softness to a room that might be ruled by lines of bookshelves and other hard architectural details in monochrome.

5. Library Table.

These are good for doing research and other library work. They are traditionally rectangular in shape, although there is no reason why tables of other shapes would not work. Many library tables have one or more small drawers on one side for storing writing materials, etc.

6. Round pedestal table.

Many traditional libraries have a round, wood pedestal table prominently placed for displaying new books and interesting finds. If the table itself is particularly beautiful, there is no need for any kind of table covering, although it is common to find these covered with rich embroidered cloth. Often the table has a centerpiece of a large floral arrangement or a statue or bust, for added height and interest.

7. Fireplace.

Nothing says cozy reading like the crackling flames of a traditional fireplace with a beautiful wood mantel over it – the perfect place to display an ancestral portrait. However, technology has rendered the traditional open fireplace second best: a glass-fronted fireplace insert is far more efficient in that it doesn't suck the warmth out of the rest of your house when you open the damper. A freestanding wood-burning stove is even more efficient (and much less expensive to install) than a traditional fireplace, although it is more rustic and less wood-paneled-library-looking in character.

8. Window Seat.

What better place than a traditional window seat to curl up with a good book in the sunshine? Make sure the window seat is deep enough to recline on comfortably (at least 18 inches, and preferably closer to 24 inches wide), and not too high to sit on (I have read that the ideal height is 15-18 inches, with cushion).

9. Library Ladder or Steps.

A library ladder or library steps are often necessary to reach higher shelves, particularly when shelves reach to high ceilings – when bookshelves are greater than seven feet in height.

However, they look wholly pretentious when employed on shorter shelves in which the added reach is not actually needed, or on only a small expanse of bookcases, both conditions of which are illustrated above.

And a ladder should never be used with free-standing bookshelves (see ridiculous photo above), which are rarely more than six feet tall anyway, and are not engineered to support the additional weight of a ladder with a person standing on it. I know library ladders are cool, but only if you have an actual need for one (if you are very short, a small, sturdy footstool will suffice). The ladder itself does not make a few Ikea bookcases into a large library with ten-foot-high built-in bookshelves on every wall. It’s not the ladder that’s cool, it’s the need for one.

I think freestanding steps can be a handsome and historical alternative when constructed of beautiful wood (think "The Bookworm," see last photo here). It’s what I use in my own nine-foot-tall library (in fact, the photo above shows the very steps I purchased for my library).

Of course, you can get as ornate as you wish (and can afford) when buying library steps. These would certainly be a safe way to reach some very high bookshelves.