The book look: City library addition celebrates the written word

Photo: Stephen Barling Photo: Stephen Barling

Libraries are the repositories not only of books, but of feelings. There’s the love of a good read, of course, but bookworms harbor other associations with libraries, too: discovery, solitude and the satisfaction of working hard. When architect Bruce Wardell and his colleagues were asked to design a library addition for a Charlottesville homeowner, they learned that their client wanted the new space to evoke just those kinds of emotions.

“The owner had some really wonderful memories of a collegiate library where he went to law school,” says Wardell. Of course, there were practical requirements too: enough shelving to house a large book collection, plus an audiophile-worthy listening room, a home theater and an office. The addition, as it turned out, would be 3,000 square feet—about the size of the existing home (a traditional four-over-four near UVA).

Not wanting to disturb the house’s “very clear relationship to the street,” says Wardell, the design team decided to make the addition a relatively separate structure behind the house. “It minimized impact on the neighborhood, so the addition actually happens in the backyard between the garage and house,” he says.

Photo: Stephen Barling
Photo: Stephen Barling

The addition would be distinct in style, too: a modern structure to contrast with the detailing of the original 1933 home. Though, like the main house, the reading room has a stucco exterior, horizontal ipe rain screens lend a clearly contemporary look to the book alcoves that protrude from the main volume.

The interior is both a comfortable place to read and a sort of temple to books. There’s drama in the double-height space, lit by a skylight in the cathedral ceiling and lined with oak shelving. A modern steel catwalk provides access to the upper level of shelves, and a two-story window affords Blue Ridge views in the winter.

All that paper—two stories of books—finds a foil in a tall stone fireplace, whose surround features stone tile embedded with fossils. Around the corner, the same fossil stone forms a panel that one confronts when moving from the corridor into the library.

“The fossil stone becomes this hallmark experience,” says Wardell. “It’s a fun space.”