My Libraries


I have been interested in libraries for as long as I can remember. My parents both worked for a state university and our house was always filled with books during my childhood (and my parents’ house still is).

A modern picture of the old, glass-front bookcases in my parents' basement, following a remodel when I was about ten years old.

One of my earlier memories is waiting for the bookmobile to arrive in a grocery store parking lot near our house. I can still remember climbing aboard the bus and selecting children’s books from the lower shelves. It was so exciting to be able to check out any book I wanted and take it home, with my own library card!

This bookmobile interior looks somewhat like the one that I visited. (massmemories.net)

As I grew older, my parents took me to the library itself, and I owned several shelves of books. And through too many years of college, no matter where I lived, a bookcase was always something that was absolutely necessary.

When I studied abroad in Beijing, China, there was an enterprising woman who spread out a blanket on the sidewalk near Peking University on which she sold used English-language paperback books for less than a dollar apiece. This woman became my lifeline, and I might have been her best customer during the months I lived there. When I left, I donated my sizeable collection to the dormitory in which I lived.

When my husband and I bought our first house in 1998, the first improvement we made was to build some bookshelves in the upstairs room along one wall, so I could finally have the permanent library/office that I had long been dreaming about.

 

Between the two of us, we didn’t have enough books to fill a quarter of the shelf space we built, but within two years the shelves would be full.

(You can see on the far right of the photo that the shelves are indeed full after just two years. Undoubtedly we would have had to build more shelves on the other side, had we stayed longer in that house.)

It was at this point that I began collecting photos of beautiful home libraries. It began with spotting an article about a very impressive library in the July 1999 issue of This Old House Magazine -- I wasn’t aware that people could have libraries like that in their homes. I eventually created a notebook of such photos, later leading to this site as I planned my own (more modest but still sizable) library. I believe that everyone who loves beautiful home libraries has one library, pictured in their mind from a visit or photograph, that made them realize how grand these rooms can be. This was mine:

The library photo that made me realize how great home libraries can be. More about this room here.

After two years, we moved to a nearby town and bought the small house we would live in while we both grew our businesses and had our children. We made one of the bedrooms into a library with red walls, wood bookcases and desk, and “the red bed,” a single bed against the wall covered with a fuzzy red blanket and numerous pillows to make a daybed for lounging and reading. It was a comfortable, personal space that was my favorite room in the house.

My red library in our small house (when I was expecting my son). Blurry, but the only photo I could find.

My husband (his shirtless details have been blanked out to protect the innocent) on "the red bed" in our library.

We lived in that house for seven years, but we saved and worked for a time when we would be successful enough to finally buy a larger house in the country (my farm-boy husband longed to be back on the land, even if only a few acres was all we could afford). We didn’t know if we would be able to find the right sort of house and might have to build, and I spent my free time using architectural software to design houses with large libraries in them (which was pretty fun).

In 2007, we found a nice older, 1920s house on a bit of land and moved in. I was glad to have the charm and quality of an older house, but I was a bit disappointed that I would not be able to build the library of my dreams: a whole room of floor-to-ceiling built-in bookshelves, maybe even two stories. But I made my peace with the decision and bought bookcases.

Within a few years, free-standing bookcases began taking over the living areas of the house, covering every wall. I began to try to think of ways to find more storage space. Could I somehow use the spaces above the bookcases to store more books? The bookcases were only six feet tall in rooms with nine foot ceilings – what a waste of three feet of space that could be holding books! What to do?

My study in our farm house. Bookcases taking over...

And over....

And over.

Finally, one evening I was talking with my husband while I was looking through an issue of Architectural Digest (a very dangerous magazine to read: it gives you ideas!). I had been reading the magazine for years, buying back issues at thrift stores and tearing out photos of the impressive libraries to add to my dream library binder.

I sighed and said to him, “It’s really too bad that we’ll never have a beautiful library like these.” His response was “Why not? Why can’t we build an addition onto our house?”

I stared at him and tried to think of all the reasons: it would ruin our old house, it would cost too much, it was simply crazy! But then I began designing a library on computer and looked at my binder and online for photos to get ideas. And I started talking with builders, getting estimates. Many of them were completely unaffordable, but one guy from a small town near here was much more reasonable (it turns out he lost a zero calculating one part of the estimate, but he felt so bad about it that he let me save some money by contracting myself the heating and electrical subcontractors, so it was still much less than any of the other contractors).

Anyway, we finally decided to just go ahead.

Building our library>>