The Gentleman’s Private Library, Part III (Sanctuary)

There are several important characteristics to be considered in designing a rare book library.

As a designer, the most prominent categories are the room’s lighting, air quality, cabinetry (shelving), finishes, and overall architectural plan. As the book becomes more arcane a form, these specific conditions will define and determine the longevity of the collection

Overall Plan and Design

Because rare books thrive best under specific conditions, it is best to segregate the private library from the rest of the home. This is done by creating an ante area, a controlled prelude space designated for the adjustment and gradual acclimatization of temperature and closure to air impurities. In addition to being a effective means of keeping out bad elements, ante rooms are beautiful areas unto themselves, as graceful and oftentimes interesting entries into main rooms. For the built in cabinetry, the bookshelves should be adjustable with flexibility for different sized volumes. Ideally, the shelving should line the room at one continuous height, so that it wraps the space in an aura of envelopment. The furniture then gets placed towards the middle of the room on a carpet, creating a floating effect that enhances the overall ethereal feel.


The harder the floor the better. This means non-porous stone floors with protective sealants are best. While placing a rug on top of its surface is not ideal, it is better than wall to wall carpeting which tends to capture more impurities. Radiant floors, in providing slow moving consistent heat streams, are most effective. Hard wood floors are also good.


When possible, stone walls with protective sealant coats are best. Gypsum walls tend to be too porous. However, if stone walls are not an option, a good protective wall finish over sheetrock such as Venetian plaster with its many smooth layers is advisable.


Avoid hung ceilings with ductwork. Instead, use through the walls ventilation systems. Ideally, the ceiling should be a solid surface with no penetration of outside light.


Other than the book friendly lighting systems noted above, the ambient light provided by a table or floor lamp is quite acceptable. These fixtures are on for short amounts of time and thus generally not so harmful.


Leathers coverings are superior to those made of fabrics, whose woven fibers are more vulnerable to toxic elements and dirt. Keep in mind that synthetics of any kind are not good. And, seams and decorative trims on furnishings should be kept to a minimum. The less places for germs to hide the better. Of course, what would a private library be without beautifully upholstered walls, antique carpets, window seats with beautiful draperies, lush fabrics, mohair throws, leather sofas, ornamental plasterwork with classical motifs, felt covered tables on which to place a book, a beautiful wood desk and chair, and a painting or two of your favorite author!

Surely the sanctuary, the private library is the collector’s ultimate utopia at home, where history mixes with the imagination and the past becomes alive. With diligent care and attention, rare books will thrive and perpetuate, ever increasing in value. As Jefferson correctly perceives,

A room without books is like a life without meaning.

Would you like your own private sanctuary? Perhaps, a room in which to ponder, to dream, to write, to read? A room in which to admire your beautiful books in privacy? A room in which you can feel good about having taken excellent care of these precious tomes? Designing a Rare Book Library is a highly specialized endeavor. Do you have a collection for which you would like a library designed? A unique design ability, we create and problem solve complicated and specialized spaces for your rare book library needs. We design the room, shelving, and furniture within so that the room becomes a harmonious environment in which to read.

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