Stacee Lee Harger
Better Homes & Gardens Decorating, Winter 1995
the pages of Dr. Seuss to those of Dr. Zhivago, we embark
on armchair expeditions every time we open a good book.
Expand your horizons all the more by dedicating a place in
your home to the enjoyment of reading.
Many of us dream of a home
library—complete with dark mahogany paneling and shelves
lined with leather-bound volumes. But we always awaken to
the reality that such fantasy rooms dedicated solely to
reading probably belong in the vast manor houses of the
landed gentry. In most of our homes, rooms must
serve a number of purposes. Yet something as important as
reading surely deserves to be included on a room’s
A reading room need be nothing more than a comfortable
area where all family members are encouraged to curl up
with a good book. This should be a room where slouching is
permissible and where books, magazines, and newspapers are
allowed, even encouraged, to pile up.
When planning a reading room, keep in mind what other
activities will take place in the space—TV watching,
card/game playing, entertaining, buffet dining—and be
guided accordingly. All too often we strive to satisfy
those other needs, giving little thought to how well a
room will function for reading. So make sure you have
comfortable upholstered seating, malleable pillows, fat
ottomans, and cozy throws—wool for winter and cotton for
Also consider lighting. No matter what activity is at
hand, lighting is all-important. It not only establishes a
room’s atmosphere (ambient lighting), but it must also
do the hard work of clearly illuminating specific areas
(task lighting). Floor, table, and wall-mounted lights
usually offer the best lighting for reading.
When placing lighting, remember, no distracting shadows
should fall across reading material. Consider where your
book is as you settle into your favorite reading position,
whether you’re slouched in a chair or lying on the sofa.
Too little light or a distracting glare will tire the eyes
and defeat your purposes, no matter how beautiful the
Lampshades are another important factor. The wrong
shade—in size, shape, material, and quality—can make a
$500 lamp look like it came from the five-and-dime store.
Those same factors contribute to function, as well. (For
more information on lighting, see “Decorating
Details,” starting on page 98.)
The three reading rooms shown here follow
these lighting and comfort rules, and carefully
incorporate personal touches, tailored to the needs of the
inhabitants. Betty Fleischman, for example, says her
favorite spot to enjoy a cup of tea and a good book is in
an overstuffed chair with an ottoman in the family’s
sitting room, page 79.
“Everything I have in this house I’ve accumulated
over the years,” says Betty, an avid collector and
antiques dealer. “I didn’t really think that
everything would work, but it just did. I’ve hit a happy
medium. This is the most comfortable house I’ve ever
For the reading pleasure of Long Island
clients, designer Denyse Rinfret used careful lighting to
create a sophisticated country library paneled in lightly
stained knotty pine, opposite. The paneling and
monochromatic color scheme work together to give the room
its warmth and softness.
American designer Bill Goldsmith didn’t
have to search long for a quiet reading spot when he set
up house in his two-room cottage in Nançay, France, below.
Since a constant fire was needed for warmth, Bill made the
room with the fireplace an all-purpose living space. “I
did everything in that room,” he says. “It was my
bedroom, living room, studio, and kitchen.”
A lover of antiques and junkyard finds, Bill regularly
visited the village dump to acquire new treasures.
(Somehow, the thought of a French village dump sounds more
exotic than one in, say, Cleveland.) But the lesson here
is that Bill has always thrown aside stringent decorating
rules. “I believe in mixing anything and everything,”
he says. “The idea is to please one’s own sense of
aesthetics and comfort.”
And so it is written.
Before delving into a good book during the cold
Massachusetts winter, Betty Fleischman lights a fire in
the fireplace (just out of the picture) and covers her
feet with a favorite cashmere throw. In warmer months, she
opens the French doors to let in a breeze and as much
natural light as possible.
To-the-ceiling bookshelves anchor both sides of this
library designed by Denyse Rinfret. Ample seating, side
tables for drinks, and good lighting all contribute to the
Sharing his French cottage with a cat named Fred, Bill
Goldsmith spent many hours reading in this cozy corner
filled with natural light and just enough windowsill to
hold a café au lait. Bill has since returned to the
States, but Fred, he tells us, “is still there chasing
the wild boars and rabbits.”
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