Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Studies and libraries–what’s the difference?

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As I perused pinterest recently, I came across many category boards called ‘den/study/library’.  Sometimes the term sitting room was thrown in the mix.  Perhaps because of my background as an English major, and my interest in words in general, I think it is fascinating to see how architects/designers/homeowners label the rooms in houses. In the end, I suspect it’s part function, part inspiration, and part aspiration.

Several things came to mind when thinking about this subject.  During my teenage years, I lived in a contemporary style house in Connecticut, and the room that we used most frequently (in truth, it was the room my mother spent most of her time in) was called ‘the den’.  This room was cozy, with a sectional that wrapped around the room, and had a wood burning fireplace that was lit every night during the fall and winter. It was a room for reading (although not a place where books were stored), a room for watching TV; however, it was more the TV that the adults watched, and the room was primarily used by my parents (really, my mother). To me, this is a den – a casual, informal room for the family, whose purpose is relaxation and entertainment.

But what’s the difference between a study, a library, and a sitting room?  Is it just nomenclature, or is there a functional difference? I started paying attention to the labels that were attached to some of the rooms that I have long admired, and have put in my own ‘libraries/offices’ board on Pinterest

Wikipedia defines a study as “a room in a house which is used for paperwork, computer work, or reading. Historically, the study of a house was reserved for use as the private office and reading room of a family father as the formal head of a household, but today studies are generally either used to operate a home business or else open to the whole family.  A typical study might contain a desk, chair, computer, a desk lamp or two, and bookshelves”.

There was a room in the  2012 Atlanta Homes and Lifestyles Christmas House that had great appeal to me – it was called ‘The Gentleman’s Study’ and was designed by Birmingham, Alabama based designer Tammy Connor.  The room was accessed through a door on the far side of the entry, and the space itself was on the other side of the entry wall.  It felt tucked away and private, and the warm color scheme (Farrow & Ball olive) made it feel cozy and luxurious.

Here is a picture of the room, from AH&L, interior design by Tammy Connor, photography by Emily Followill.  The desk is beautiful, a vintage piece from Parc Monceau Antiques.

On the other side of the room was a niche with a chest and a striking starburst clock.

Here is a wider view of the room, from Tammy Connor’s blog; I couldn’t remember if there was a sofa or a chair on the far wall, and this picture answers the question!  The lantern used in the room, as well as the grasscloth wallpaper on the ceiling, can be seen in this image.

Also from Tammy’s blog, this vignette from the 4th wall of the room. There are a few books here, but this is not a bookshelf.   Please visit Tammy’s blog for a behind the scenes perspective on the design process for the room, and the source for most of the items that went into the room.

To me, this is a great representation of a room that is a study – it’s a place in the house that is more like an office, a private space more geared towards an individual’s use. It’s not a room that is devoted to entertaining others.

In the 2010 AH&L Christmas House, there was a room called the ‘multipurpose retreat’, with design by Amy Morris. I love the terminology, but if this room was part of everyday living, the owner certainly would not call it this (let’s go sit in the multipurpose retreat, shall we? ).

So what would you call this room if it were in your house?  Although there are freestanding bookshelves in here, their purpose is decorative. To me, this is more of a study, due to the presence of the desk and the absence of a TV.  Upon further reflection, I might be inclined to call it a sitting room, due to the numerous (and luxurious) seating options available.  Via Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles, image source.

Sitting room/study comes to mind when seeing this room, which is in designer Suzanne Kasler’s home – and ‘master sitting room’ is how it is labeled in Architectural Digest.  This room is actually part of the master suite – it is a separate room, an outer room to the master bedroom.  It is definitely a private room of the house, due to its location in the house – however, the desk lends it an air of a study as well. 

This room is called the ‘paneled study’ in the AH&L article that featured it; the interior designer, Betty Burgess (no website!), notes it is the darkest room in the house, and used the vibrant royal blue as a ‘pop’. I really love this room – it serves all sorts of purposes: bar ( as seen to the left of the fireplace), sitting room, decorative library. The desk is one of my favorite parts.  It’s definitely a public room in the house, based on its location off the entry, but it also seems like a cozy and private sanctuary.  This house has sold since it was published, and I would love to see how the new owners are living in it…

Now, on to libraries.  I found some interesting examples of English libraries when looking into this subject, and realized that the nomenclature for rooms in old English houses was very much tied up with social status and position (Jane Austen was a master at knowing which was which, and the rooms that her characters possessed and the associated names of the rooms said a lot about the characters and their relative position in the social hierarchy).

