Transforming Lonely Rooms
(Originally published in the Napa Valley Register)
While my power was off last week, and the week before, I did something crazy. Something that I love to do but have not done for the longest time. I didn’t even feel guilty about it as I normally would. I indulged in some leisurely reading.
I became immersed in a historical novel with murder, intrigue and time travel. I didn’t and couldn’t answer my phone. I didn’t and couldn’t connect to the internet. So, once I let go of my frustration, I welcomed the downtime and remembered how nice it is to curl up with a good book.
The experience reminded me of a design project I did years ago down on the Peninsula. It was in a home built in the 1940s with a separate living room, dining room and family room. In other words, there wasn’t a modern-day great room. These rooms had polished hardwood floors and spectacular millwork including eight-inch baseboards and thick door and window casings.
My clients wanted something done with their living room but didn’t know what that might be. It was a large space that they never used. Because both of them were university professors, they had piles of interesting books scattered throughout their house.
Most topics were on philosophy and anthropology and some were on art and history. They became my inspiration. I suggested that we convert the living room into a plush and comfortable library. Both eagerly agreed to the idea even though it meant swapping old furniture for new.
A fireplace, flanked by two pairs of corner windows, filled one side of the room. I created a luscious reading space at this end using two navy blue velvet loveseats and an over-sized ottoman between them. I added four small tables and antique brass reading lamps at the arms of each loveseat. This fireplace vignette sat on top of a gold and burgundy Persian rug with accents of blue.
I designed floor-to-ceiling bookcases for the remaining three walls and incorporated molding to match the other millwork in the room. The wood was stained close to the same color as the hardwood floors. These bookcases filled the walls entirely which created an undeniable library look and feel.
To magnify the richness of the space, I enhanced the ceiling with embossed copper tiles. I put another Persian rug on the floor to unite the bookcases. This one was very large and mostly burgundy with hints of navy, gold, and emerald green. My last addition was an antique walnut table with gold inlay to sit in the middle of the rug. It would come in handy when pulling books or setting them aside to read soon.
My favorite part of this installation came at the end. I enlisted my clients’ help to sort, categorize, and display their books. We thought about lining them up as you would see in a public library but decided to stack a few on their sides instead. This would break up the lines of books and also create a bit of empty space. I next took a tour of the rest of the house and collected all of their brass accessories. I grouped ones that had characteristics in common and then spaced them on shelves so that the flashes of brass would present in a balanced way.
I know that, having kept in touch with these clients, their library has become the most used room in the house. It has also become the favorite destination -- and a visual treat -- for their book club.
It took power outages and lost internet connections to remind me of an old but tried and true pastime. If you have a room that you don’t know how to use, a library may just be the answer.