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Stacking Up : Home Libraries Can Serve Dual Purposes, but Their Essential Value Lies in Words of Wisdom


Many book lovers dream of having a special library reserved only for reading. Although for most people that is an unattainable luxury, it doesn't mean a home library can't exist. Instead, a library usually serves a dual purpose: library/den, library/guest room, library/office.

A library can be functional or opulent, full of paperbacks or leather-bound Harvard classics, well-worn and well-read or purely decorative. Whatever its form, a library celebrates the written word and its connecting of past thoughts to future ideas.

Informal and formal approaches are seen in two Orange County home libraries--one belonging to an author in Huntington Beach; the other to a couple in Newport Beach.

While the two home libraries are very different in feeling, they both have a good basic collection of books for reference and enjoyment. And that is what makes a library so important in a home, this combination of important reference books and books that are just for fun.

Elizabeth George, a best-selling Orange County author who has set her six suspense novels in Great Britain, works out of her informal, well-organized library/office.

"I needed bookshelves for books I use as reference, which consists of a great number of books about Great Britain, mythology and history texts and art books. The shelves had to be pretty good-sized for those and for my poetry books and my complete works of Shakespeare," George said.

She is an Edgar and Macavity nominee and the recipient of the Anthony Award and the Agatha Award for Best First Novel as well as France's Grande Prix de Litterature Policiere and Germany's MIMI, an international award for mystery fiction. All of her books have been recorded by Derek Jacobi of the Royal Shakespeare Company and "A Great Deliverance" has been optioned by British television for a four-hour miniseries.

George's books are organized fictionally by author, followed by books of plays and then nonfiction. Besides these, George also has travel books and miscellaneous textbooks for research. In a small closet off the trapezoid-shaped library/office is her collection of works by British authors and other lesser-used books.

The room is totally utilitarian, which is what George wanted. The track-lit bookshelf encompasses one whole wall, a small window lets in some natural light and in the center of the room is her desk with the most important books positioned on it. Her computer and laser printer are reachable by the turn of a swivel chair. The recessed overhead lighting is enhanced by a reading light on the desk.

"The thing about being a writer is that everything you need must be as close to your fingertips as possible. Depending on the book I'm writing, I have photographs I use on the desk, as well as my forensic science book, my British/English book, several books of contemporary British slang, and other books dealing with Britain," George said.

For her novel, "Missing Joseph," coming out in June, George used hymnals and books of common prayer as references. On her library wall is a map of London, where a killing occurs in the book she's working on now.

Next to the library is a small area that overlooks the living room. It is here that George reads for pleasure in a leather chair with a reading lamp over her shoulder. The wall behind her is decorated with framed black-and-white prints and the wall to her left holds a smaller bookshelf and a stereo system.

In addition to writing, she teaches a Coastline Community College writing class and travels on book promotion tours. Even when she is not working, her library/office is where she relaxes to read.

A more formal, traditional English library was designed for a home in Newport Beach by Abbe Menhenett and Lisa Dunlevie of Design Associates West in San Clemente.

"My clients spend a lot of time in their library, and it was one room they specifically wanted. The large 'partners' desk is built 44 inches by 64 inches and was constructed in Ireland in 1840. It is literally used every day, with her sitting on one side and him on the other," said Menhenett. "The interesting thing about a partners' desk is that the drawers pull through both ways, so there can be no secrets."

The shelves in the wood-paneled library are stacked with leather-bound books from the owners' collection, including the works of Shakespeare and many art books.

There is no television in this room. Rather, there are comfortable reading chairs and lamps and a warming fireplace. A small room off the library holds paperbacks, computer and computer equipment and other files.

To continue the English feel, the library carpeting is hunter green; off-white carpeting predominates in the rest of the house.

For the design of the room, Menhenett and her partner traveled to England and researched many books picturing libraries. "The particular molding detail of the black walnut inlaid in the cherrywood in the ceiling was one of the important details we liked."

While the rest of the house is light and airy, the library is dark and cozy--ideal for curling up with a good book.

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