Libraries Provide Home With a Sense of Place
When New York architect Deborah Berke’s firm was tasked with designing luxury condominiums on the Upper East Side, including the shared amenities, she knew a library for the future residents was in order
But what is a library without books?
Having been responsible for the redesign of BookHampton in East Hampton Village when new owner Carolyn Brody took over the independent bookstore in 2016, Ms. Berke knew to whom she could turn.
“We felt that the people who should really help us put that library together are the BookHampton folks,” she said during a recent interview.
Ms. Berke is a part-time East Hampton resident and the dean of the Yale School of Architecture, in addition to being the founder of Deborah Berke Partners, an architecture and interior design firm based on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.
Prior to working on BookHampton, her firm also worked with Ms. Brody on a house and an apartment. “Our thought processes are attuned,” Ms. Berke said of their friendship.
The condominium project, 40 East End, is close to the East River and on a quiet street. “It’s very much a neighborhood,” Ms. Berke said, noting that she wanted the library to be filled with books that reflect the area.
The idea harked back to a conversation that she had with Ms. Brody before: What makes a bookstore or a library so wonderful is not just being surrounded by books but getting the character of the place through those books.
“I used to live over there, so I’m so fond of that area,” Ms. Brody said of 40 East End’s neighborhood.
Rather than sticking to a single theme, the 40 East End library has a “focused variety” that will serve the intellectual diversity and curiosity of the residents with books on life in New York with all its depths and complexity, according to Ms. Berke.
While there are designers who want to purchase books by the foot, or sorted by the color of the dust jackets or covers, that is not BookHampton’s business.
Ms. Brody’s goal for 40 East End was to find the books that will resonate. “The library will have worthy books focusing on nature, landscape, architecture and design, style, and New York City, along with a collection of classics, an assortment of current issues books, and a shelf of kids’ books,” she said. “Books will be visually appealing, inspiring, and intriguing.
Three books chosen because they are new, unexpected and New York City-centric, Ms. Brody said, are “The Central Park: Original Designs for New York’s Greatest Treasure” by Cynthia S. Brenwall and Martin Filler, “On Bicycles: A 200-Year History of Cycling in New York City” by Evan Friss and “Only in New York” by the Photography Staff of The New York Times.
Among the photography books will also be “Massimo Listri: The World’s Most Beautiful Libraries XXL” by Georg Ruppelt and Elisabeth Sladek, featuring “some of the oldest and finest libraries in the world,” she added.
The books are not there to be wall dressing, Ms. Brody said. Rather, they are there to be pulled off the shelves and opened. They are there so someone can sit on a bench by a window and spend time with a book.
She said that while common rooms and gyms may be more popular amenities than libraries, a library is a calling card for a building and expresses values—what it’s like to live in that building.
Ms. Brody said designers and architects will often turn to BookHampton for the right coffee-table books to display in South Fork homes. On occasion, the store is hired to curate and install larger collections for home libraries, inns and, in one instance, a boat.
Typically, her clients ask for books of local interest and for hot summer reads that their visitors will enjoy. Grandparents ask for children’s books to stock a playroom. She said she’d like to do these types of projects more often: “Frankly, I think we’re really good at it.”
The design of 40 East End calls for 15-inch-deep built-in stained oak bookshelves, expected to be ready by the end of July. “The built-in feeling is really this idea of being surrounded by books,” Ms. Berke said. “It’s part of the room—it is the room.”
When she redesigned BookHampton, she aimed to provide the feeling of being surrounded by books while maintaining openness and welcoming light. She said the light on the East End is beautiful, but shelves had been blocking it from getting into the space. By removing those shelves, light from the pedestrian alley beside BookHampton could now get in to make the store feel bright and spacious.
“You’re in a spacious-feeling room, filled with light and books all around, but you can find a little corner where you might be with fiction or you might be with biography, and you can feel embraced in an area while simultaneously being in a big room,” Ms. Berke said.
Of course, some of her clients already have large collections of books.
“It’s a pleasure to design a library that really is consistent with the owner and their character and the kind of books they have in their library and how they choose to enjoy their books,” she said.
It is particularly true of clients with second and third homes that they like having books by local authors or about local artists and local history, she said. These books, and books about nature and boating, allows guests to really get to know the place.