"Sleeping" Image/3-D Visualization by Guillaume Favre

April is National Poetry Month. To celebrate the occasion, we are going to look at that most delicious of rooms, the personal library. Nothing is warmer and more inviting than a room stuffed with books you’ve spent your life collecting. With brilliant, witty company always at arm’s length, ready to be taken to your lap like a good cat, a personal library or study is a place to tuck into a chair you love and open the escape hatch into your imagination, to put on your wading boots and step into the river of collective human experience.

When you think of a personal library, what comes to mind? Is it dark with rich mahogany and Victorian lamps, with matching sets of leather-bound books? Is it light and airy, with slants of light coming in on a wall handsomely lined with favorite well-thumbed volumes and tomes you’ve been meaning to read for what feels like forever? Or is it (like some on this look at 20 gorgeous ones) not even a part of the main structure in which you live? 

Madamesoille 1957

Our libraries speak volumes about us, both in the company we keep and the way we arrange our books. The study provides an oasis of solitude and reflection. As the imperative of "unplugging" drives upward, the personal library becomes a necessary room in the home. 

Let's take a look at some personal libraries together. A little later in the post, we'll look into the lighting aspect, of course. And as always, there are a ton more on this post's Pinterest page (but be prepared to drool).


These two libraries show how different the same concept can look depending on the way one's books and furniture look. Both set a couch, centered, in front of a wall full of books, with its back to them. In the first, matching leather-bound sets fill the whole wall in installed bookshelves. The look is more traditional, with an animal-print pillow thrown in for some zest. In the latter photo, more contemporary furniture and books collection, exposed brick walls, and a track-lighting installation, accented by white vases with white branches, make a dramatic impact; the room has a little more lift to it, as opposed to the first image's gravity.

The above may be a bit too dark for some. No matter what the room, a great way to brighten it up is to focus on the spines and group them together by color. This works especially well for collections with a lot of design and art books. The first room, below, invokes the hallowed sense of classical antiquity but gives it a cool 21st-century update with its chrome statue in the center. The second looks truly ready for relaxation with its iPod sound dock on the right and its bar tray on the sofa (and pug!). It may be challenging for those of you who like to order your books alphabetically or chronologically, but look at the impact it makes:

So far, all of these libraries use natural wood, exposed brick, and white paint.  Some people are reluctant to dive into a darker color. However, painting a built-in custom shelving unit a warm hue like the blue and green below and installing brass-finished picture lights between the top shelf and the ceiling makes for a rich appearance. The matching brass light fixtures in these libraries use add an impeccable sense of elegance, while their lightness complements the visual weight of all the tomes & heavy objects below. Most importantly,they highlight the beauty of the books themselves and make them easy to peruse, while adding that perfect accent to the ambiance. 



Many people only have time to read at night, so personal libraries and good lighting go together like coffee and croissants. A feeling of warmth and intimacy breathes out of the well-lighted study. Keeping an emphasis on selective task and accent lighting maintains a darker setting which allows one to imagine more easily. Hanging a pendant or a chandelier always adds a dramatic focal point to a room and pulls its energy into place. However, it's not necessary here. The biggest considerations are what lights the bookshelves and the illumination by which you read. For the former, picture lights above each column are the height of elegance; LED installations also allow you to revel in the beauty of your books, while creating a sense of intrigue. Depending where you plan to read, a floor lamp or table lamp should do the trick while its design adds to the character of the room. A chair set in a fixed place next to the wall also invites a sconce with a manual means of turning on and off, such as a pull chain or knob. 


A personal library can serve not just as a room to get away and read for a while, but a place you can step into and reorganize your collection in new ways, turning forward a favorite dustjacket, creating a new grouping, spotlighting a certain publisher or subject. For some, it's a great a way to clear one's mind. Each tome touched connects to a time in your life, a building block to your identity. The books that really mattered to you, moved you, changed the way you looked at things, opened up a new vista on life and how to live it are all there. The books you haven’t read yet, well, as a professor once said: “Every book you buy is a promise to yourself.” There is something you were trying to access in yourself when you got it. And usually, there is no expiration date on it. Or, as writers' writer Harlan Ellison rhetorically asks, "Who the hell wants a library of books they've already read?"

Nicholas A. Basbanes writes in A Gentle Madness, the quintessential book on bibliophilia, “During a trip through Thebes in the last century before the birth of Christ, Diodorus Siculus described a hall outside the tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II where sacred texts had been kept more than eleven hundred years earlier. Above the portal was inscribed ‘The house of healing for the soul.'” What a beautiful way of regarding the place where books are kept. Make of your personal library a sanctuary where that could be written above the door.

We'll leave you with the last two lines of "Directive" by Robert Frost, which could also hang over the entrance to such a room:

"Here are your waters and your watering place. 
Drink and be whole again beyond confusion." 



What would you include in your dream library? Leave a comment and tell us.

Proud of your book collection? Did you set yours up in a particularly ingenious way? Snap a shelfie and share below!