Reading rooms: Immerse yourself in the world of the modern library

Melissa York
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In this digital age, one could be forgiven for thinking libraries were a thing of the past. Think again: at the top end of the market, they’re making a comeback of sorts as a modern luxury with the added bonus of showing visitors how culturally refined you are. “Since things like e-readers have come along, books have become more precious,” says Henry Saunders, designer at bespoke furniture makers Neville Johnson. “People want to dig them out of storage and put them on display. We tend to incorporate libraries into living rooms or studies these days; the typical modern library is part of a multi-purpose situation. People like simple, clean lines to blend in with their existing décor.”

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This modern vision of the library is more than just rows of shelving – storage units have to be flexible enough to conceal flatscreen TVs, modems and wireless speakers. Mahogany has been replaced by lighter woods like walnut or oak. Adjustable shelving is now favoured by most buyers, according to Saunders, so the height can be changed to accommodate more books, or heavier travel and fashion tomes. For the more discerning literary lover, lighting is an ongoing challenge. Natural light is preferable to artificial in any design, but it has a tendency to strip the colour from expensive leather-bound books, leaving rare first editions and antiques washed out and worth considerably less.

A library holding 3,000 books in an apartment in Hyde Park Gardens

But lighting can be subtly inserted into the shelving and walls, casting soft, harmless light; others go for glass windows that turn opaque at the touch of a button. “The most important aspect of a library is that it’s interesting,” says Saunders. “I don’t think people realize what can be done, but once they do, it can be one of the most striking rooms in the house.”