According to dictionary.com, a library is defined as “a place set apart to contain books, periodicals, and other material for reading, viewing, listening,study, or reference, as a room, set of rooms, or building where books may be read or borrowed”.  To me, a home library is a room whose design, purpose, and function is devoted to books first and foremost, with built in bookcases that grant permanence and prominence to the placement of books in the room. Personally, I like a home library to be filled with books that have meaning to the home owners – books that reflect the owners’ interests and hobbies. Home libraries should serve as a place to both store the books and enjoy them.

When I think ‘library’, I think about the beautiful long library in Bleinheim Palace.  I saw this house in 1997, at it made such an impression on me. It houses 10,000 books, and was designed to be a picture gallery as well as a library. On one end is a magnificent organ. It reminds me a bit of the library in Beauty and the Beast.

Perhaps more typical of an English library is this one from Dunrobin Castle in Scotland. With its warm paneled walls and shelves lined with old books,a desk and a fireplace flanked by two chairs, even a globe, this room seems designed for work, study, and contemplation.

And of course, a new favorite English library is the one at Highclere Castle, where the series Downton Abbey is filmed. In the series, this room is used for the Earl’s business meetings, and is also used by the family for more intimate family gatherings before and after lunch and dinner (I don’t recall ever seeing anyone actually read a book in here!).   Apparently this library houses over 5,000 books collected by the family over the generations, some of which date to the 16th century. 

Looking at modern day American examples of rooms that are designated as libraries, if one were to judge from the leading shelter magazines, the home library is alive and well.  Some might say that the printed word is on the way out, but based on these lovely examples and my own experience, I think there is still a strong link to books and the places in which they are stored.

Architectural Digest has an interesting feature on the ‘Stunning Home Libraries’, and notes that a home library is a “window to the mind – and style – of the owner”.  All of the rooms have the common thread of many books – all of them in built in bookcases, creating a beautiful backdrop to the room. However, the rooms often function in other ways – as dining rooms, studies, offices, living rooms.  So it seems that the term library has become fairly broad in American architecture in the 20th and 21st century.
Here are some of my favorite examples of rooms designated as ‘libraries’.

These days, it seems like the presence of bookshelves filled with books seems to define a library versus a study.  A Suzanne Kasler designed room is off the main entry, but is also tucked away and clearly designated as a more private space. The books are beautiful, but clearly they are for decorative purposes and probably are not read (I would even hazard a guess that they are written in Swedish, as many of the antique leather books sourced in Atlanta seem to be from Sweden). Image via Veranda.

I saw this library on the Peak of Chic – it is in the Paris apartment of Jansen president Pierre Delbee.  This is just one small vignette from a decent sized room (for a city apartment); the rest of the room can be seen on the Peak of Chic. The ambience and décor of this space seems quintessential library to me. 

I am not sure where this picture came from, but to me this is a great example of a library done on an intimate scale. The room contains beautiful books, a few individual chairs designed for great comfort, special and specific lighting (reading lamps, library lights, and a pretty chandelier) as well as an antique desk. The animal print rug brings it all together. Perfection.  It seems to be a ‘dead end’ room, with only one point of entry, but this works well for the intent and purpose of the room.

A close up shot of the same rooms shows the charming lamp on the desk, and a gallery wall of art.

A gorgeous library (interior design by Miles Redd) in author and Veranda contributing editor Danielle Rollins’ house. This room is actually upstairs – on the right of the picture, a desk can be seen, and this room is also used as Danielle’s office. I recently had the opportunity to see this room when the house was on a home tour – I had a private behind the scenes tour as the upstairs was not open for viewing, and this room was full of projects and inspiration boards – a room that is truly used day in, day out.  I also love that the books seem to be ‘real’ books – design, architecture, landscape, fiction, and non-fiction books that have been collected and read through the years.

Here is the other side of the room, where the desk can be seen clearly.

Danielle’s house actually has two libraries - the downstairs library is off the foyer.  Again, note that the books seem to be real books, not collections of leather bound editions selected for looks.

There is an antique console that can used as a desk, but based on the objects decorating the surface is used more as a place to display pretty items. Interiors by Miles Redd.

