Novel Rooms

More enveloping than a study (the name implies work), more inviting than a den (too lodge-like), a library is the ideal retreat. Big or small, varying widely in character and style, these bookish rooms speak to all the senses.

Book Smart   Every book tells a story in this welcoming East Bay library.

Why a library: Lots of people like books, but these East Bay owners are bibliophiles. Talk books with them, and you’ll find every tome on their shelves also jogs a personal story of friendship or travel. Decades of collecting have yielded innumerable treasures, many leather-bound, gilded and fragile with age. Stacks were beginning to grow at their feet and find their way to tables and chairs. An existing addition off their lovely nineteenth-century home provided some relief, but clearly a library—one that would enhance living space by also functioning for living and dining—was in order.

What they did: Recruiting Cranston-based architect Mark Saccoccio of Saccoccio and Associates along with Joseph Dias and Al Cristino of Chapel Building Corporation in East Providence, the owners dismantled the inadequate addition and, in just over a year, built a new 1,061-square-foot, two-story multifunctional library in its place. To maintain an open and airy ambience, a gallery zooms along three, not four, sides allowing a stunning stone fireplace to soar unobstructed.

Fending off stuffiness, the wife wisely chose pickled white oak for the floor, white woodwork and salmon-colored, durable grass cloth for the walls. The recessed adjustable shelves are cleverly constructed to conceal mechanicals. The carefully choreographed lighting—a combination of easy-to-monitor recessed, mood and task—ensures the owners can find whatever they’re searching for and also dim the brightness for entertaining. French doors off the gallery open to the master bedroom. From their bed, the owners gaze out at their books and beyond. A bow window at the library’s far end maximizes views of an equally remarkable garden. To ease the strain of toting heavy volumes about, an elevator roosts in one corner. Below, a finished basement houses the husband’s bookbinding supplies and equipment.

What puts it at the top of the charts: No ordinary reading room, this twenty-three-foot-high, light-filled space is, the wife explains, “a working library.” Some 6,000 glorious books, old and new, reside here. Yet it’s also a comfortable room where the family gathers daily. Personal treasures—oil paintings of the Irish countryside they hold dear and an Indian silk wedding sari, a present from the husband to his wife—elevate the luster of a library already too handsome for words. 

Photography by Nat Rea


Shelf Life   A Providence library speaks volumes with its English men’s club mood.

Why a library: The gutsy renovation of this spectacular Providence home was led by Providence designer J.P. Couture, who was then with Newport Collaborative Architects and has since launched his own eponymous firm, and East Providence general contractor Parker Thompson. But amid the planning, the husband, a high-profile business executive with Renaissance man sensibilities, was struck with longing. “He envisioned a real library, a private room for conversation and contemplation that would speak to him,” explains the project’s interior designer Susan Symonds of Susan Symonds Interior Design in Providence.          

What they did: Wielding the same caliber of grand details and lush materials she employs in the other rooms, Symonds and a crew of talented artists wove a rich tapestry of colors and textures. Paul Jutras of Jutras Woodworking in Smithfield hand made the distinctive Honduran mahogany paneling for walls and ceiling, cunningly disguising a secret door that leads to the kitchen. Innumerable coats of hand-rubbed lacquer imbue the wood with a fine furniture-like finish. A leather floor by New York’s York Studio conjures images of the great libraries found in Venetian palazzos. “Time will give it a wonderful patina,” says Symonds. Plush furnishings upholstered in silk and cut velvet vie for attention atop a hand-woven rug with a lion motif (lions being the husband’s chosen symbol) designed by Symonds. Books nest on shelves flanking either side of the gas fireplace, and subtle lighting creates a mood primarily for nighttime enjoyment. Extending the elegance, the antechamber smartly mimics the theme with a glowing hand-worked ceiling, designed by Symonds with Pawtucket decorative painter Robert Reynolds, that’s also enlivened with heraldic lions. Even the adjoining powder room, clad in artful mahogany paneling, maintains the vibe.

What puts it at the top of the charts: The silk curtains are embellished with rhinestones. Open the door to the closet, and the walls have been custom finished with a faux tortoise-shell inlay by artist Luke Randall of Pompei Paints in North Kings-town. Hand-picking every element, the husband left no corner to chance. The eye-widening level of craftsmanship and the savvy melding of luxe finishes and fabrics set this polished 200-square-foot library apart. Despite the drama, though, the tone remains inviting. “This is not meant to be an off-putting room,” Symonds says. “Instead, everything here conveys a welcome to people and dogs.” 

Balancing the Books

These days, quality high-end construction can run anywhere from about $250 to $350 per square foot. According to Mark Saccoccio, however, “a library is much like a kitchen. Customization always costs. Therefore, the more you can standardize, the more you’ll save.  It all depends on taste, your use of materials and how creative you choose to be.”

Photography by Nat Rea