Like any other beloved collection, a collection of books should be displayed and admired, and room design should celebrate it.
- Story by Scott Naugle
Two years ago, in walking through a freshly restored 19th-century home in Pass Christian, my guiding thought as we considered buying it was, “Will there be enough room for all of our books?” There was already a first-floor library, but I knew that would not be nearly enough shelf space. Further down on the list of purchase priorities for me was the presence of indoor plumbing.
In her introduction Freudenberger summarizes, “I came to the conclusion that if you start with your passions, beauty will follow. And in this case, the beauty comes from the owners’ love of books. As we found repeatedly, surrounding yourself with books you love tells the story of your life, your interests, your passions, your values.”
Chef and cookbook author Caroline Randall Williams is an example of the overlapping passions of food and books: “We always say in my family that we’ve known from the beginning that food and words go together.” Williams co-authored Soul Food Love with her mother, Alice Randall, in 2015.
The books are neat and straight on Williams’ white shelves. Several of the volumes were owned by her grandmother, the daughter of a Harlem Renaissance poet and librarian. A few of the books contain her grandmother’s marginalia.
What Freudenberger conveys in the profiles of each book lover is how each built rich and full lives around reading and books. In many cases entire rooms, floors, or homes were designed or remodeled to shelve and display books.
Before moving into our home in Pass Christian, the master bedrooms on the first and second floors were upgraded with built-in, period-appropriate, floor-to-ceiling shelving by the restoration contractor. Comfortable seating was arranged in each room of the house with an eye to the best light for reading.
Mark Lee, chair of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, understands. “I read everywhere,” he says. “I have a great reading chair and I read in bed.
Lee’s voluminous library of “architecture and design, art, fashion and literature” is exquisitely arranged. It is a bibliophile’s dream, with “clean lines, [and] it’s colorful, layered, and comfortable, with earthy textiles, art, and whimsical lamps that add warmth and personality.”
Not all personal libraries are as formally planned. Michael Silverblatt in Los Angeles admits to thousands of books in his home library. “I couldn’t even begin to guess; it’s in the tens of thousands. Those of us who are readers, I find, are rarely counters.” His collection is a tad messy, with books on top of books in rows of unstained wooden shelves stretching to the ceiling.
I am often asked how many books I own. My response is “not enough.” My next project as my books expand is to line with shelves the west wall of the second-floor sunroom overlooking the Gulf. This southeastern corner room is lovingly embraced by the long, gnarly and twisted limbs of a centuries-old live oak. The books will laze in the shade of the ages.
Silverblatt’s books are his life. “The books I read are like real experiences, and as such they imprint like any life experience of great intensity.”
Books as aesthetic objects bring great color, form and beauty to many of the profiled homes. James Fenton and Daryl Pinckney are in the process of restoring an 1890s Harlem townhouse that was originally built as a family home for the co-founder of Arm & Hammer. Original woodwork, flooring and fireplaces have been uncovered and polished. Many of the walls are now lined with recently and sensitively added shelving and books.
In a double-page spread on the Fenton/Pinckney home, a photo captioned “Organized chaos in the study” showcases three walls of books around a fluffy soft sofa strewn with generous pillows for lounging and reading. The idealized purity of the centered white couch suggests peace and contemplation within a colorful cacophony of floor-to-ceiling books, each tome bursting with competing ideas, flawed characters and rich descriptive prose. Time will stop in this room, surrendering to the pace and cadence of prose.
Bibliostyle: How We Live at Home with Books is on the top shelf in my home library.
Bibliostyle: How We Live at Home with Books
By Nina Freudenberger / Photography by Shade Degges
Clarkson Potter Publishers
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