There are countless examples of beautiful home libraries, and when researching this post, I have enjoyed perusing the web site Beautiful Libraries (http://www.beautiful-libraries.com) for ideas and inspiration. 

As proof that the home library is still alive and well, Joni Webb from Cote de Texas recently profiled the conversion of her home office to a library…

Here is the end result (as profiled on http://cotedetexas.blogspot.com/2012/12/my-remodeled-library-finally.html). To me, this is truly a library, as the purpose of the room is a place to keep her extensive collection of design books, as well as a peaceful retreat. It is a beautiful and functional space now – a place to hold all of her design books, which in her line of work (designer and blogger extraordinaire) are essential to providing information and inspiration.

This is one of those times that the original intent of my post morphed into something else entirely – in fact, I ended up removing my original pictures and putting them in the beginning of another post!  However, the idea of how rooms are defined, what they are called, and how they are used is an interesting one to me, and I often ask people how they use their rooms and what they call their rooms when I see a house.

What are your thoughts?  Do you have a study or a home library, and what do you call the rooms where you (or your clients) read, store books, or work?   I would love to read your thoughts! Email subscribers, please click here to comment.  

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  1. I love books, but I live in a small house and do not have a dedicated room for them, or even dedicated bookcases for them. I tend to stack them here and there, and appreciate coffee tables that have two levels!

    Books are important to me, and I always appreciate seeing spaces that are dedicated to them.

  2. We have a library (in every sense of the word a fully paneled room full of bookshelves) Just finishing the room as we speak. I do however need a study..lol. I think of a study as a small room with desk, multi functional, not meant to necessarily be so beautiful but its more about function, a workspace. I remember we had a small upstairs study growing up...we had two desks a small chest, it was cozy and where my sister and I did our homework. I think both rooms serve a purpose...but I do think of a library as being a room designated to a sea of books, and a room meant for reading. Love all the beautiful examples you have shown...makes me anxious to start decorating our own!

    1. I can't wait to see the pictures of your library - I didn't know you had one!

      I love how you are taking time and great enjoyment out of the decorating process. It is fun to see your house come together so beautifully. We are doing the same thing - this year we are putting the finishing touches on the kitchen and the family room, and I have found art that really speaks to me and I will enjoy for a long time (I use the first person, because my husband doesn't really care that much about art, yet likes the effect that art has on a house).

  3. This is a vital post, I do agree with you that each room should be properly labelled. Being brought up in a traditional french home, I was at first a little lost at the meaning of "Den" when i would go and visit my college friends while in school in Boston. What is a den i would ask? ... then I was married into Boston society where antique houses were grand and formal. I was properly scolded by my mother in law for using the word Den, referring to a large room with a mix of antiques, musical instruments and what not... each room in the house had a proper name. My house is no near as grand, I live in formal stables after all...but I have disctintive terms for each room. The library is where I seat every night, walls, tables and even floors are covered by books, overflowing from bookshelves.
    In my study, bookshelves are filled with design, finance and work related books, this is where i work and sometimes even sleep in an old fashioned french antique daybed. Then we have the dining room, living room and ??? how do you name a room with bookshelves filled with travel books, fireplace, bunk beds in a nook for my kids and their friends when they were younger, a large TV...I guess a playroom/family room of sorts. Your pictures of libraries are a dream... a library is my favorite room in a house, a 2 story library, a dream i will probably never achieve. thanks for a fabulous post...

    1. I enjoyed reading your comments; my mother was British, so we had different names for some of our rooms than my friends. I hadn't really thought about it too much, about how the names for rooms are often full of meaning from your own family background.

  4. Holly, Our home library has multiple uses--study, tv room, home office, and "eat-off-tray" dining room. This room gets its most use in the winter, because the shortened daylight hours and colder weather. However, the room is functional year around because of the "work-nook" on one side of the room. In the original plan, this was to be an enclosed bar. However, we decided the space would get infinitely more use as a computer corner. I hate when desks overflowing with papers visible to the world, so the off-main location makes the perfect workspace. But what makes us refer to the room as the library is the built-in bookcases which, by the way, house real books versus "books for looks"! We do reach for favorites as we use our work-nook and curl up on the sofa to read. Finally, because the tv is in this room, it gets nearly nightly use as we watch the news or a game. Happily, your post has made me realize how versatile our library is! And, your post has prompted me to write one on a similar topic. Thanks so much for always teaching me and making me analyze. I am so glad you are back to blogging regularly!

