A NOOK FOR BOOKS
Today's homes are like an open book when it comes to finding the space to create a library.
The notion of a home library as a separate wood-paneled room with leather-tufted chairs and a fireplace can be an outdated one, especially given the way people live today, says Phillip Fletcher, owner of Durham Bookcases, with two workshops in North Carolina.
"As home design becomes more open with less interior walls, many people are incorporating home libraries into family rooms, entertainment centers or home offices," Fletcher says. "For those who love books, they want to actually live with them and not have them collecting dust in a room that's rarely used."
A space dedicated to a vast home library used to be considered a status symbol in the 1980s, Fletcher says. But the advent of electronic books and a general shift to a less-formal way of living has all but closed the book on the segregated style of home libraries.
"There are homes that have 10- to 12-foot-long interior walls, and instead of hanging artwork on them, people have bookshelves constructed to fit the space," Fletcher says. "Books can add artistic interest in the way they are displayed on shelves."
If you're planning a home library, you need follow certain criteria so the project is done "by the book." Ideally, it is best to have bookshelves placed on an above-grade, inner wall of a home, away from heating and cooling vents or a fireplace. Especially if books are collectible, it is best to have bound articles in a home environment in which temperatures remain stable -- around 70 degrees -- with a relative humidity around 40 percent. Too much moisture in the air can cause books to mildew and mold.
Also, bookshelves should be constructed away from direct sunlight and fluorescent lighting, since both can discolor book jackets and turn pages brittle. Fletcher says after determining where you'd like your home library housed, the next step is to measure how tall, wide and deep you'd like the bookshelves to be built.
"When building bookshelves, we're not building a rocket -- we are building a matrix of boxes," he says. "But, it's important to know before the shelves are constructed as to what you want to accomplish in the area."
If the bookshelves are going to be flanking a television, as part of an entertainment center, you need to make accommodations for the size of electronics in the bookcase design. Also, one size doesn't always fit all when it comes to building a better bookcase. Measure the length of larger books you want to place on shelves, so you have a shelf that fits their sizes.
Fletcher says the type of wood used for a bookshelf can affect the price dramatically. Typically, he says, built-in, customized bookshelves can start around $350 and go up well past $1,000, depending on the periodical project.
"Pine is the least expensive wood choice, with oak and maple woods running 15 to 16 percent more than a pine bookshelf," he says. "Walnut, cherry and mahogany woods can run 50 percent more than the baseline pine bookshelf, but that's not including moldings, flutings and extra design elements."
Once bookcases are in place, Heugh-Edmondson Conservation Services in Kansas City, Mo., advises placing acid-free liners on shelves before periodical placement begins. Wood contains acidic compounds that can harm books, and instead of displaying rare book editions on shelves, consider storing them in acid-free archival boxes.
While the way books are organized on shelves is personal, try to vertically group similarly sized books together. This way, larger books will not crush or warp smaller ones. Oversized books can be stacked horizontally, which can also create visual interest in a library, and preserve pages in large tomes.
Take care of texts by not overstuffing shelves with books and use bookends to keep loose books upright. To retrieve books, do not place a finger on the top of the spine and pull it down. Instead, push the two adjoining books inward and select the book by grasping it at the middle of its spine.
As the placement of the library in the home has changed, so has the design aesthetic surrounding book nooks, says Robin DeWolf, spokeswoman for Huntwood Custom Cabinets, a 25-year-old family-owned business of woodworkers, based near Spokane, Wash.
"What may have been a traditional -- even formal -- home library is shedding its fussiness," DeWolf says. "Bookcases are still elegant with moldings, but can be painted white or a contemporary color to match the design aesthetic."
No library is complete without a place to sit and read. DeWolf says the perfect scene for a library is set with transitional furniture -- a style that resides between often uncomfortable traditional and ubersleek modern chairs. Of course, proper lighting, which illuminates the reading task at hand, is best positioned over the shoulder and at an angle to reduce glare and eye strain.
"Books become all the more precious because of all the electronics and rushing around of our society; but they haven't gone away -- it's just that we are living with them in common places in our homes. " DeWolf says. "A good book is a good companion, like an old friend, and it feels like an indulgence to be able to sit and read as pages turn in your hands."
By the Book
-- Durham Bookcases, www.bookcaseshop.com
-- Huntwood Custom Cabinets, www.huntwood.com
- Purchase home library archival items through: Gaylord Brothers (www.gaylord.com) or University Products (www.universityproducts.com).
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