Uncovering a good read on libraries Home: Authors take the reader inside the literary lairs of designers, artists, writers, historians, collectors and academics.

March 24, 1996|By Charlyne Varkonyi | Charlyne Varkonyi,Knight-Ridder/Tribune Pub Date: 3/24/96 FORT LAUDERDALE SUN-SENTINEL

The late Billy Baldwin, the cocky, self-confident dean of

American decorating, considered a wall of books a better accent than any wallpaper.

"Books are the greatest asset to any room," the Baltimore-born Baldwin said.

If Baldwin were alive today, he would revel in the pages of "At Home With Books" (Carol Southern Books, $50). Authors Estelle Ellis and Caroline Seebohm and photographer Christopher Simon Sykes take the reader inside the literary lairs of 41 designers, artists, writers, historians, collectors and academics.

In a technology-driven era when electronics seem to be replacing books, it's reassuring to see a passion for the printed word expressed from the classical elegance of designer Bill Blass' library-dining room to the Bauhaus simplicity of New York artist Michele Oka Doner's apartment getaway on Miami Beach. Even Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones has created a rich, dark, octagonal library in his rural Connecticut home.

Ms. Ellis, who has done volunteer work for the New York Public Library and the Library of Congress, says she was overcome byand author of design and garden books.

"We both agreed that this was the missing book on the shelf," Ms. Ellis said in a telephone interview from her home on Washington Square in New York. "We couldn't believe that no one had done this book."

Carol Southern, who has her own publishing imprint in the Crown Publishing Group, suggested expanding the concept to libraries interesting people and including practical information on bookshelves, lighting, ladders, caring for books and starting a collection. The book also contains a "Resource Directory" of rare-book dealers and shops, book fairs, bookbinders and restorers as well as sellers of library furnishings and accessories.

Ms. Southern brought in photographer Christopher Simon Sykes because he had what she called "great access" to famous people. Mr. Sykes enabled them to include the first view of Paul Getty's library and the one at Chatsworth, the stately home of the Duke of Devonshire.

Although they worried at first that the libraries were all going to look alike, the havens for books turned out to be as different as a rock star and a duke.

Although the book does feature people with extensive and expensive libraries, Ms. Ellis said she discovered that the old-fashioned concept of an oak-paneled library with a fireplace was no longer valid. Books have invaded the entire house. That's why book lovers like Bill Blass have ceiling-to-floor bookcases in the bedroom and in the library, as well as stacks of books on tables and desks.

"Book people want their books where they can get to them, which is everywhere close by and accessible," Ms. Ellis said. "They may be piled or arranged on tables, pyramided on chairs, within arm's reach of the bed or concealed behind screens. Towering stacks of books may rise up off the floor, creating a 'bookscape' environment for the contemporary reader."

Ms. Ellis said she was surprised that no one talked to her about lighting as an essential element. What they did talk about was what Ms. Ellis calls a desire for a "comfort zone" a peaceful place where they can curl up and read for hours.

To Keith Richards, it's lying down on a cobalt-blue chaise in his cave-like library reading books on military strategy.

For Michele Oka Doner, her comfort zone differs in New York and in Miami Beach. In her New York loft, she reads in an intimate space upstairs in the loft with shimmery gray silk walls and sofas. "I can't see the city, and I can't see the world," she said. "There are no windows." But in Florida, she reads on a platform propped up by pillows next to a window with an unobstructed view of the Atlantic Ocean.

In some cases, Ms. Ellis said, people want portability. They place the books they need for writing or research on a trolley so they can roll it up to their favorite reading place.

"A lot of people told us they read in a three-quarter lying position," Ms. Ellis said. "Most people read in bed. It's a private time, an escape hatch. It's where we nurture ourselves."

One thing book lovers could agree on was that no matter how much room they allowed for books, there was never enough.

She told a story of a man whose books were his passion. Every week he would buy more and more books until his wife said she was going mad and there wasn't another inch of room left. He solved the problem by running the books up the staircase. Others, Ms. Ellis said, have found spaces under a staircase to build in bookshelves. Or they stack their art on the floor so they can have more rooms for bookshelves.

"Never let anyone tell you there is not enough room for books," Ms. Ellis said. "There is always room for books, if you make it. Nobody who loves books should be made to feel this way. Books are a priceless heritage."

Creating a comfort zone

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