    1. I was very aware of the concept of seasonal rooms when we were building, maybe because I was writing the home profiles for a few tours of homes, and I was struck by how many of the families had rooms that they gravitated to in the winter. My own library is a room that I use more in the evening, but I find that I use it more in the winter - maybe because it is cozier than the family room.

  5. Good morning Holly! I have always had the same confusion with identifying these rooms. Our home has been designed with a "study" directly off the master, and in fact, you must walk through it to enter the master. It has been designed with book shelves and paneling, and we plan to add a small writing desk. I envision it to be much like your unidentified "intimate scale library", although I could go for the Miles Redd design too. I would love to visit Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey) so I can see a home with all of these great rooms under one roof! Have a great week. -Tonya

    1. The room in Suzanne Kasler's home is like you describe for your house - you walk through that room to get to the master. It makes a nice retreat.

      One of my favorite trips of all time was when we spent a month in England and went to many of these stately homes/castles. My favorites were Blenheim Palace and Chatsworth. We did not go to Highclere Castle. Many of the houses are fairly untouched - the furniture and art has been in place for generations - and many of the houses have had to open up to filming and tourism to pay the massive bills for upkeep.

  6. frequently on a project we don't even know what to call rooms and there is a little bit of back and forth at first. I always think a library has built-in bookshelves, a den is more private and cozy and generally prominently features a tv and a study also is very private but no tv and a desk or work station of some sort. I've been looking at some new books which include floor plans of old houses and many feature 'card rooms' -I just love that notion of a room for a particular purpose; don't you?

    1. I remember having the junior architect correct a few names on our house plans, once we settled into one thing or another. One room that we never really came up with a proper name for was the outdoor room. We called it the loggia at first, but it really isn't a loggia. Then one of the supervisors started to call it the pavilion, but that really didn't stick. We just call it the outdoor room, nothing ever really stuck.

      At the tail end of our build, my builder started to work on a Bobby McAlpine designed house. I got to see it when it was almost done, and interestingly enough a separate structure was built that was specifically for playing cards - so it was a card house! It could be used as a pool house, or a guest house, but the owners were going to use it specifically for bridge. The downstairs and the upstairs could be set up with tables for the bridge parties they were planning on hosting.

    2. How about calling the outdoor room the'summer room'? It is the name we use for the outside eating room.

  7. This is such an interesting post and I've often wondered what to call our library/study/den. It's a walnut paneled, warm, cozy room with bookcases flanking the doorway, a fireplace and a desk....usually call it a den, but love the idea of calling it a library...seems so much more beautiful in my mind...

    1. We recently had a bit of water leak under a French door in our library (we have had driving, driving rains in Atlanta this winter - much more rain than usual, much stronger wind patterns), and in the email correspondence the builder was calling the room 'the study'. My husband, who is an exact man, was wondering what room he was referencing and asked if he was referring to the library. That also got me thinking about what people call things, and was a seed of inspiration on this post!

      - Holly

  8. This is a classic post, TTI. Love it.

  9. Great post! Every home I've had since college has had some sort of study that aspired to be a library. They always end up being where I spend most of my time. (occupational hazard). I abhor the practice of filling bookshelves with books that are for looks. Even worse, the recent trend of jacketing all the books in a single color. It misses the point entirely.

  10. Before we closed on our English Tudor-style home almost 11 years ago, I had for some reason already decided to name the paneled room with the built-in bookshelves the "library". Our is filled with books that we have used or enjoyed over the years. The room is accessible to all and, in fact, is part of the circular flow of the house. Maybe that is why I don't call it the "study" though office work is done there. An interesting question for sure and another great post.

  11. My home has a library, a study, a keeping room and a recreation/media room in addition to a formal living room. The library has a hammered limestone fireplace, a writing table, plenty of lighting and seating to entertain informally. The study, however, is another story. It is up a flight of stairs from the master bedroom suite and it's the place my husband spends much of his time when home and a place where unfinished work can remain in the open on a desk and doesn't require closing the room off from the rest of the house. The keeping room is off of our kitchen and is a room where morning coffee is consumed and the paper is read in addition to accessing emails and news from our laptops. It too has a television so that while cooking I can sneak in and watch a bit of a basketball or football game. The media room also has a large flat screen, wet bar, refrigerator drawers and pool table. It is the place the children are more likely to hang out with friends. Like you, Holly I enjoy my library most in winter for the coziness, but it looks out onto my terrace garden and rose garden so the view is better in the summer.

