- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Former congresswoman Patricia Schroeder lives in a library.

Mrs. Schroeder, who resides in Alexandria with her husband, James, says they have books in every single room of the house. She is a believer in Thomas Jefferson's motto: "I cannot live without books."

Since becoming the president and chief executive officer of the Association of American Publishers in Northwest in 1997, her collection has increased by leaps and bounds. In order to better organize the volumes, she decided to renovate the carport of their house into a home library, which was completed by Sun Design Remodeling Specialists in Burke.

"The main reason we built it is that we ran out of space for bookshelves in the house," she says. "We're out of them again. I'm not sure what we will do at this point."

Home libraries not only provide a place to store books, but also a quiet retreat in a busy house. In a fast-paced society, the rooms are becoming a popular place for reflection.

Kristin Pfeiffer of Alexandria says her husband, Steven, uses their hidden library as a place of refuge in the home they share with five children. Because the Pfeiffers lived in Wimbledon, England, for about 10 years, Mr. Pfeiffer, who collects first editions, was inspired to model his library after British houses, which often have hidden rooms. One enters Mr. Pfeiffer's library through a secret door in the dining room wall. The door even has pictures hanging on it, which makes it blend in with the rest of the wall. A panel of the wall comes forward when one pulls on a chair rail and opens to the library.

Before the space was a library, it served as a porch, says Mrs. Pfeiffer. It was renovated by Wentworth-Levine Architect-Builder Inc. in Silver Spring. The builders created the room with a vaulted ceiling, which forms an arch. It has a Palladian window, one divided into three parts and named for Andrea Palladio, a Renaissance architect. The room also has a fireplace and hardwood floors.

"My husband loves to sit in there, whether to listen to music or do his work," Mrs. Pfeiffer says. "He has an old English desk that the room was built around, which has secret compartments too."

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Having a home library has always been a dream for Bill Thomas of McLean. Even though the previous owners of his house had added several bookcases in the master bedroom and family room before Mr. Thomas acquired it in 1997, he needed more space for his collection of books.

With the help of Merrill Contracting and Remodeling Inc. in Arlington, he tore down the wall between the sitting room and the family room on the first floor and used the space to create a home library. The room is in the same neoclassical style of the overall interior of the house, with taupe walls, white trim and cabinets, and dark mahogany bookshelves.

Taking his cue from the 16th century French essayist Michel de Montaigne, Mr. Thomas asked Eben Conner of the Master's Woodshop in Hagerstown, Md., to etch quotations from some of Mr. Thomas' favorite authors on the front edge of each bookshelf. Montaigne, who had a fondness for inscriptions, covered the beams of his library in Perigord, France, with about 60 inscriptions in Greek and Latin. Most of Montaigne's original chateau burnt in 1865, but the tower that housed his library survives today.

Mr. Thomas included inscribed quotations in English in his home library from writers such as Ovid, Virgil, Plutarch, Sophocles, Goethe and Shakespeare. "History is the messenger of antiquity," reads one inscription, from Cicero's "De oratore." Another, "Be not long away from home," is drawn from Book III of Homer's "Odyssey."

Although Mr. Thomas decided to build a library rather than a home office, he did include space for a pair of computers and other electronic equipment in the design of the cabinetry and shelves. The doors and base moldings slide inward to create leg space as needed, and a computer keyboard can be pulled forward through a concealed sliding shelf. Both shelves accommodate flat screen monitors. When not being used, they can be pushed back behind sliding mahogany panels.

"This may sound complicated, but it's actually elegant and straightforward," Mr. Thomas says. "I conceived these [computer] areas primarily with my children in mind, thinking they would find them useful."

•••

Any child would probably have a field day in Junko Wokota's home library in Evanston, Ill., which houses at least 15,000 children's books. Ms. Wokota, who works as a children's book reviewer and serves on the advisory board of the Laura Bush Foundation For America's Libraries, bought her home specifically because there was a smaller building behind the main house, in which she knew she could store her book collection.

With the help of Morgante-Wilson Architects in Chicago, Ill., Ms. Wokota renovated the space into a two-story library. It is complete with a catwalk and skylights. The lower bookcases roll out, offering more storage behind the shelves. It has a comfortable reading area and stereo system.

"I buy a lot of books, but many of them were sent to me by publishers," Ms. Wokota says, who also works as a children's literature professor at National-Louis University in Evanston. "I only keep the ones I will use in teaching and writing. The rest of them I donate I have read most of them, but there are many I have not read. Some I just keep for reference."

Many people with smaller collections of books than Ms. Wokota are choosing to design a home library rather than a formal living room, says John Potter, an associate at Morgante-Wilson Architects in Chicago. He says a formal living room often becomes "dead space," whereas a library can be used to entertain adults and house books and artwork. He also suggests displaying diplomas and awards in a library area.

"It's not always really about the books," Mr. Potter says. "For the most part, it's about having an adult room without the TV and GameBoy. Ideally, it would be on the main living floor and be integral to the house."

For those people who have extensive collections of books, Chris Madden, author and designer from Rye, N.Y., says similar books should be stored together in alphabetical order, away from heat or windows that could possibly leak when it rains. She has designed rooms and furniture during the past decade for clients such as talk show host Oprah Winfrey; NBC "Today Show" host Katie Couric and author Toni Morrison.

Ms. Madden suggests keeping the reference section of the library up to date with recent dictionaries and thesauruses. When the shelves start to overflow with books, she likes to pass some of the texts to others.

From the outset, she says, one should design a library with expansion in mind.

"Figure out how many books you have and how many you want to have and add extra shelves," she says. "It's going to keep growing."


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