It is a truth universally acknowledged that a vast majority of writers are rabid readers. We were the kids who used to sneak in from recess and curl up somewhere with a book hoping nobody would catch us. We were constantly being admonished to “turn out that bedroom light and get to sleep,” and now relish the fact that in our own homes we can stay up reading as long as we like. We are devotees of words—the way they can be strung together, their rhythm, their power to conjure places we have never been while at the same time touching on experiences and emotions so intimate that it feels like they can see inside us.
I am no exception. And like most avid readers I’ve spent a lifetime seeking out and cultivating places to disappear into books. I consider these very special, almost sacred spaces: places where the light is right, there is quiet, and there is an atmosphere that encourages deep reading and reflection.
As a girl I spent hours in a hammock in my back yard—generally emerging with legs imprinted by the pattern of the woven rope. These days—perhaps because I live in the metro DC area where heat and humidity are a given for so much of the year—most of my reading gets done indoors. In my current home I have two favorite reading retreats that I’d like to share with you.
First there is our family library. I own more than 300 volumes (not counting my research books, or the books selected by my husband or children). These are books that I felt needed to be present in my home as touchstones for myself and as an easy temptations for my children. Favorites in my collection include: a complete leather-bound set of Dumas (grandfather of historical fiction) from 1893, my first edition of To Kill a Mockingbird, an early version of Victor Hugo, and, of course, the tattered volume of the complete works of Jane Austen that I re-read during every single exam period of my educational career.
Below are some pictures of the library. One of the best places to get lost in a book is up the ladder in the loft. There is a wonderfully comfortable swivel chair with a commanding view and plenty of light (both natural and artificial) up there. It is quite possible to escape the notice of others in this sky-high reading spot. In fact, I’ve watched my husband come in and out of the room quite unaware of my presence.
The library with its modern, airy feel, isn’t my only sacred reading space. When I am interested in disappearing into the past with a good historical novel (often by one of my author friends), I prefer a more period setting.
Fortunately I’ve created a living room (sans television, obviously) with just the right feel. What I’ve tried to do with this space is conjure the feeling you get when your tour an ancestral home in France or England and rather than the “décor of the moment” you are treated to a layered atmosphere, developed over generations of a family’s presence and many lifetimes of collecting furniture and objects. The room features oil portraits of my children in period costumes spanning 1530 to 1582, old wood made into a bench, oriental rugs, and my favorite reading chair in the house—deep burgundy and covered in Latin. Voila!
This is the place I go to read books set in eras that I write about. And it was in this room that I opened up the boxes containing those always-exciting first copies of my novels including, most recently, Médicis Daughter—a 16th century coming-of-age story of the youngest Valois princess, weaving forbidden love with some of the most dramatic and violent events in French history—a book that Kirkus called, “A riveting page-turner skillfully blending illicit liaisons and political chicanery.” [You will notice the book in the collage above, perched on my delicious velvet pillow-smothered couch].
So those are my existing favorite reading spots, but I have one more dedicated reading space left to create. Soon I will be renovating an under-the-stairs space into a reading nook. The stairs in this part of my house are dark wood and floating (open tread). The space will absolutely be intimate. If I had the room I’d go big—look at this beauty, though I’d have to have it in dark wood!
But my bench or seat must run perpendicular to my stairs to fit the space (long story involving plumbing) so I only have about 43 inches. I am considering two options. The first is going modern as I did in my library. I love the chair idea below—bookshelves as both the base and the arms of the seat to maximize the ability to always have a good book handy!
Alternately I might keep shelving and reading separate. Arhaus has a great chair called the Nara that would be just the right size and I ADORE its velvety look and the warm paprika color! I would get the legs in chrome not brass (and the good thing is the chair is customizable so I don’t have to settle). Or maybe the yummy Clancy, which would feel like a sofa for one.
I could finish my modern look with some built-in under-stair shelves. I like all three of these, but the one with the branches—while perhaps less practical—is so unique as to be nearly irresistible.
My second option is to go with a more traditional/historical feel. What do you think of this Portsmouth chair in pewter? I am getting a very Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell vibe! The upholstery really appeals to me, and that comfy loose cushion could be adjusted just right for back or arm support).
Either of these console tables in rustic black (both from Arhaus) could totally flesh out the early 18th century feel don’t you think?
So which look would you pursue for the under-stair nook if you were me dear fellow readers—the modern or the historical? Which of my existing sacred reading spaces do you like the best? What does your own special favorite reading space look like—either in your home or in your imagination?
Oh and if you are interested in the Arhaus pieces I featured in my idea boards, or just looking for inspiration for your own readings spot, you can find both right here in the living room section of their website.