The desirability of a library, however, is an age-based phenomenon. Most of the architects’ clients were in their 40s or older, a group that still attaches great value to books. Their younger clients, especially those younger than 30, are readers but not bibliophiles.
In the digital age, how is it that anyone, young or old, still owns so many books? The architects said that some people collect first editions or acquire books related to a particular interest. Some have books related to their extensive art collections and others have inherited libraries maintained by their families for generations. Some homeowners are simply voracious readers.
Like all book lovers, however, these clients don’t simply own a lot of books; most express a strong emotional connection to them. Houston architect David Bucek said many of his clients have likened their books to “having an old friend around the house.” Madison, Conn., architect Duo Dickinson said that for many people, books serve as a “repository of memories,” each one reminding them of where and when they got this or that volume, the person who gave it as a present, a course they took in college or a favorite teacher.
Though many people, including home builders and the merchandisers who furnish their model homes, tend to use the terms “library” and “home office” interchangeably, the architects said their clients regard the two as quite distinct. A home office is a place for serious work; it may have extensive shelving for books, but these will be related to the task at hand. A library, on the other hand, is couched in more romantic terms — it’s seen as a refuge from the everyday and “a place of leisure,” as Washington designer Simon Jacobsen put it. For this reason, most home libraries tend to be located away from the main living areas and are sometimes housed in a separate building altogether.
When it comes to looks, Bethesda architect Greg Wiedemann said that his libraries tend toward the “traditional and nostalgic” with paneled walls, coffered ceilings and places to display collections related to a homeowner’s other interests that might include model trains, signed baseballs, old metal coin banks or mementoes from foreign travels. Other embellishments have included hidden, secret access doors that make a book-loving owner feel that once he’s alone with his books, “he’s transported back in space and time and sealed off from the rest of the world.” Wiedemann has also added secret storage compartments within bookcases for hiding “little tiny things,” a detail, Wiedemann said, that is reminiscent of the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew mysteries that many of his clients read as kids.