Novel Thoughts
By Stacee Lee Harger
Better Homes & Gardens Decorating, Winter 1995

From 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 activity list.

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 summer.

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 room.

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 lived in.”

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.

(page 78)
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.

(page 80)
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 room’s success.

(page 81)
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.”


Home | Resume | Clients & Projects | Writings | Contact

© 1995 Meredith Corporation
All rights reserved