With the popularity of e-readers, it might seem curious that more and more homeowners are showing an interest in creating their own home libraries. Where is this interest coming from? While many passionate readers believe that nothing will ever truly replace the experience of a real page-turner, a home library offers more than just a place to store your hardcovers and paperbacks: it offers us a place to experience peace in our busy lives. Most of all, a personal library serves as a visual display of afternoons you’ve spent reading, knowledge you’ve obtained, and the development of your interests.
Right about now, you might be thinking, “What a nice idea, but I don’t have any room for a home library!” Well think again. Whether you are creating a wall of bookcases, carving out a corner, or dedicating an entire room to your library, there is a place for a library in every home, no matter the size.
What you intend to gain from your home library will inform all of your decisions, from where you choose to house the collection right down to your seating. Ideally, the area should invite you to escape from the chaos of day and retreat into your own thoughts (or the author’s thoughts, as the case may be). If possible, choose a space or room that isn’t already the center of action in your home, like a formal living room that doesn’t see very much in the way of day-to-day living, a guest room, or even a large landing at the top of the stairs. You might want to section off part of a room and dedicate that space to the library, or redesign your home office to double as your book room. Consider any nook that welcomes space for your collection: under the stairs, beside the fireplace, the end of a hallway, large blank walls.
Elements of an Inviting Library
After you determine a location, you’ll need some kind of shelving system for all of your books. Before you rush to hire a contractor to build a custom, floor-to-ceiling shelving unit for you, assess your book collection. Good organization always begins with assembling all of your items, recognizing their purpose, and determining if their purpose still aligns with yours. How does this apply to books? Well, if you still own your college algebra book “just because,” or if you were required to read The Grapes of Wrath a few times but never liked Steinbeck, donate or sell those items. A few guidelines to help you decide what to keep: titles that hold meaning for you, books that you hope to read on a rainy Saturday afternoon, those that bring you great joy just by catching sight them, and those that you regularly reference.
After you sort through the stacks, you’ll be able to make the best choice for your shelving system. You might need to use the full height of the wall, or you could use floating shelves in a corner nook to utilize the full height of the space to create a library; it can climb all the way up to the ceiling if you wish. By the same token, if you are interested in space-saving solutions, you can purchase a circular bookcase that revolves, or add shelving or built-ins at the dead-end of a hallway or along the path of a wide hallway. In general, tall narrow bookcases are great for holding large collections without commanding a large amount of floor space. Whatever you choose to do, make sure your system is securely positioned. (If you are interested in putting together a library for your children’s book collections, consider tall, narrow shelves—anchored to the wall, of course, for safety. It is much easier for children to replace books properly on a narrow shelf where they won’t fall over.)
Remember that you’ll need a spot to hunker down with a good read and a drink. Based on your space, consider how much room you have for any chairs, sofas, tables or lamps. Will you need a place to write—and do you have space for a desk? A traditional desk is fine, as is an old dining table that you might repurpose as a library desk; alternately, a lap desk might suit your space and needs more appropriately.
Make sure the space will have plenty of light. Windows are terrific for a view to the outdoors as well as natural light, but you also need a bright lamp that casts its light over your shoulders to minimize glare.
Organizing Your Home Library
When it comes to home libraries, there are more ways to organize your collection than by the Dewey Decimal system. Alphabetizing by author last name is an easy way to locate your books. If you like the idea of sorting alphabetically, but you’re not good with names, place your books in alphabetical order by title. You could always take a riff on the Dewey Decimal idea and store your books by subject matter (and then alphabetize author last names or book titles within the subject if you like to be super organized).
You’ll find many designers suggesting a color-coded library. While that may be aesthetically pleasing and makes a visual impact on your shelves, it’s not always the best way to organize information, unless you happen to remember that your personal copy of To Kill A Mockingbird is lavender and can easily find the novel among the other purple books.
Another option: divide the shelves into “read” and “unread” sections: dedicate a shelf (or entire bookcase) to books you’ve already read cover to cover, another to books you haven’t finished completely, and one more to the books that remain unread. In a similar way, you could just separate your fiction from your non-fiction.
Chronology is another fun, clever way to use your library to display your life in books. It might feature Dr. Seuss on the top shelf, The Crucible a few shelves beneath that, and then books on parenting, spirituality, or biographies.
Another important consideration: room for more books! Take a page from children’s author Julia Donaldson, who writes in Room on the Broom about a witch and a cat who encounter different creatures while traveling. The witch always finds a proper perch for these new friends who join her along the way. In the same spirit, be sure to leave some room on the shelves for new members of your library.
Styling Your Library
Your display of books reveals much about your tastes and interests; likewise, showcasing artwork and personal items amid the books on your shelf develops the overall aesthetic while reflecting more of your own story. Still, how you style your bookshelves has much to do with the size of your actual library. If you own a massive collection, multiple vertical lines of books make for an impressive display, and you just might not have space leftover for picture frames and objects of interest (just keep the Room on the Broom space for new books that enter your home).
Whether you’ve held onto every book you’ve ever read or whether you keep a small collection of personal favorites at arm’s reach, it’s likely you’ll have some visual space behind the books. Use that to your design advantage, painting or wallpapering the backs of the shelves to add a pop of color into the room. Rotate the placement of books so that some are stacked vertically while others are stacked horizontally to add even more space for displaying favorite photographs, souvenirs or family heirlooms.
Your library should be a place for you to relax, to ponder, and to enjoy. Paint the room a color that’s pleasing to you, and surround yourself with artwork that you find meaningful and beautiful. For you, that might mean colorful landscapes, and for others, it might mean a series of old family pictures. If you’re looking for alternatives to artwork, consider framing and hanging old maps, sheet music, or book jackets from favorite children’s books. Add a cozy throw blanket or two and a soft rug under your seating area and you’re just one rainy afternoon and a cup of chai away from thoroughly enjoying your new home library.
Charming, Functional Accessories for Home Libraries
Home libraries don’t have to be silent, and they definitely don’t have to be stuffy. Just having a space dedicated to a home library speaks to a sense of adventure; after all, if you’re a book lover, you love to delve into other worlds that books can offer. Though you may find these items in a public library, they’re interesting, unexpected touches for your home library.
• If you’ve stored your books high above your reach, a rolling library ladder will provide the right perch for you to pull a title off the shelf.
• A bookstand not only works as a display for your favorite heavy-duty tome, but it promotes better posture while reading and makes a great conversation piece.
• A library book rack or cart can be a great mobile mini-library in itself, or it can hold books that you use so frequently that they might never find their way to the actual bookshelf.
• Create custom bookplates or a custom embosser for all of your books, especially those you might lend out to friends but hope to keep as part of your permanent collection.
• Keep an eye out for vintage card catalogs; use the drawers for storing smaller items or as an actual filing cabinet.
• Don’t forget to invest in bookends! They’ll keep your books in place while adding visual interest to your shelves.
• No library seems complete without a beautiful globe.