Tuesday, September 06, 2016

What Libraries Are For



"What's the room with all the books for?"  If you read Peter Haldeman's recent New York Times article on his experience with using a home stager ("The Twilight Zone of Home Staging"), then you were likely horrified by this quote, which was uttered by the stager upon seeing the author's home library for the first time.  Honestly, if someone came into my home and asked such a dumb question, I wouldn't know whether to laugh or cry.  I realize that people don't read like they once did, and I understand that, sadly, libraries are no longer symbols of aspiration like they were in the recent past.  But have our standards slipped so much that a home library is considered a detraction and not a luxury by many?

It seems to me that the Eighties was the last decade in which the library was lavished with attention, and two stellar examples from this decade are the libraries of Mrs. Charles W. Engelhard (today better remembered as the mother of Annette de la Renta)  and Carter Burden.  Both serious book collectors, Engelhard and Burden created not just some of the finest book collections in private hands, but two of the finest libraries to house them.

Converted from a former bedroom suite, Mrs. Engelhard's library was designed by architect Robert Raley and Parish-Hadley.  Perhaps reflecting the American focus of Mrs. Engelhard's collection of rare books and manuscripts, the library is efficiently designed and somewhat restrained in its furnishings.  The glass bookshelves were inspired by those at the Morgan Library, while the lighting was copied from that at Yale's Beinecke Library.  With its fireplace, round reading table, and leather-covered chairs, the library was, to quote Albert Hadley, "a little jewel of a room."

Burden's library, on the other hand, was more decoratively effusive, famously decorated by first Parish-Hadley and, later, the great Mark Hampton.  An obsessive collector of modern American literature, the late Burden said, "Books do not merely furnish my rooms, they engulf them."  (This was the man who also quipped, "You can never be too thin, too rich, or have too many books.")  But alongside those books were personal mementos, a flock of comfortable chairs, and layers of cosseting fabric, all of which must have encouraged hours upon hours of reading, reflecting, and relaxing, which is exactly what a room with all the books is for. 




The library of Mrs. Charles W. Engelhard, decorated by Parish-Hadley:





Carter Burden's library, decorated by Parish-Hadley and Mark Hampton:








All photos from House & Garden, March 1987, Oberto Gili, photographer

33 comments:

  1. I would think I needed a new home stager/realtor.

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  2. I love libraries. Both kinds: private rooms and public institutions. I especially love the smell of the latter. I do not love rooms lined with books nobody has read but instead bought by the yard or foot at some garage sale, just for appearances. I am suspicious of any home that has no books. Some people may prefer to borrow rather than buy and that's their choice, but those who choose to never read I cannot comprehend. Literature is among civilization's greatest accomplishments.

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    1. Well said, Taste of France. My other pet-peeve is bookshelves crowded with tchotchkes rather than books.

      I would much prefer to read than to engage on Instagram, Facebook, etc.

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    2. "My other pet-peeve is bookshelves crowded with tchotchkes rather than books." I'm so with you on that one. The other trend that made me shake my head was covering the books in colored paper, essentially turning books into tchotchkes. Yes, it (sometimes) looks nice but how can you tell which book is which?

      I aspire to have a room dedicated as a library one day. We will be moving next year and the logical place to house our books is in a hallway niche. I've been bending over backwards trying to figure out how to get at least some of the books into the living room so it won't feel like my favorite tomes are "exiled"!

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    3. Charlotte Court, I have a friend whose library is located along the walls of his hallway. The nice thing about having them in the hall is that you'll likely walk past them throughout the day, which might be very comforting.

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  3. I begin to find it all rather grimly fascinating.
    Peter Haldeman (in his NY Times piece) quotes his sphinx-like Stager's pronouncement that "“More than 50 percent of shelf space devoted to books equals clutter.”
    Really? There is as a rule nothing calmer than a book lined room, and nothing sadder than bookcases bereft of the books intended for them, filled with severely curated bits of pottery or glass. Clearly, the dubious art of Staging has got out of hand. A uniformity of style is being inflicting on a hitherto unsuspecting world. The shifting sands of Taste will always be a subject worth pondering, but this is something quite new, and I do not like anything about it.

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    1. Agreed. The sad reality is that with so many people turning their focus almost exclusively to social media, books and libraries will fall even further out of favor. How depressing!

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    2. I haven't read the article on the stager yet, but that quote, and the comment about the libary tells me that that is the stupidest stager ever. It sounds from what you are saying that he/she went to some "staging" school. Get a new one, asap. What is that stager for anyway? Going to go read the article now. So stupid!!! haha!! Great post, as usual.

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    3. Joni, Ha! So true. Hope you are well!

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    4. I actually know this stager. She is a complete idiot. I am hoping she does not read blogs. I doubt she does.
      This article was a complete public service! The writer is a very nice guy..from an old Santa Barbara/LA family.
      I hope this article will go viral......it is a hideous thing; this "staging" spreading all this misinformed ugly and horrific tasteless.....stuff all over!! It is like a virus!! How do we stop it!
      EWWWW!!!!!!

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  4. Books should be treated with respect. I can't bare to see them being used as rows of colour on bookshelves, or slanted which harms the spine. One of my favourite rooms is the library at Arundel Castle. In our Club/Guest room we have a mixture of titles for our guests to discover and lose themselves. Something I look forward to when a house guest myself. These hand-held devices are pernicious. How people try to justify their relentless use of them. They do remind me of Narcissus. I refuse to give up hope. If beards could make a come back, so too can the library.

