THE first duty of a bookcase undoubtedly is to hold books. But there is no reason why, in discharging that useful office, it should not render actual assistance in making the room it is in appear more charming. One does not hold a brief for
“furniture books”; we are all familiar with that unread appearance sometimes worn by shelf after shelf of handsome books—they have an uncanny tell-tale way with them that strips the claims from the literary pretender. I hold, rather, that the bookshelves in a room should be of the size, shape and type which will be becoming to it. And it is an odd fact that very often the snelf that is obviously the oneand-only shelf for a particular spot, will be able to prove to the jealous book-lover that it is fulfilling its primary duty better than any other type of shelf could do! That is natural, of course, since the unsuitable can never be beautiful; we cannot feel satisfied, and therefore cannot be roused to admiration, by something which bothers even our sub-conscious mind, with a sense of unfitness for whatever task it is fulfilling.
It is a common enough occurrence for a person who is house-hunting to gaze at the bedrooms in many of the modern houses and apartments and finally ask, “Where could one place a bed?” A small amount of original wall space has been so cur into by windows and doors, by unfortunate angles and strangely placed radiators, that there are not enough spaces left to carry the essential furniture. The fortunate possessor of a library of any proportion is faced with a similar problem. Where are the wall spaces for bookshelves—and yet more bookshelves?
It is almost always there, if looked for with a knowing eye. Not, perhaps, the unbroken walls of books one has seen with the free-roving mind’s eye, but generous accommodation, if it is taken sympathetically in hand and the most made of it.
It is well to remember, when bookshelves are under consideration, that they will have an effect on a room that is not likely to be equalled by any of the other furniture. This is especially true if their mass is large; they will then
rank not merely as furmture, but will take on structural significance. Line, weight, color, all become factors that must be taken into account.
At this point, it is well to give some thought to the types of bookshelves that offer themselves. A large room that is destined to be a real library, scarcely presents the same problem. There, all else is subservient to the books; the other furnishings are the incidentals that provide a comfortable and pleasant place in which they may be enjoyed. The room will chosen primarily for its suitability to its especial purpose — that is to say, it will have large, unbroken expanses of wall space that may be turned over entirely to the books.
Books to Live With You
BUT the average home cannot se+ aside such a room.
The bookshelves must come right along and live with the familv.
After all, there is much to be said for this plan too! It is interesting to observe how, sooner or later, your books will choose their own locations, so to speak.
For instance, I know two delightful houses —delightful in that their owners are delightful, as well as the houses in their own right—in which dinner-table discussion is immensely stimulated by the presence of a small encyclopedia stand, stationed behind and within reach of the host. When talk is animated and interesting, during the informal supper parties that are a feature in both houses, it is surprising to note how often someone calls for a reference. It was not with thought of himself, or yet of his guests, that the head of one of these families (a busy professional man), transferred his encyclopedia from his own study to his dining room; it was, he told me, because the hours spent at meals were his principal time with his ’teen-age youngsters; that was the time they had for talk, for the asking of endless questions.
“And I do want them to have the encyclopedia habit,” he added.
So, too, with the few old favorites that we want, with a new book or two, perhaps, on our bedroom bookshelf. They may be placed most conventionally upon the largest and most general of our bookshelves; eventually, they will manage to find their way to the small, personal row of volumes—and there they are apt to remain.
Some Charming Styles
WHAT form are these various shelves to take? The range is almost as wide as the range in the taste for books, and runs all the way from the more or less
elaborate “period” bookcase, to the simplest of carpentered or home-made shelves.
A fa\orite with the great craftsmen of the latter half of the eighteenth century was tne tall secretary, the combination writing desk and bookcase. The brothers Adam, Chippendale and his disciples, George Heppelwhite and his firm, Thomas Sheraton, all gave us handsome specimens to treasure and to reproduce more or less faithfully. A certain association of ideas impelled one and another of the famous designers to make the bookcase a part of various architectural features and articles of furniture. The chimney piece of carved wood, with embellishment of marbles or metals, perhaps, frequently included commodious bookshelves—irresistible invitation on a winter’s night. A page of Chippendale’s famous “Director” lists the bookshelf in half a dozen of these intimate relationships. To-day, we carry that idea still farther, and drop shelves into every likely nook and cranny.
Those fitted shelves, that take their cue as to height and width from the space available and the setting in which they find themselves, are the favorites to-day. The big bookcase is too arbitrary to be truly popular. It lacks the adaptable qualities that endear even its humbler relatives to us, when they come in a spirit of fit-as-you-need-us. The sectional bookcase, with its protective sliding doors and supplementing base and crown pieces, followed this line with marked success. Small sets of shelves, adopting the same slogan, are happily adjustable
to the changing requirements of house or library. It is a simple matter to add a section of either the expanding bookcases or the homemade shelves that are one of the first things the amateur feels confident of tackling.
