Victoria Summerley: Town Life

Know what my favourite Disney film is? Beauty and the Beast. I love the scene where the Beast takes Belle into the vast library in his castle and she decides that there might be more to him between the covers, as it were. There's something very appealing about a heroine who can be seduced by the prospect of a book at bedtime.

But mainly I lusted after the library. No matter how many bookshelves I buy or build, there never seem to be enough to accommodate all the books that accumulate in our house. At my last address, practically every room was shelved from floor to ceiling, so when we moved to our present abode (number of built-in bookshelves at that point: nil), I almost had a nervous breakdown. It's only when you unpack books that you realise how many you have.

Today's interior design does not favour those who read. You can buy off-the-peg bookshelves, of course, but they don't seem to be designed to house books. Ikea, who do one of the most comprehensive ranges of storage at high-street prices, have a maximum weight-per-shelf limit on many of their units. The average paperback weighs between 300g and 500g, and the average glossy hardback (a book on gardening or art, say) weighs at least a kilo. You won't get many of the latter on an Ikea bookshelf.

The only time I've ever seen a feature in a magazine about displaying books in the home, it advocated arranging them by colour, rather than by content or author's name. It said it promoted a calm, contemplative ambience. I've tried this and it looked lovely but it wasn't very calming. You can't find anything when everything's jumbled up together - Enid Blyton instead of The Aeneid and the Trollopes cheek by jowl with the Marquis de Sade.

An astonishing number of off-the-peg bookcases are open-ended, which means that if you have a serious paperback habit, your precious volumes will fall straight off. But then, you're not supposed to have books on them, just a few objets, such as a lurid vase or a Buddha's head.

So I was delighted to hear that private libraries seem to be coming back into fashion. There's even one on the cover of John D Wood's latest London property brochure, complete with buttoned-leather fender seat in front of a cosy fire. It's in a house in Kensington Square (guide price £6.9m). I can just imagine myself curling up in an armchair (though I can't imagine ever affording £6.9m).

Aidan Mortimer, who is chief executive of a company called Symm, reports that they have had an unprecedented demand for libraries in the past year. Symm specialises in upmarket restoration and construction projects and they also provide a bespoke architectural joinery service, which uses English and European oak from sustainable forestry.

What sort of person commissions a private library these days? A rich one, that's for sure. But that's as far as the generalisation goes. According to Mr Mortimer, his clients don't fall into any particular category, other than that they tend to be book-lovers (not Footballers' Wives types who go out and buy secondhand books by the yard).

One client, a passionate collector, devoted three rooms in his house to antique volumes and rare first editions, but as Mr Mortimer points out, this is unusual. More common, especially in London, is to create a mezzanine study/ library, often on a landing.

And while there is a demand for the traditional library, a Symm version will probably incorporate 21st-century technology. Not only does a library provide somewhere peaceful to read and work, these days it also offers a haven in which to relax. Audio-visual systems, flat-screen televisions and air-conditioning will all be concealed behind the wood panelling, while Symm's craftsmen can even create a secret door, complete with trompe l'oeil books.

"I think books are a good way of expressing yourself," says Mr Mortimer. "Art and décor can do that of course, but your books can tell people a lot about you."

Indeed. One might even go so far as to say they speak volumes...

www.symm.co.uk; 01865 254900

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...