Sunday, December 20, 2009

the library

It's time. By the way, did I mention that the tan house just went back on the market - no longer under contract? I told you so. Of course, that means we have to move faster, but after Christmas is, I think, time enough to start getting quotes for mortgage rates and so forth. (It may be hard to get the sellers to take a reasonable price, so we could still lose it, but we plan to try.)

So, here's the current family room in the tan house (my future library):

On the left you see what appears to be a bar. So you'd expect that there'd be shelves and so forth on the other side of it (which you can't see in the picture), but I didn't see any in person. Having a bar sounds nice-ish, but I'd probably rather just buy an antique dry sink and not take up so much floor space with this one (especially since we don't drink). But it turns out that the bar (if that's what it is) is actually there to conceal the rather odd feature behind it:

Best guess is that there were Bilco doors to the basement. When they built the addition (the family room is a one-story addition) they put it over where the doors were so...they just used an interior door, horizontally, in that space. Slightly insane. I'd still be inclined to remove that bar thing, and just put some ordinary stair-rail along the edge of the door. That would be more normal, and still take up less floor space. (We might even be able to fit a dry sink between the stair-door and the wall!)

Other than that oddity, the basic features of the room are straightforward. There's a working wood stove (very excited about that). There are several (large) windows, and there's a large, mostly-glass exterior door, which limits the amount of wall space for bookshelves (but I think there's still enough!). Oh, and coat hooks are useful, but these are going somewhere else - bookshelves come first.

There's wood crown molding and wood lattice-work on the ceiling. They're not as pretty as they might be, but they're sort of dry wood, and I think with some varnish, and a real warm ivory on the ceiling, it might look a lot nicer. So that's an easy fix.

Now for the first tricky part: the walls. It's not easy to tell, but that's not your standard shiny grooved knotty-pine paneling. Indeed, those are individual boards, with decent-sized gaps between them (I'm not actually that keen on that part), and they're not only unfinished, but also un-planed. If you run your hands down them, you could get a splinter, or twenty. So to get them to look like an ordinary wall, it would require heavy sanding, or removing them, planing them, and replacing them - and then using wood filler between, priming, and painting them (so they look like plaster walls).

But I'm not keen on that much sanding or planing, and the room has a certain rustic quality that I think ought to be preserved. (Doesn't mean I want wood trim, wood floors, and wood walls, all in different wood tones.) So I was looking into an old-fashioned technique called lime wash, traditional in Europe, which is used for plaster (not drywall) and raw wood. It's apparently easier than any of the new-fangled techniques - and it's not a "faux finish," it's the real thing. Plus really safe. Anyway, plain lime wash is transluscent white, and comes out like this:

You can also add pigment to lime wash, and that's one of the places I was stumped. I definitely want color (something light). Green? Blue? Maybe a gray-blue like this (obviously this is ordinary opaque paint, not transluscent):

But I'm not sure. What's the best way to go about this? I like the crown molding, ceiling, and floors (with a little spiffing-up here and there), but I really want to do something with the walls. Suggestions??

Now for the rest of the decor. We have a red-brown leather, reasonably traditionally-styled sectional that is a few years old (we got it off craigslist) but maybe the comfiest couch ever. I think it should go in there. I also think that room would be a good place for a decent-sized desk. I've run some different pictures by my dh. (I'd like to note here that while I never give him a decor decision to make from scratch, I compile a substantial cast of style options that would work within our budget and other things, and I make him give me his opinion. So I don't make these decisions unilaterally.) Rolltops seem to be the most practical and popular. Here are a couple on craigslist in our area (little pricey, but we have time):

(This cherry one above is the favorite, but it's selling for $600! My dh - typically - said, "Well, maybe that's worth it.")

Then there's always the traditional oak roll-top look.

I also think I've come up with a solution to my household's ever-green desk chair debate. My dh likes the comfy contemporary black leather desk chairs. I would rather something that looked old fashioned even if it's not as comfy. Last house we had an ugly black vinyl one. Now we have a petite wood one he doesn't like. But I think we could have both! Something like this (with a nice fluffy pillow):

Or (likely even more popular) something like this (I found a slightly less ornate one that's a real antique on craigslist recently, but it's already gone):

I think that would be good because it could be moved away from the desk when we have people over and be used as extra seating. And we could have some nice leather chairs on either side of the fireplace. Perhaps like these:

Here's the other difficult question: what about bookshelves? I mean, there have to be quite a few. In my head, the ideal library should have floor-to-ceiling built-ins, maybe even some that require a library ladder! As below. (No library ladder in the tan house, though, because the ceiling in this room is not that high.)

There are a few impediments to putting these sort of shelves in this room, however. First, one wall is taken up by two windows and a wood stove. The wall to the right of that has a very big picture window and a door; it could have one set of shelves or maybe two, and above-the window shelves. The wall with the doorway into the kitchen has room for at least one set of shelves (where those coat hooks now are). Most of the shelves would go on the fourth wall. Keeping in mind dark wood trim (shinier after I varnish it) and lime-washed walls (color still undecided), do I go for stained wood shelves (like the ones above), or white-painted wood? Like so, perhaps:

I like the idea of built-in bookshelves creating a nook for a window seat. This room certainly has enough windows for that. But I can't decide what bookshelf solution would look best for this room. I need your help. (Oh, also useful to know is that a friend of ours has a fellow who's a master carpenter who's a recent immigrant and has done some work for him at crazy-good rates - and I've seen the stuff he did, it's perfect. This fellow could definitely build me some bookshelves if I wanted anything that wasn't easy enough for me to do.)

