In carefully curated video-call backdrops, bookshelves of all shapes and sizes play a starring role. In the world of prime property, however, only a dedicated library will do. Once again at the top of affluent homeowners’ wish lists, libraries allow you to showcase both your erudition and your sense of style. More important still, they are a device-free sanctuary in which you can unwind.
“Whether they are renovating or building a brand-new home, people are incorporating libraries from the planning stage,” says Nicky Dunne, who runs the celebrated Mayfair bookshop Heywood Hill and its exclusive library curation service, along with a handpicked team of booksellers. His recent commissions in the UK, the US, Europe and the Middle East have covered subjects from aviation and 20th-century conflicts to dragonflies and the 200 books every teenager should read.
“My job is to help clients create collections that truly reflect their personalities and passions,” Dunne says. “A lot of people have specific themes in mind, but with others it’s a case of sitting them down and really getting to know them. We try to make the process as much fun as possible.”
According to Dunne, the ideal size for a library is between 100 and 5,000 volumes, and creating one requires a budget that starts in five figures and can go up to seven. He stresses that the urge to form a library is usually less about showing off than a love of the nourishing, tangible company that books provide. “Like gardens, libraries take time to come together,” he says. “They are challenging and fiddly, but infinitely rewarding.”
Simon Finch runs Voewood Rare Books from a cabin in the woods of his Arts and Crafts house in north Norfolk. A specialist in antiquarian volumes, he recently gathered a mind-expanding library on the history of psychedelics for a client. His advice to anyone building a library is to buy the best-quality, most interesting material you can afford: “Follow your instincts and be prepared to go off piste.”
The same goes for creating a thrilling new book space in your home. Forget fusty rooms with traditional, immutable shelves: Karen Howes, founder of the Knightsbridge-based interior design firm Taylor Howes, has seen a spike in demand for both grand libraries and bespoke reading nooks. “Shelving needs to be adaptable and easily changed to fit any height, width and thickness of book,” she says. “Like dressing rooms, these spaces have become increasingly personalised and opulent, with marquetry detailing, panelling and insignia.”
Incorporating comfy vintage seating, glassware, ambient lighting, ceramics and paintings into schemes helps to create an immersive, intriguing environment. “Home libraries are increasingly embraced as a talking point rather than a symbol of status,” says Siobhan Kelly, associate director at David Collins Studio. “They are an opportunity to tell a story, offering a glimpse into someone’s inner world.”
Little Black Book
Heywood Hill and Voewood Rare Books will curate a library in line with your interests. Taylor Howes and David Collins Studio can design the space of your dreams – complete with custom shelving. And Crawshaw Architects can convert the most humble building into a space to read and reflect.
Pictures from top: a Clive Christian x Taylor Howes project in east London; a mauve library designed by David Collins Studio; traditional library style by Clive Christian’s London studio; a dramatic German library; a Ward & Co design in Covent Garden, London