When we bought this house in Clarksburg there was one room that was in particularly bad condition. Under six layers of wallpaper the original plaster was badly cracked and in some places was slowly dissolving into its constituent ingredients. Making this room usable was our first major task, after we ripped out the wall-to-wall carpets and had the floors refinished.
The room had been a bedroom, but we decided that it would be a perfect library and “media room”, a home for our stereo and television as well as for the contents of the boxes of books we had hauled from Austin.
Lisa described the room’s transformation here, but she didn’t mention the bookshelves (one partly visible on the left side of the last picture in her story) which now cover the two long walls of the room and bear the burden of our book collection.
In 1985, when we moved from Columbia, Tennessee, to Austin, Texas, we found ourselves in need of bookshelves for our new living room. We considered our needs: easy and reasonably quick to build (we didn’t have a lot of leisure time available for this project); cheap (we had little money); large and sturdy enough to hold many books (we had many books); attractive (this was the living room, after all, where we expected to entertain guests); and easily disassembled and reassembled at a new location (we expected to move again in the not too distant future). The design I created to meet these needs drew inspiration from two rather contradictory sources. First was the monstrous pair of bookcases I built for our house in Columbia — bookcases too large and too solid for us to get out of the house when we moved, even if we had wanted to take them with us. Second was a book called Nomadic Furniture, that we had acquired while still in Chicago. The book didn’t provide any specific guidance, but its general perspective helped us focus on what we wanted the bookcase to be like.
In the end what I built was easy to put together using materials that were relatively cheap, was stable and sturdy, was as “nomadic” as something made of 1 x 12 pine could be, and was reasonably attractive as well. People sometimes asked if the bookcase was built-in, which I took to be a compliment. But it was designed to be movable rather than to be fixed permanently in one place. When we moved to our second house in Austin I simply dismantled the bookcase in an hour or so (once the books had been removed) and reassembled it, with some adjustments, in the new living room. Later I built a second bookcase, a slightly modified version of the original, for a second wall.
When we were ready to move from Austin, I decided to leave the old bookcases behind and build new ones in Clarksburg. Lisa persuaded me to think of what I had already built as “furniture” rather than as a stack of lumber. I dismantled the bookcases and stowed the parts in the truck bound for Clarksburg, where, like the books themselves, they waited until we made the library ready for them.
When we had finished repairing and painting the room, we brought the bookcase parts in, modified them as needed so the bookcases could fit properly, and set them up. These bookcases have now been used in three different houses, altered in each case for a specific room. The forced air registers and cold air returns in this house are at the bases of the walls. When we installed the bookcases we allowed them to extend beyond the edge of the register on the south wall and the edge of the air return on the north wall. As a result, the register and the air return are each boxed by a shelf below and a shelf above. The half of each shelf that is directly in front of the register is empty — we do not put any books there so that the flow of air is not blocked — which has resulted in an unexpected use for these shelves.
When the first cold weather arrived after we finally installed our bookshelves we discovered that in addition to a place for books we had created a special warming shelf for cats, a place to nap on a chilly morning (but only one cat at a time).