The other thing that occurred to me is that I could fill the room with a collection of antique bookshelves, and do something to unify the look. One thing that designers often do is to whitewash a series of mistmatched antique items (such as dining room chairs). I do have two wooden Ikea bookshelves that I wouldn't mind painting white to blend in with some antiques, but other than that, I would feel bad painting lovely hardwood. What do you think? Could I make this idea work?

I did stumble across one possible angle this morning. I love barrister bookcases. I could do a collection of those. Even completely unrelated examples seem like they would go together pretty well:

(These are both for sale on craigslist here, now.) Barrister bookcases are also modular - the shelves come apart, and the tops and bases are separate, too. So we could put short stacks under some of the windows, or I guess mount one or two over the windows, or vary the heights if we liked that effect; and we could collect them over time. Here's the trouble, though. Although I'd love to have one barrister bookcase, I hadn't envisioned having a collection of them - because they're very expensive. Best price on a full (4- or 5-shelf) set I've seen is around $500. I'm not sure I could justify a room full of them at those prices.

Oh, also, the room will need a rug. I like this one a lot (I like that it's muted):

So I have some general ideas of how I want it to look, and things I want to do with the room (fire, bookshelves, desk for stationery and to hide laptops in, comfy place for guests to sit around), but I'm still not exactly sure how to get there. I'm sure nobody has anything else to do five days before Christmas and during a massive snowstorm, so you all can help me with your brilliant ideas.

Merry Christmas, infertiles. May you be blessed with all the grace sufficient to your situation - and plenty of extra, too.


  1. as always, love your ideas. i'm still looking for my writing desk...

    the blue color you chose is so pretty and calming. i was looking at the picture and at the rainboots, then at the pillow.. those staged pictures crack me up, as they are always so pretty but so so staged... if that pillow was on my floor at home, i'd be annoyed and pick it up, not looking at how pretty it is next to the boots and the blue wall.

  2. 1. I agree. Put a rail up by the stairs and open up that space. That bar is weird. It makes it look like a trapped door.

    2. On the ceiling color you mentioned: The former owners had Benjamin Moore’s “linen white” on the ceilings/trim/plantation shutters here. I wouldn’t have picked it originally b/c on the sample it looks to close to white, but it dries darker than the sample (or so it seems to me) and I really like it. At my former house (circa 1950s), I struggled so much with ivory/off-white colors because everything seemed to dry darker (& with a more yellowish or peachish tint) than I wanted. I would have loved to have known of this color and I’m sure I overlooked it. It might not be the warm ivory shade you are looking for, but I thought I would throw that color name out there for you to consider. (Wal-Mart’s “muslin” is the closest off-brand I’ve found).

    3. I like the lime-wash idea a lot. With pigment or not . . . I don’t know. I think all of them would look good. I’d be more inclined to do the plain version on the walls (or blue pigmented as a 2nd choice), but this is outside my element on so many different levels.

    4. I do like the ornate leather chair. A colleague had a similar black leather one in his office that I always admired, but I could never find a similar affordable one. They were all very expensive.

    5. On the shelves . . . either way. I prefer wood to white GENERALLY. If, however, you have an area with competing wood tones, I have no problem painting wood white. Sometimes it is just necessary.

    I love built-ins, but I would never do it until I had lived in the place a while. My room is so tiny so we stuck with movable bookcases at different heights. My BIL had custom built-ins and the benefit to that is you are able to utilize every square inch – particularly in areas above/below the window (like in the picture you have) or in areas where a standard bookcase would cut off or interfere with another attribute of the room. This is hard to explain in writing, but BIL had an open wall for bookshelves, but that wall was flanked by windows on either side which were on adjacent walls. His builder was able to do “step-in” or recessed shelving so that he could have more shelves, but not block (or compete with) the windows on either side. In other words, the center book shelf was large and deep, but the shelves on either side recessed in a little (not as deep) so they could accommodate smaller books, but didn’t get in the way of the windows. Make sense?

    6. I love, love, love THE LOOK of barrister bookcases. At one time, that was the only option DH would consider. I, however, found them a pain to actually use (I know you can leave the glass up) and didn’t want them for heavy use areas. One I would like. A room full, I would just like to look at. Does that make sense?

    Wow! What a long way to say I like all of your ideas.

    Merry Christmas to you, too.

  3. i love all your ideas! i also have a bookshelf dilemma. i have a sunroom with completely bare walls and am thinking about the best plan is. sadly, no $ to actually do anything but it is nice to dream! :)

    merry christmas to you. xxx

  4. As always love the ideas. That trap door in the floor is hilarious. I can imagine finding it very cool as a kid. I can't imagine really having a regular use for a bar, so I agree it should go. And you couldn't be more right about doing something to reduce the number of non-matching wood tones. I also vote window seat!! (But the barrister shelves are great, too.)