  12. I have always had a problem with calling a room with some books on a few shelves or on an étagère 'the Library'. It smacks a little of pretense. It's almost like calling a room with a china cabinet in it 'the China Room'.

    If one has a room filled with books in which one spends time reading, then it is for all intents and purposes 'a Library'. Otherwise it is simply a room that has some books in it.

    I think the misuse of room-related words came about with the rise of the middle class in the 1960s when Americans began to prosper and wanted to emulate upper class lifestyles. It does sound rather grand to refer to a room in the house as The Library.

    But then why get hung up on words. ;)


  13. Your post has made me re-think the design of a room in our new home. The room will be a small bedroom close to our master suite that our little Granddaughter {almost three yrs old} will sleep in when she stays over. Already she loves snuggling up on the bed for me to read to her. I think the room would be wonderful and used much more if I line the walls with shelves for all of our books and tuck in a daybed overstuffed with pillows. I can already imagine the cozy spot for anyone of us to snuggle and get lost in the pages of a favourite book.
    My Granddaughter is proving to be as interested in books as my children have always been, so it makes sense to have a room that invites the experience.
    Great post..... thanks for the inspiration.

  14. What a wonderful post. Thank you.

  15. This is such a wonderful post, Holly! I know that I have two or three board on pinterest to house these rooms.

  16. Such a delightful post! When I was growing up in the 1950s, our modest home had only a living room, but I learned from tv's Leave It to Beaver that a den was a more private male space with a desk, because that's where June was always saying Ward was! In the 70s, my husband's family converted a bedroom to a den, meaning they installed a sofa and large tv. Our 100 year-old house has a library as well as a study and a family room. For us, the difference is one of accessibility and domain. The family room has the tv and fireplace. The library has built-in bookshelves, my desk and is quiet (also used to house the piano). The study houses my husband's desk, though it also has books. There is some nomenclature confusion as both the family room and library are on the first floor, and the youngest has been known to ask (even after twenty years), "Do you mean the room with the fireplace?"

  17. Loved reading this Holly!! It's funny you should post on these now because we are working on a couple of these spaces for men right now and in our client binders we keep mixing up the name of the rooms from Den to Study and it's been a a little confusing! ("Is it a den or a study or is there a den and a study in this house???"- my poor husband who's now our office manager. Me:"Sorry, babe, just 1 room, and I don't know what to call it." haha)

    Anyway, loved this post and will now use your delineations!

  18. I enjoyed this post. We are in a development in upstate NY, and each house has a seldom-entered "formal living room" in the front of the house and a "family room" toward the back of the house which might be our equivalent of the "den" you mention. "Den" seems rather 70's to me. Anyway, we pulled up the requisite almost-white wall to wall carpet in the front "formal living room" and added hardwood floors and 12 feet of lighted built in bookshelves. I have never regretted it. I spend many hours in this room that I call the library, either reading or on the laptop. My MIL thinks it is ridiculous to call it a library, which only encourages my persistence regarding the nomenclature.

  19. thanks so much for including me!!! what a shock!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! it's heady company I'm with. hahah!!


  20. Thank you for this wonderful topic. I was trained as a librarian and books and reading have been very important in my life. I have up till recently, had books spread every where in the house, until 3 years ago, when I started working for my husband and needed an office. Then I converted the children's play room to my office and library.
    I have bookshelves around 2 walls with a wall of windows against which is a table and 2 comfy reading chairs, and on the back wall is a long desk with more bookshelves above.
    My room is decorated in grey and pink with white shelves.
    My delight is real books which tell the story of the owners' interests and passions. My pet hate is a collection of books for show. It is fine to have old family leather bound books but not ones bought by the metre for display only!

  21. Really i love your pretty tastes and your great blog

  22. As a fellow English major, I agree that having a library/home office would be awesome. Just looking at all your pictures of built-in shelves makes me want to renovate our spare room. It may not be a big space, but we could turn one whole wall into a bookcase like in the last picture here. http://www.smalltownconstruction.com/commercial-services/


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