You can find a place with light and comfort for reading at home

March 07, 1993|By Michael Walsh | Michael Walsh,Contributing Writer Universal Press Syndicate

We homeowners are an adaptable lot. Over the past few decades we've made room in our homes for big-screen televisions, VCRs, compact-disc players, stereos and all manner high-tech home entertainment equipment. Many of us have also made room for personal computers, software and video games.

But consider this: Here in 1993, one in five Americans cannot read beyond the sixth-grade level. Out of 156 countries, the United States ranks a pathetic 49th place in literacy, down from 31st place in 1950.

No doubt there are many factors that account for this dismal condition, but a contributing cause may be that we have neglected to make room in our homes for reading. Then again, isn't reading something you should be able to do just about anywhere in the house? After all, a book, a magazine or a newspaper is easier to tote about than a personal computer or television.

Technically, of course, that's true. But, thanks to open floor plans, privacy at home has diminished considerably. There are simply fewer walls than there used to be. Also, video games, television, tape players and CDs produce the kind of whole-house noise pollution that discourages such solitary pursuits as reading.

But if you're not reading as much as you would like to, it's not enough to blame architects and builders, intrusive electronics or a hectic lifestyle. The first step to remedy the situation is simply finding the resolve to read more, setting aside both time and space for the purpose.

The next step is making it clear to every member of the household that reading is a fundamental right, a high-priority personal indulgence that is no less important than other leisure-time activities, and one that must be respected.

There's no reason to relinquish your right to read because some family member wants to watch television or listen to the stereo. Headphones can help to maintain household harmony.

Next, look around the house for an area that can be reserved for reading -- at will, not just when you're home alone or when everybody else is asleep. Then furnish and outfit it to promote the act of reading. The basics are a big, comfortable, supportive chair, a pillow to prop against, a footstool, a side table, a good reading lamp and maybe a magazine rack.

If there's not a separate room that can be converted into a full-time library, look for spaces in rooms that serve other purposes.

* The dining room: Probably the least-used room in the house, the dining room can be a library on demand. In fact, in some homes, it may well make more sense to have a library that converts to a dining room than a dining room that doubles as a library.

Furnish for day-to-day flexibility, not once-in-a-blue moon contingency.

Don't say there's no room for a reading nook if you have a big

rectangular dining table that's capable of seating eight, but does so only once or twice a year. Furnish for day-to-day flexibility, not once-in-a-blue moon contingency. Get a small, round table with removable leaves. Leaf-less it can provide an intimate dinner setting for two or four. With leaves it can be made to accommodate six or eight.

But between times, it can leave enough breathing room for one or even two club chairs, an ottoman and a couple of pharmacy lamps. If there's wall space, bring in or build in some book cases. Otherwise, stow the rarely used fine china and crystal somewhere else and use some or even all of the shelves in the china cabinet or the hutch for books.

* The living room: Chances are, if you have a family room, the living room is occupied only on state occasions. Yet many of the elements of an accommodating reading room are already there -- comfortable sofas and chairs, table and table lamps, big windows and pleasant views, perhaps even a fireplace.

All you really have to do is resolve to take advantage of the amenities the living room offers and actually begin to use it for a new purpose. But take steps to keep the living room's spaciousness from overwhelming you. The easiest way to make it cozy enough for solo use is with lighting. Put rheostats on all lamps. Dim all the lights but the one you're reading by to create a more intimate atmosphere.

* The bedroom: You don't have to resort to reading in bed. Bring in an ample chaise longue or wingback chair and a small table for a reading light, even if you have to rearrange the bedroom furniture or relocate a dresser or chest of drawers to a walk-in closet or a dressing room.

Distinguish the reading zone from the sleeping zone with an area rug to give it stature and importance.

* The guest room: Also known as the "spare" bedroom, this room only has value when you have guests. But if it is also a reading room, then it's worthy every day.

Instead of a conventional double bed, put in a trundle daybed and top it off with big, European square pillows that you can prop yourself up on while reading. Or, if you don't like to read lying down, a daybed can free up some space for an easy chair and a footstool.

JTC * The kitchen: Well, why not? Kitchens have been enlarged to accommodate an arsenal of new appliances -- microwaves, trash compactors, dishwashers, double ovens, even home-office equipment. A big comfy reading chair or a well-cushioned

window seat can make the kitchen a before-and-after-meals literary retreat.

The point is to create a reading area that is as convenient and accessible as possible. Make it an important place, as well as a functional space, one that accommodates your right to read and reflects the value you place on doing it in comfort and style.

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