CUSTOM BUILT HOME LIBRARY IN CHERRY WOOD: A CASE STUDY

Standing in the foyer and looking through the glass door into the custom cherry wood library. The African medicine man  sculpture is reflected in the door glass.

Standing in the foyer and looking through the glass door into the custom cherry wood library. The African medicine man sculpture is reflected in the door glass.

 

What’s involved in transforming a small, nondescript room into a stunning home library? One thing that I discovered through the process is that the more I understood I was designing a three dimensional puzzle the easier the entire process became.

This is a relatively small room immediately adjacent to the foyer of a fine Bellingham, WA home. The room is only 11’-4” by 10’-6” with a corner lopped off to fit a pair of French doors. There is also a large 6’-0” wide window on the North wall. There is also a coat closet on one wall with a double door. Therefore only two of the walls would have floor to ceiling bookshelves [West & South], the North wall has the window and the East wall has the double door closet which takes up two-thirds of that wall.

 

The floor plan of this small library. The design problem was how to work with the shape of the room and the number of opening in the wall and for it to hold together as a whole design.

The floor plan of this small library. The design problem was how to work with the shape of the room and the number of openings in the walls and to design it in a way that it would hold together as a unified design.

 

With so many openings in the walls the question quickly became how should I design the room so that each wall elevation holds together as a unit and, how can these four walls hold together to form a traditional custom paneled library. Well, one solution which the owner was happy to go along with was to give up the closet so that the bookshelves could continuously run along that wall too. We explored various designs to access the closet space but in the end he decided it would be good enough to access some of this storage space from the bottom cabinets but not to proceed with a design to access the upper area through doors in the upper bookshelf.

 

Cabinet construction drawing for East wall elevation. This design shows the detail for the paired doors to storage space in the former closet. This design was eventually scrapped. A solid wall covered in raffia was the final design.

A cabinet design drawing for the East wall elevation. This drawing shows the detail for the paired doors to storage space in the former closet. This design was eventually scrapped. A solid wall covered in raffia was the final design choice.

 

The other concept crucial to the design, in my opinion, was to bridge the openings above the entrance door and the window. These bookshelf ‘bridges’ would frame the openings and make for a visually continuous wall of bookshelves. The other sticky issue was how to handle the bookshelf walls which frame into each other at right angles and at 45 degree angles? It was decided that these areas would be blocked out so that each bookshelf would all have squared off ends, making them more functional.

 

Architectural study of possible designs for the exposed end panels of the custom cherry library.

Architectural study of possible design layouts for the free standing end panels of the custom cherry wood library.

 

Other concerns were how to handle the exposed end panels of the upper bookshelves. Two of them were at different heights and so they had to be designed accordingly. Four different elevation studies were developed so the owner could choose which design he preferred. The other major decision was whether to have floor to ceiling bookshelves which of course would allow for greater display of the books or, whether the lower bookshelf should actually be a cabinet with paneled doors. The latter concept was chosen as it creates a more refined and traditional library look and because it offered the opportunity to pull the lower unit forward creating a deeper shelf for placing a book or a hot cup of tea.

My favorite local custom cabinet shop built the library from my cabinet design drawings. Because the room is small I was quite certain that I wanted the stain to be rich without being any darker than it needed to be. Therefore I worked with the cabinet finisher to develop just the right custom stain for this cherry wood library. Clear coat was sprayed over the stain to give it a durable and fine furniture finish.

 

This is a view of the North elevation of the library with the large window. The lower bench below the window and the bookshelf  bridge above the window are important elements that hold this wall design together. Getting all the pieces to work together was like designing a three dimensional puzzle.

This is a view of the North elevation of the library with the large window. The lower bench below the window and the bookshelf bridge above the window are important elements that hold this wall design together. Getting all the pieces to work together was like designing a three dimensional puzzle.

 

A custom lighting plan was also developed for the new library. The owner was originally not sure that he wanted to go to the expense but I made a case for the importance of illuminating the books while highlighting the fine workmanship and beautiful cherry wood. After some deliberation he decided that it would be a good idea and is happy that he made that decision.

The other feature that I would like to point out is the dramatic architectural cornice with a 3 ¼” crown molding. It is another key element to the success of this library. A simple recessed flat panel door design with inset ogee molding was selected to coordinate with the crown and set just the right traditional tone for the library.

My final comment is about the spatial quality of the finished room. Because the room is relatively small but the concept for the library, in my opinion is large, I was very sensitive throughout the design process that the built-out room not feel overwhelming. That did not happen. The room is warm, welcoming and rich with detail—and books! The owner spends his mornings here reading and reminiscing about his beloved Africa and his many adventures on the African continent!

 

A view of the North and East elevations in this custom Bellingham, WA library. The lower cabinet unit opens to the storage area that was the former coat closet. The deeper cabinet below with the bookshelves above forms a solid base for the bookshelves above and provides a shelf to place books on, or a cup of tea.

A partial view of the North and East elevations of this custom built Bellingham, WA  home library. The lower cabinet unit opens to the storage area that was the former coat closet. The deeper cabinet below forms a solid base for the bookshelves above and provides a shelf to place books on, or a cup of tea.

 

 

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