Kiersta Barnes, 31, has a helluva lot of books.
“It is like a weird used bookstore in here,” the compliance consultant says of the one-bedroom Eckington rental she shares with her boyfriend, George Mocharko, 39. Both are avid readers, and together their collection fills every corner and crevice of their apartment.
Barnes has been a ravenous reader since childhood. “I did the summer reading club every single summer, not just to get the pizza,” she says, “and every year I read way more than everyone else.”
Since starting young, she’s assembled a varied collection that includes political memoirs, historical fiction novels, Lauren Conrad titles, and more. Mocharko tends to read more nonfiction. He hangs onto travel and business books and titles by Dave Eggers, Thomas Friedman and Paul Krugman.
“My biggest fantasy … is to have the library like in ‘Beauty and the Beast’ with the ladder that swings around the room so that I can glide across and bask in the glory of all my books,” gushes Barnes.
There’s no library ladder (yet), but Barnes’ and Mocharko’s walls are indeed lined with books. To accommodate their joint collection, the pair had to purchase so many bookcases that they’ve filled up their wall space.
If you want to invest in bookcases of your own, think about how long you’ll have them. Renters should “use something that is easily moveable from apartment to apartment,” says Ben Dursch, a Realtor with Evers & Company.
He recommends Ikea pieces, which are versatile and inexpensive. A Kallax shelving unit can act as a room divider, book displayer, or multi-purpose storage space. The company’s popular Billy bookcases can sit on either side of a doorway to lend a library-like air, Dursch says.
If you know you’ll be bringing a large lit collection to a new place, consider finding a unit with built-in storage. Lots of newer units are adding built-ins to appeal to book-lovers and other collectors.
“Having a collection from over the years displayed proudly on a bookshelf can really make a house feel like a home,” says Mike Ennes, vice president of residential operations and branding for Federal Realty. Their new property Pallas at Pike & Rose offers built-in shelving nooks.
Of course, bookcases can only hold so much. For Barnes and Mocharko, once books were stacked two deep on shelves and lying atop the bookcases they had to think outside the shelf.
For extra storage space, they looked to other furniture. “We have an ottoman in the living room that has space underneath, and it’s piled with books under there,” Barnes says. A side-table drawer is also stuffed with literature, and the bathroom and bedroom have stacks of tomes too.
When Alec Albright, 24, a graduate student at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, first filled the bookcase in his Columbia Heights studio, he started putting books on top of it.
“Now I find stacks of books against my wall and on either side of door frames, providing a sort of column effect,” he says. “My desk has been so thoroughly stacked that I have had to work on top of the books rather than the wooden surface,” Albright admits.
He doesn’t seem to mind, though. “A book is a piece of art that should be admired,” he says.
Once you’ve covered all shelves and other flat surfaces with books, it’s time to get really crafty.
The insides of fireplaces are great spaces for stacking volumes. “Definitely clean them out or line them with a cardboard box before you fit the books inside,” to protect them from soot, wear, and tear, Dursch recommends.
Truly strapped for space? Look up! The tops of kitchen cabinets are a book-friendly Easter egg, and “generally over doorways you can always sneak something if you’re really tight,” Dursch says.
The put-a-shelf-over-the-door trick is slick, but it requires a drill and fasteners for installation, then shelf removal and patching up the wall when it’s time to move out.
Renters should always check the fine print before mounting anything that could damage the walls, Dursch cautions.
“Tenants need to look at their lease and understand what they can and cannot do,” he says. “There is a security deposit in question.”
When it comes to storing stories, “inlets and windowsills are a great help,” Olga Kuzmina, 25, says.
The think-tank foreign policy researcher rents a three-bedroom Bloomingdale rowhouse with two roommates. She says she arranges her books “by genre — period fiction, history, psychology, Russian stuff — and within those I vary them by color and size to enhance the appearance of variety.”
Lots of people have switched over to tablets and e-readers, but for bibliophiles reading is about the experience of holding a printed work in their hands.
“I like possessing them as objects,” Kuzmina says of her books, “but I also think of them in a personified manner, almost as if they are friends.”
A book can be a place of refuge from the digital, constantly-plugged-in world.
“I feel like I look at the screen all day. Escaping into a book I can shut off technology for a little bit,” Barnes says. “I don’t have to worry about a text or an email popping up. None of that pops up in my book.”
Go your own way
Some apartment units have unusual floorplans that require precisely measured bookcases to make good use of square footage. There are a handful of stores in D.C. where renters can find just the right storage solutions to fit their niches. Room & Board on 14th Street NW can customize shelving units to the inch with prices starting at $379. A Few Cool Hardware Stores’ locations across the D.C. area offer DIY shelves at a lower price point. Sets of brackets start at about $6 and a 1-by-8-by-4-inch piece of wood that can be cut to size to make an over-the-door shelf runs about $12.
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