Private Libraries That Inspire

From The Wall Street Journal:

Forget the Dewey Decimal System: Entrepreneur and inventor Jay Walker’s 25,000 books, manuscripts, artifacts and objects are organized in his personal 3,600-square-foot library “randomly, by color and height,” he said. When he walks into his library, part of his Ridgefield, Conn., home, the room automatically “wakes up,” glowing with theatrical lighting, music and LED-lit glass panels lining various walkways. He finds items to peruse by a system of memory, chance, and inspiration, he said.

The Walker Library of the History of the Human Imagination is a dramatic example of the rarest of residential amenities: A vast, personal, custom-built repository of intellectual stimuli. In the age of the e-reader, it is a status symbol on par with wearing a Patek Philippe watch when the cellphone already tells the time. For wealthy homeowners, personal libraries provide both a quiet refuge from the world and a playground for their minds—as well as a solution to the challenge of warehousing books from which they cannot bear to part.

But grand private libraries for hard-core book collectors come with daunting engineering and design challenges. To create enough shelf space and to counteract the visual heaviness of walls lined with books, private libraries may aim for two or more open stories. Mr. Walker’s library, consisting of 3½ stories with one main floor and platforms and balconies at various levels, required framing the exterior walls with “a steel exoskeleton to hold up the room,” said its architect, Mark Finlay of Southport, Conn. Mezzanine floors lined with book cases required steel framing, as did some wood bookshelves that carry heavy loads. There are some 25 staircases lined with panels of etched glass that depict important moments in the development of human invention. “It is designed to be intentionally disorienting,” said Mr. Walker.

. . . .

In Austin, Texas, Don Elledge, the 54-year-old chief executive of an information security company, recently completed construction of a 12,000-square-foot home with a library he estimates cost roughly $4 million to build and fill with antiquarian books, antiques and research-grade astronomical equipment. His architect, Austin-based Luis Juaregui, said the biggest engineering challenge was stabilizing the $300,000 telescope, positioned above the library, with a 30-inch diameter concrete pier embedded 15 feet into natural limestone beneath the house’s foundation. Isolating that pillar, and the telescope atop it, from the rest of the house is essential, said Mr. Elledge, because “any vibrations, even imperceptible ones, would degrade the image.” Also tricky: Cantilevering the wraparound catwalk lined with books. The solution came in the form of several narrow steel-tube columns, encased with decorative cast iron.

. . . .

For some private library owners, especially those who aspire to world-class book collections, the serious expenditure isn’t in the physical structure, but in the contents. “It is not uncommon for collectors at this level to be spending in excess of $1 million a year” on books, said John Windle, owner of San Francisco bookstore John Windle Antiquarian Bookseller.

. . . .

When he and his wife are no longer living, the books and objects can “re-enter the stream of commerce” and find new owners, Mr. Walker said. But, taking a page from his own imagination, he said that he hopes that before that time comes, three-dimensional scanning will have advanced to the point that the entire collection can be scanned and recreated on 3-D printers. The physical structure could also be captured in 3-D and viewed in virtual reality.

“Then anyone in the world could press ‘print’ and recreate anything in the library, as if they were here in it,” Mr. Walker said.

. . . .

Rare books, first editions and other literary treasures often need their own insurance policies, said Susan Michals, vice president of Michals Insurance Agency in Watertown, Mass., which specializes in finding insurance for clients with collections of fine art, coins, wine and rare books.

. . . .

Books should be cleaned “as little as possible,” Mr. Windle said. Every 3 to 5 years, books with leather bindings should be rubbed with a very light application of “book leather dressing,” a product sold in library or museum gift shops or online. Cloth bindings should be lightly brushed with a soft cloth. To dust the top edges of a book, an old-fashioned shaving brush is ideal, he said.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

There are some lovely photos accompanying the article. PG apologizes if the link to the OP, which is behind a paywall, doesn’t work.

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