Interview with Rob Grant
Built In Cabinets Utilize The Best Space & Layout For Each
Washington Times, The (DC)
Home libraries will fit into many places
Section: FRIDAY HOME GUIDE
Lisa Rauschart, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
shelves are just the beginning of today's home library, which may also
include state-of-the-art lighting, climate controls and digital
technology. You don't have to break the bank to create one, and you may
well add to the value of your home.
"Home libraries are a very consistent trend," says Jim Molinelli,
an architect with Maryland-based Ardo Contracting, a company that
specializes in customized home construction. Mr. Molinelli is also
president of the Maryland Improvement Contractors Association.
"People are looking for a place that gives them a sense of gentler,
In the slower-paced 19th century, essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote,
"Be a little careful about your library. Do you foresee what you will
do with it? Very little to be sure. But the real question is, what it will
do with you? You will come here and get books that will open your eyes,
and your ears, and your curiosity, and turn you inside out or outside
Emerson's plea notwithstanding, many people place the home library
squarely on the "things that were" shelf along with record
players, typewriters and classical radio. After all, why crack a book when
you can click a mouse? But before you conjure up another use for that
spare room, you may want to rethink the library concept.
Today's home libraries come in all shapes and sizes, from small book nooks
in modest homes to over-the-top spaces complete with a massive fireplace,
recessed shelving and dark wood paneling.
"Whether you have a separate space or not is really dependent upon
the value of the home," says Rob Grant, president of Contemporary
Woodcrafts Inc., a Northern Virginia-based cabinet manufacturing business.
"In larger homes, those over 7,000 square feet, you're likely to have
a separate space."
"We build projects that range from $3,000 to $30,000," says Mr.
Grant, who notes that prices are dependent upon a number of variables,
including room dimensions, number of bookcases and the materials used.
Many of today's new homes already include space for a library, Mr. Grant
says. Walk through the front door of most center-hall Colonials, and that
room directly off to the right or left is dedicated library space.
"The biggest trend we've seen in the last 10 years has been home
offices or home office-libraries," he says. "Empty nesters
frequently take over one of the bedrooms and turn it into a library or
But don't let your dreams overstep the reality, Mr. Grant says. Some
spaces may be too small for what you want to do and won't help when it
comes time to sell your home.
"One of the biggest requests we have is for two desks," says Mr.
Grant. "But you need at least three feet of space to pull out a desk
chair. With two, that's six feet, and people don't have that kind of space
in these rooms."
Even if you have a small space in an older home, there are plenty of ways
to convert unused or little-used space into library space, says Bruce
Wentworth of Wentworth Inc., an architectural, design and construction
company based in Chevy Chase.
"It's all about integrating bookcases into different rooms,"
says Mr. Wentworth. "Even a dining room wall can become a library
A built-in bookcase or a couple of free-standing pieces of furniture can
easily transform that dead space under the stairs into a reading center,
says Mr. Wentworth.
"You can flank a fireplace with bookcases, or build them around a
window or French doors," he says.
Other possibilities include hallways or little-used "breakfast
rooms" that can be transformed into comfortable, cozy spots with no
more than an armchair and few shelves.
Of course, if your budget allows, you can build your dream space, complete
with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and rolling ladders to take you around
Houses in the upper brackets are practically guaranteed to have libraries,
says Margie Halem, a Realtor with Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. in
"Most of the houses we sell have libraries," says Mrs. Halem,
who recently sold a house with a contemporary-styled library complete with
leopard carpet and red walls. "Some have special lighting, and I sold
one recently with a humidor."
Yet even with the humidor, Mrs. Halem doesn't feel that a home library is
worth all that much more when it comes time to sell.
"Those granite countertops and upgraded appliances in your kitchen
probably matter more," she says. "People know they can always
add on bookcases later."
Still, for homes in the upper brackets, the presence of a home library
"certainly helps," she says. "It's practically expected
with space of that size."
Whether they are small in-the-corner nooks or large, dedicated rooms, many
home libraries share a couple of characteristics.
Most people like the traditional look.
Achieving that look doesn't necessarily mean dark wood, Mr. Grant says.
Contemporary Woodcrafts sells a lot of painted lacquer bookcases, where
the lacquer is matched to existing trim.
And these less expensive but furniture-quality bookcases may actually be a
plus over the stained variety for homeowners planning to sell in the
"Not every homeowner may like that rich, dark, cherry mahogany that
you install," says Mr. Grant. "Painted lacquer often brings a
higher rate of return than stained pieces.
Regardless of your bookcase style, most homeowners do like to be
"These days you have to consider high-tech in every room," says
In the last five years, issues of connectivity have actually become
"Years ago we had to drill a lot more holes," says Mr. Grant.
"Now everything is getting smaller."
Today's libraries are often likely to feature speakers for DVD or stereo
systems and flat screen televisions that are easily hidden. Architects and
designers frequently work in collaboration with local audio companies to
produce an optimal library space.
But if you have designed your library primarily to house your collection
of books, there are some other considerations to take into account, says
Allan Stypeck of Second Story Books, one of the largest used and rare
bookshops in the world.
"You need to treat your books like you treat yourself," says Mr.
Stypeck, who is also co-host of "The Book Guys" radio program.
"You never want to be in a situation where things are too dry or too
moist. And keep them out of direct sunlight."
If you have books that are particularly large, plan on constructing
shelving that will allow them to be stored flat.
In any case, it's a good idea to measure your books before ordering your
shelves. You want to make sure that your collection will actually fit the
And if you collect magazines as well as books, providing an acid-free
environment is crucial.
"There are a number of local companies who make individual acid-free
bags of various sizes," says Mr. Stypeck. "You just have to shop
Is your space irregular or out of plumb? A good designer can accommodate
just about any possibility.
"I had one case where the left and right side of the fireplace were
not symmetrical," says Mr. Wentworth, "but you can fool the eye
Lighting is also an important concern. Many homeowners request designs
that include "lots of glass," says Mr. Molinelli, because they
want to be able to read with natural light. But sunlight can be quite
damaging to books and other materials, so you may want to consider
installing glass that will block those harmful UV rays.
Regularly work at night? Be sure your lighting is adequate.
Suppose you have just purchased a home with a substantial library space
and don't have the books to fill it. Don't despair. Even if you haven't
spent a lifetime collecting books and just have a few tawdry paperback
novels, you can still capture that sought-after 19th-century ambience that
made J.P. Morgan proud.
California-based Book Decor (www.bookdecor.com), in business since 1988,
specializes in providing books for those who have none. Fairly new
leather-bound books sell for about $10, with older leather volumes
(suitable for those traditional home libraries) go for $15. Clients
usually require anywhere from 500 to 3,000 volumes, says Book Decor owner
"If budget is a consideration, we tell people to buy over time,"
she says. "It's always OK to let your library evolve."
These books, by the way, aren't intended to be read. For one thing,
they're old. And they're in Danish. The Danes only stopped producing
leather-bound books en masse in the 1980s, says Miss Leth, who is Danish
But for Book Decor's clientele, most of whom want "instant
library," that's incidental. One client ordered 12,000 books at once.
"It's the look and feeling they produce on the bookshelf," says
Miss Leth, whose primary market is on the East Coast and Texas. "It's
And once you've got the books, home library decorating comes, well,
"You can't make a mistake with books," says Miss Leth. "You
have these wonderful, old-looking books, and it looks like the library has
been there for years."
Bottom line: Design your library with your own needs in mind, but keep an
eye toward the future.
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Avenue, NE; Washington, DC 20002 and may not be republished without
Built In Cabinets Utilize The Best Space & Layout For
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