With the advent of tablets, cellphones and e-readers, could the book-lined home library go the way of the formal dining room?
Not a chance, designers and retailers say.
Digital and print books can co-exist, says House Beautiful's editor-in-chief Newell Turner.
"When there's an endless river of (digital) content, the words, text and images we choose to print and bind into a physical book will make (it) even more special," he said.
And books, in their variety of shapes and sizes, can be art in their own right, he says. Certainly, many people display richly illustrated coffee table books. And at Hearst's October Designer Visions show house in New York, Jamie Drake took the books-as-art notion literally: For his House Beautiful apartment, he turned large books spine sides in and stacked them geometrically in wall recesses to flank a fireplace as sculptural art.
"Books are precious and beautiful, both their contents and materials. I was inspired to provoke thoughts, placing the bulk of the spines away from the viewer, thus highlighting the thousands of paper pages and creating a sense of desire to discover what lies within," he says.
For Elle Decor at the show house, Alessandra Branca created a warm, intimate library with just two bookshelves and a chrome easel for a flat-screen television. A large Candida Hofer photograph of Dublin's Trinity College Library provided a trompe l'oeil effect, as if the library extended into the image. Branca imagined the space, which included walls covered in chocolatey faux bois (wood-grain appearance) sateen and a plump sofa blanketed in tartan, as a room where you could store favorite vintage books but also use a digital reader.
"Nothing can replace the wonderful feel of sitting curled up with a book, or the happenstance of discovering a book on the shelf that you haven't seen for a while, particularly books on art, architecture or design," she says. "I think we'll always love the physical aspect of a book in hand, but I've found I buy more and more of my new fiction online."
New York interior designer Elaine Griffin sees the role of home libraries changing. "We've come a long way from the English country home-inspired libraries of the '80s - those spaces that looked like Carson (the butler on "Downton Abbey") might come in at any moment to do a little dusting," she says. "Today's home libraries are retreats, actually - places to retreat as an individual from the more chaotic, group-themed spaces of the rest of the house."
Home libraries are reading sanctuaries, she says, but clients often want a TV included. "The space is an alternative to the Great Room, used for solo viewing, for snuggling, for seclusion."
Many modern bookshelves are multipurpose, with space to display objects as well as reading matter. All Modern stocks TFG Connections' black powder-coated steel frame with java oak shelves; the components can be configured a number of ways. Modloft's Pearl bookcase has open shelves in a contemporary zigzag design; finishes include white, wenge (a dark wood) and walnut with chrome supports.
Create an enveloped space by running shelves up to the ceiling; wood tones keep the ambiance warm, but consider white or even an interesting color - creamy yellow or rich carmine (deep red), for example - so books, accessories and art will pop. Add a rolling library ladder; Home Depot offers several in maple, cherry or oak finishes.
Spanish design house Playoffice turns a run-of-the-mill home library into a playhouse with a sturdy mesh net suspended across the whole space like an enormous hammock. Kids (and adults) can take pillows and books up to the net to read and, literally, hang out.
The studio has also designed a clever "Secret Reading" wall - a series of cupboards made from inexpensive chipboard that includes bookshelves and kid-size cushioned cubbies. Doors can be closed to hide the secret readers and other stuff. Puck lights are built into the cubby ceilings.