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.
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.”