There is something quite magical about a room designed just for relaxation and imagination. In a time when our attention is easily captured by moving, flashing and beeping screens, the brilliance of words written on a page cannot be overstated. Though new technologies are compelling, a home library can take you to worlds far away without ever leaving your comfy, cozy nook. A home library is dedicated to your personal, prized collection and vastly more intimate than public or university libraries: the various elements of the space (and, simply, the space itself) speaks to your personality.
The great thing about home libraries is that they do not cycle through trends as fast as other trends — say, for instance, the color of the season. However, there are some pretty basic guidelines that can help you create a masterful space. Whether you live in a classy city apartment, a country home or somewhere in between, you really only need three things to create a beautiful home library: good lighting, comfortable seating and strong shelving. How you style those elements determines the character, appeal and purpose of the room.
The lighting: wall sconces & uplights
While most spaces in a house are utilized in everyday routines, the home library is a special place reserved for intellectual stimulation: though you can maybe get away with having less-than-ideal lighting in other areas of your home, the lighting in your home library should really be top notch to allow for comfortable reading and relaxing. Bad lighting in your home library can cause headaches or eerie feelings, and can ultimately discourage you from ever setting foot in it again. Too dim or too harsh of lighting can cause serious eye strain, headaches and migraines, and even fatigue and drowsiness — not what you want when you’re trying to get into the groove of a good book.
The solution? A combination of natural lighting and soft, ambient artificial light. Making sure you have the right kind of lights and light bulbs, specifically, is important in your home library: the differences between incandescent, fluorescent, halogen and LED can drastically alter the look and feel of your home library. Having the right fixtures that fit appropriately in the space is also a concern: consider wall sconces, mounted picture lights at the top of the bookshelf, or uplights on the floor behind potted plants or chairs. You can manipulate the lighting with various other elements in the room: sculptures, plants or the color palette of the space contribute to the overall tone and brightness.
The seating: built-in seating & cozy nooks
The seating is a huge factor of your home library and can also ultimately determine the primary purpose of the room: are the books to be looked at and admired from afar, or are they to be used and read on cozy couches and cuddled with under soft blankets? Like any room in your house, the accompanying furniture helps to determine the feel and style of the room. If you’re looking simply for a space to store your prized collection, this section may be of little concern. However, for those who want a place to curl up with a book, there is one primary decision to be made: built-ins or stand alone furniture pieces?
Built-in seats come with several advantages: they can blend easily into the background, making them compatible with minimalist designs. Therefore, a large built-in can appear smaller and more slender than a free-standing piece of furniture that has the same dimensions. Built-ins create a cohesive look and blend in to the rest of the decor, but do they provide the comfort you seek? The primary advantage of stand alone furniture pieces in a home library is the comfort they provide. If the space of your library allows, you can dedicate an entire corner to enormously cozy couches and big, comfy chairs to sink into. Also consider the number of seats in your library: one may be all you need, but extra armchairs means others (perhaps your little ones) can lounge alongside you with their favorite reads.
The color palette: mix of warm & cool colors
Displaying a personal literary collection can be considered an art: the color palette of the room can inspire and lure you into the new and uncharted territories of your collection. When designing a cozy home library, color is an important element to establish balance within the room and the tone of the environment. For instance, a mix of warm and cool colors, like the brown cabinets and blue walls shown above, is often a good choice to create balance.
Warm colors (like orange, brown, red or yellow) often make a room feel cozier or more intimate, while cool colors (like blue, green and light purple) can calm and soothe, and can make small rooms appear larger. Darker and Victorian-style colors are often used for home libraries to create an antiqued feeling. On the other hand, brighter hues and vibrant patterns can liven up a space that may otherwise be passed by day after day. Above all, the color palette of your home library should remain consistent.
The shelves: wrap-around & floor-to-ceiling
Though it may seem obvious, the most important element of your home library is the shelving you choose to house your precious collection. There are a lot of styles to choose from, but above all, sturdy shelves are an absolute must: keeping your books safe and in pristine condition is a prime concern for your home library. Floor-to-ceiling, built-ins, wooden racks, separate standing shelves, racks that hang from the ceiling or wrap-arounds that hug the corners of the room are all possibilities. Keep in mind, though, that the style of the wood or paint on the shelves should complement the furnishings in the room, too.
The style of shelving is largely dependent on the amount of space you have and the size of your collection: is your hobby just beginning or do you have enough books to fill a small museum? To create a truly elaborate home for your books, floor-to-ceiling shelving is the best way to establish, without a doubt, the purpose of the room: with books lining the walls, it will leave your guests in awe at how a home library can transform a hobby into a passion.
The inspiration: artwork displays
The bookshelves in your home library don’t have to be just for storing your books! The room as a whole develops its own unique sense of character based off of what you choose to display. For instance, plants, sculptures, hanging artwork, trinkets and knick knacks contribute to the overall tone and design of the room. These pieces can interact with other elements of your home library, like the lighting or color palette: large plants or sculpture pieces can block light and cast shadows, or the color palette of certain pieces of artwork might clash with the wall color.
The artwork you chose to display in your home library can serve two main purposes (that are not necessarily mutually exclusive): they can function as eye-catching attention-grabbers or as elements of personal inspiration. For instance, elaborate sculptures can add pops of color, or act as bookends or centerpieces. Hanging canvas prints, such as the custom star map shown above, can highlight important moments in your life and act as personal touches that make you feel at home in your library. Whether it’s art, canvas prints, pottery, coins, figurines or something else, set a few rows aside (or make sure there’s space on the walls!) to showcase other things you love: it will make the best use of the shelving storage and contribute to your library’s character as well.
Organization: balancing your books
There are a lot of different ways you can organize your books: by color, size, author’s last name, significance to you, subject, genre or category. To keep the structure balanced and visually tidy, consider keeping your heavier books on the bottom shelves and your lightest books on the top shelves. You can get creative with the organization: in a home library dedicated to US geography, organize your books like a giant map of the United States with all the books about California lining the left side, books on Florida in the bottom right corner, and so forth.
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Organizing your books is all about striking a balance between function and fashion. Consider these three organizing tips: place your books where you need them most, take advantage of vertical space, and group similar books into sections or subsections. Though all your books are precious, there are undoubtedly some you use or read more frequently: place these close to your desk, chair or at eye level. Secondly, don’t be afraid to stack your books vertically! If your books are overflowing when you sort them horizontally, take advantage of all the space you can by piling them on top of horizontal stacks. Lastly, no matter what method you choose to organize your books, group them in some way that makes sense to you. That way, you can be sure that you can find them when you need them.
The stories: what it’s all about
Really, what matters above all else, are the stories you choose to display. Though this style guide might not be able to help you pick and choose which books to collect, keep in mind that what matters most is the combination of functional and aesthetic elements within your library that work together to create a home for your stories. Does your home library showcase what matters most to you? Is it inviting? Not only are personal libraries wonderful additions to any home due to their stunning visual appeal, ability to convey a sense of relaxation and obvious appreciation of the written word, but they help you to do what you love most.
This post was written by Kara Roberts, blogger and content writer for Canvas Vows. We specialize in creating custom made canvas prints and have been featured in a number of publications, including Brides. For more interior design tips, gift ideas, anniversary celebrations and personalized canvas creations, check out our blog!