Cicero once said: "To add a library to a house is to give that house a soul." I agree. A library is one of the most inspiring spaces you can create in a home. It offers a place of surprising insights and delightful discoveries; a place where you can retreat into a world of words, images, stories and the fantasy of the human imagination. Modern online libraries (such as this one) may be the reading rooms of the future, but there is still something enchanting and magical about opening the door to an enormous, bookshelf-lined space, especially if it has a a great catalogue of intriguing titles and a lovely chaise to curl up into.
We are fortunate to have three libraries in our house: a library for garden, architecture and design books, another for quirky and classic titles, and a summer library beside the verandah for books that are perfect for taking out into the garden with a deckchair and a cool drink. (I know this might seem a little luxurious, but it's only because we live in a big old house in the country where it is possible to commandeer rooms and turn them into literary retreats when your partner isn't noticing!) If I could, I would make every room a library, including the dining room and even the bathroom. As Cicero famously said: "If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need..."
As a tribute to the glorious grandeur of these great old-fashioned spaces, here are some of my all-time favourite libraries.
THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY The grand dame of them all. New Yorkers have adored this place for decades and the rest of us fell in love with it when Carrie swished up the stairs to marry Mr Big in SATC. (Or not, as it turned out.) It's one of the most beautiful libraries in the world; an extraordinarily elegant space that's filled with magnificent detail (just like its books) but isn't in the least pretentious or intimidating. I often pop in just to gaze in rapture at the ceiling.
THE LIBRARY HOTEL, NEW YORK New York’s Library Hotel is a truly decadent hideaway for Dewey lovers. (Pun intended.) The intellectual inspiration for this innovative place comes from the nearby New York Public Library and the architecture is just as stunning. Each room has its own themed libraries (I love the Architecture Suite), so you can choose your reading pleasures. And when you’re done seducing your other half with volumes of modern design (as I did – although he fell asleep before we reached the Contents Page), then you can retreat upstairs to the bookshelf-lined lounge and rooftop terrace for a late-night coffee and a chance to write your own bestseller.
LE FUMOIR, PARIS The French have always considered themselves intellectuals and this dignified restaurant shows it. The sophisticated dining area is lined with elegant bookshelves, giving the space the feel of a gentleman’s library. Unfortunately, you can’t just sit and read. You have to order something. And no, don’t bother the maître d’ with your literary queries.
THE LANDING HOTEL, HARBOUR ISLAND, BAHAMAS This poised, coolly glamorous getaway is the kind of colonial outpost we all dream of. Wraparound verandahs. Four-poster beds. All-white rooms with swirling ceiling fans. And a bar frequented by Mick Jagger and half of Hollywood. There’s also an atmospheric library, filled with biographies, vintage classics and travel titles. Grab some Somerset Maugham and order another G&T. The perfect place to lose yourself for a week.
LA CHAMPS ELYSEES HOTEL, PARIS The new Martin Margiela-designed ‘couture suites’ of the Champs Elysées hotel in Paris include a fabulous 'Curiosity Case Suite' (which is all black and features a cabinet of curiosities) and a 'White Cover Suite', which has the haunting beauty of an empty chateau. But perhaps the most alluring suite is the 'Gilded Lounge Suite', which is lined with walls of books and has a bathroom decorated in magazine spines. Very Martin Margiela.
PRIVATE LIBRARY, NANTUCKET This serenely simple library was designed by architect –and book lover – Hugh Newell Jacobsen for a private carriage house in Nantucket. The entire house is white, right down to the minimalist staircase, which creates a gallery-like space for the books within. The minimalist, all-white backdrop means that the only colour in the entire building is the bright spines of all the books. Truly lovely.