To follow the
To follow the architecture of the room, in a general way, is also easy when there is elasticity of this sort in the bookshelves you have chosen. A lor% unbroken stretch of wall invites you to put in a set of shelves of the general type of the one pictured here. This room presents a problem, unusual only in that it was a slightly exaggerated case. The walls were broken on three sides of the room by a great bay window, a fireplace, two wide doors and several irregularities in the line of the wall. There were only two spaces of more than a foot or two in width—this nine-foot stretch and a five foot space on the adjoining wall. - To have run the bookshelves to any considerable height (as when a large bookcase was first tried against that wall), was to throw the room sadly out of balance. It could not escape lopsidedness, in an aggravated degree. These long, low shelves, on the other hand, fit into -the room in the happiest manner— as a matter of fact, they improved it greatly, from a structural point of view. The shelves carry the eye to about the same level as the numerous window sills, the line of the fireplace and the roughly-defined level of the various pieces of furniture—with sufficient variety, of course, to avoid any suggestion of monotony, but close enough also to avoid too great contrast. Satisfaction in the result was appreciably increased by the fact that the new shelves not only made a more successful room, but that at the cost of some extra shelves from the fruit cellar and a pint of paint they set free a huge and valuable antique walnut bookcase that, differently placed, proceeded to look the handsome piece of furniture it was. It required a less broken background, and to stand where there would be some foreground as well, to get away from the rather overpowering effect it had in the smaller square room.
The same necessity—that of getting a
harmonious buc pleasantly varied composition—resulted in the choice of the carved shrine to centre the space above the long bookshelves, in preference to the round mirror of black and gold lacquer, that was a candidate for the same position. Its circular line offered too sharp a contrast to the straight severity of the shelves.
Some Practical Ideas
QUITE different conditions were responsible for the two high sets of shelves that flank the window in our other livingroom picture. This room, far from being roughly square in its proportions, was exaggeratedly long and narrow. There were such long, unbroken wall spaces on either side wall, that skillful grouping of furniture was necessary to keep the mind from an annoying consciousness of the room’s shape. The end window, with its neighboring walls at a slignt angle, presented an opportunity for a charming corner—an opportunity that was grasped promptly. The tall, open shelves satisfy us not only because they help to create a picture, but
we feel, without troubling to think about it at all, that there is something eminently right about gathering one’s books into such a pleasant rest-corner. These shelves, by the way, were carpenter-made and home-painted—black, echoing the ground color of the boldly-patterned chintz. The black lines of curtains and
cases; that the shelves should be protected by doors, in such a case, seems wise, for the st-ir-well is admittedly in the path of a large percentage of the household dust.
She who places a tiny shelf in her guestroom, with a few volumes selected with an eyç to varying tastes, adds not a little to the assurance of her success as a hostess;
bookshelves, all so clearly defined, are markedly harmonious.
Happy grouping of a room’s furnishings is never more noticeable than when the bookcase is an important part of the arrangement. We have spoken of the shelves by a pleasant window, or gathered in friendly fashion about the fireplace. The latter has lost none of its charm, with the progress of time. We find very frequent opportunity to place shelves, large and small, on either side of the hearth. The design of the mantel-piece, as well as the space there may be at either side, will govern, to a considerable extent, the height of these neighboring shelves.
The invitation of the window, too, is accepted not only after the manner of our dlustration, but by long low shelves from
a book of short stories, a volume of essays, a worth-while collection of verse, a new novel—and her guests will call her blessed.
Speaking of bedroom bookshelves brings to mind the quaint, hanging-shelf that has stepped, with a lot of other furniture, out of a past day into a very appreciative present. Sometimes it is a single shelf, with up-turned ends; sometimes there are several short shelves. Hung by a couple of tasseled cords, near chaise longue, easy chair or bed, it is a real addition in every way. Occasionally, it wanders off to other rooms, sure of a welcome anywhere. The old hanging shelves are, for the most part, walnut or mahogany. The most attractive modern one I have seen, was painted pale gray, to match the bedroom furniture, and a graceful trailing vine
sill to ground; a broad top-shelf provides an excellent location for plants, if the window be a sunny one.
Perhaps no bookcase has more power to charm than one which we come upon unexpectedly. A good example is offered by the stair landing we illustrate, with its low, broad seat and pair of small book-
(traced, I learned, from an embroidery pattern, by the aid of a sheet of carbon paper) wound its way up the side boards. The stems and leaves were gray-green, the flowers painted in flat colors, very delicate shades.
Still another of the type of shelf that grows to fit an opportunity, I saw
recently fraternizing with that bane of the home decorator—the radiator. A set of shelves was built to the height of the radiator and placed right beside it. The top shelf runs the full length of shelves and radiator, giving a delightfully long sweep and reducing the coils to the
state of inconspicuousness which best becomes them. The top board is a very thick one, so that no heat can penetrate to affect the glue and weaken the bindings of any of the books—for after all, we have said that the shelf’s first duty is toward the books it holds.
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