The Literary Life
SPACES – APRIL 2008
By Joshual Bodwell
Photography Francois Gagne
Home Libraries that brim with books, art, and music
Libraries, as we know them today, were created in Greece and perfected in Rome. These early libraries were deeply valued, not only as repositories of knowledge, but as collections of a society’s myths and legends—its stories. The great Roman thinker Cicero opined: “A room without books is like a body without a soul.”
While private libraries were once amassed only by the noble or extremely wealthy, the number of home libraries has grown as the techniques of book production and printing have evolved. Even though the book fights for attention alongside the modern marvels of television and computers, libraries have never gone out of vogue.
Today, more and more homes are being designed with custom-built private libraries. While some of these rooms resemble the traditional dark-wood libraries of the past, others are light and airy modern updates.
Whether your passion is Russian literature wrapped in gilt-edged leather bindings, portfolios of avian prints, or in-depth tomes of nonfiction, we present an eclectic handful of Maine libraries bound to excite the bibliophile in each of us.
Christopher Campbell Architecture
Lake Damariscotta Residence
When architect Christopher Campbell was planning this library for a contemporary lakeside home he was designing, he tackled one important variable quickly: fixed or adjustable shelving. Knowing the space would be used primarily for a large collection of art books, and believing that ever-changing adjustable shelves can make a room look cluttered, Campbell decided to go with fixed. “Fixed just settles it once and for all,” he says with a laugh. The permanent floor-to-ceiling shelves accentuate the room’s dramatic arched ceiling, and Campbell’s choice of Baltic birch gives the library a crisp modern quality.
Knowing that many home libraries are little-used showplaces, Campbell sought to make this library “part of the daily ritual.” Not only is it connected to the master bedroom by only a heavy drape, the woodstove and built-in sofa (with wood storage and pull-out coffee table hidden beneath it) make the room inviting and livable. “This is a true gathering space within the home now,” says Campbell.
The Thaxter Company
Cumberland Foreside Residence
Wood was the driving force behind this traditional library. While the floors are made of a Brazilian Santos mahogany, the homeowner was adamant that the library be constructed from the same Honduran mahogany used for the room’s Marvin doors and windows. Because import restrictions make large sizes of Honduran mahogany extremely hard to acquire, -Nick Nash of the Thaxter Company in Portland problem-solved with Steve Foss, the woodworker who executed the library’s millwork. Foss made the homeowner’s wish a reality by methodically joining thinner strips of the Honduran mahogany and building his own veneer from scratch for the cabinet door panels and shelf backing.
The library’s complex array of lights was centralized to a single digital lighting-control panel by Lutron, which did away with what could have been as many as ten or twelve separate switches and dimmers. Nash says the decision—executed by lighting consultant Jim Stockman and electrician John Perry—helped preserve the room’s antique atmosphere.
Elliott Elliott Norelius Architecture
This bright maple library in Brooksville performs numerous tasks as it fills the transitional spaces among several parts of the home. But architect Bruce Norelius cautions, “A library like this can have a visual clutter if it is not well thought out.” Norelius’s rigorous geometric pattern of shelves holds books, art, and an extensive music collection. Squeezing in a window seat alongside provides ample storage options.
Norelius says that homes with an abundance of windows and a great art collection usually offer little free wall space. “When we find some space, we often stack it wall to ceiling with a bookcase,” he says. Norelius also notes that simply installing 12-inch bookshelves could be a mistake: they are too deep for regular books and not deep enough for art books. “You’re much better off measuring your book collection and having a design that truly suits your needs,” he says.
Blue Hill Residence
This charming library, which is part of an extensive renovation of a late-1880s farmhouse in Blue Hill, balances the sleek lines of modern design with a decidedly traditional aesthetic. The floors and bookcases were made of cherry to blend the room with other parts of the home that already incorporated the same wood. Builder John Ruger of Ruger Associates accented the library with traditional trim, rosettes above the doors, and crystal doorknobs. “These little details were meant to keep the library within the home’s vintage,” says Ruger.
To accommodate the world-traveling homeowner’s sizeable collection of books, art, and sculptures, Ruger maximized shelf space with floor-to-ceiling bookcases. By fitting the lower shelves with custom-milled cupboard doors, the eye is drawn up to the books and objects on higher shelves.
Phi Home Design
St. George Residence
Michael Roy, the owner of Phi Home Design in Rockport, is finding that more homeowners are turning their home offices into elegant home libraries. “I think people are saying, ‘I work a lot, but why not do it in a space that’s more sophisticated?’” Roy says.
For this library in St. George, Roy and his team designed and built a handsome stretch of built-in bookcases from Pennsylvania cherry and added Jatoba inlays. An elaborate corner console and an elegant desk in the center of the room—both topped with rich, orangey Brazilian cherry—also mirror the light Pennsylvania cherry of the bookcases.
Roy added the library’s cozy window seat to keep the bookcase from ending abruptly and to provide a place to peruse one of the room’s many books. Roy says he is always considering how a room will actually be used. “You’ve got to take all the information in from the homeowner, distill it, and design from there,” he says.