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    1. Pamela, Your comment about the comeback of beards gave me a laugh! I'm now off to find photos of the library at Arundel Castle.

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  5. Hello Jennifer, That stager would have had a problem with all the rooms in my apartment.

    When selling our house years ago, I moved over 8,000 books to storage for what I thought was a few months. However, the storage unit burned down, so all the books I have now are "since the fire."

    I like both of the libraries you feature, one to house a specialty collection, the other to provide an exotic setting for study or relaxation.
    --Jim

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    1. Jim, How awful! I hope you had a catalogue of your 8,000 books.

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  6. I'm in the process of reclaiming books that have been in storage for far too long. My former dining room (which was a former family room with fireplace) is now our new library with dining space.My goal: books flush to the edge of the shelves to reduce dust and make it easier to remove books and no other "staging"/props/crap. My husband and I were both English majors. His grandmother was a poet who wrote/read/researched every day. I can think of no better metaphor for our times than books turned inward with only their blank edges showing. As I have gotten older, I've come to treasure time has a precious time-limited commodity. I don't waste my time with people who don't read.

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    1. I have bookshelves in every room of my home except for the dining room. I'd love to turn that room into a library/dining room.

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  7. Anonymous11:44 AM

    I would have politely shown the stager (and the realtor) the door. I was very pleased (and a bit shocked) to see that in my niece's home, she turned her third bedroom into a library. When I asked if she used a Kindle (she's 25 and I thought no young person actually reads real books), she replied "I can't stand Kindles, I like holding an actual book and I like to be surrounded by books."

    Thank you for the great photos Jennifer, these libraries are great, and they look so cozy, how could anyone not want to curl up with a good book in them??? LK

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    1. LK, Good for your niece! What a clever young woman. She gives me hope for the future. :)

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  8. Libraries are one of our last bastions of civilisation. Any stager who said that to me would be sacked. My flat in NYC's West Village was once considered for a Woody Allen movie location because of its lovely bookcases, which I designed. Woody enjoys using libraries as a setting to give his people character. I feel the same. If one wishes to have an insight into a new acquaintance, merely pop into his/her library or peruse the bookshelves. It's very telling.

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    1. Cynthia, It's so interesting to snoop through one's library. Books say so much about a person.

      Long live the library!

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  9. To me, a house without books is a house without a soul. There are book shelves in nearly every room in my house. We do have a room we call the library and it is filled with books. A stager would have a heart attack as photos of children and grandchildren are often propped up in front of some of the books. It is a room that is LIVED IN, not for staging/show! I'm grateful that both my children have continued this tradition. There are few pleasures as great as needing something to read and perusing ones on library and finding just the thing. And yes, I re-read many of my books. As a matter of fact, that is my guideline for purchasing a new book - is it one I would enjoy re-reading? If it's not, I get it from the public library.

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    1. srb, I have no plans to sell my condo anytime soon, but if I ever must, it will likely stay on the market for a long time because there are books everywhere in my home. I wouldn't change it for the world!

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  10. Mrs. Charles W. Engelhard's library really is a gem! It almost looks as if Bill Blass could have been the owner of that library.

    The stager is clearly an illiterate moron, though the statement may have the barest validity if one is staging a house for sale, since some folks ARE intimidated by books (The Trump followers spring to mind) and others like seeing the negative space so they can envision their OWN books in place.

    The reporter is clearly tweaking us all by quoting the goof's pronouncements on books. Books will have their renaissance, if there really is even a need for a renaissance. The temporary fall from fashion's grace of actual tomes is a fiction (no pun intended) of writers of articles looking to be either provocative or interesting. One cannot curl up with a brandy and an IPad in a wing chair in quite the same way as with a good book.

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    1. Perhaps the real story here is that many people today seem intimidated by anything high-tone, such as rooms full of books, antiques, or art. What do these people aspire to, I wonder?

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    2. The largest flat screen TVs made and the most expensive cars.

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    3. Yes, as was written in "Brideshead Revisited":

      Charles thinks to himself: ‘Year by year, generation after generation, they enriched and extended [Brideshead], year by year the great harvest of timber in the park grew to ripeness; until, in sudden frost, came the Age of Hooper; the place was desolate and the work all brought to nothing; Quomodo sedt sola civitas. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’

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  11. I believe it. We are living in the iPhone Age, where everyone has their head down all the time, on the street and at home—staring into a screen. People used to be Ok with fixing a place up too, but I hear that is disappearing as well: everyone wants move-in condition, where someone else has done your thinking for you.

    What a dumbed-down age this is becoming! It's all safe, safe, safe. Boringly safe.

    My own home has nine foot-tall library shelving on either side of a big fireplace, and people walk in an act like they have seen Jesus, which is at once amusing and sad. Sad, because it doesn't take much imagination, does it, but that seems to be shot supply too.

    If books are the measure of a person, then a lot of people must be pretty small.

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    1. Good point about people wanting move-in condition. They want instant gratification, and they're not prepared to wait for custom furniture to be built or custom draperies to be fabricated, for example.

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  12. Ugh, this is so painful. I've literally just finished pulling down and storing my library and tchotchkes, so my place can be painted. I'm appreciating lean and clean and minimal after moving that stuff.
    Don't worry, I'll be over minimalism by this time tomorrow, but the new rule is one book in, one book out!

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    1. That's a rule I try to follow, too. It doesn't always work, but it's a good rule to have in place.

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