Saturday, March 25, 2006

New homes have top-shelf libraries
By Maria Puente

Most British country estates have libraries. Most American suburban McMansions have TV rooms (and better plumbing). Until now.

Architects and builders say more of their high-end clients want a library in their homes, but not the kind on ''Masterpiece Theatre.'' An American home library might be out in the open, on a stair landing or in a loft or an alcove. It might double as an office and have climate controls, high-tech lighting, TVs and computers.

''The library has come back strongly,'' says Santa Barbara, Calif., architect Barry Berkus, head of the award-winning firm B3 Architects.

About half the custom-designed million-dollar homes built by Witt Construction of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., feature libraries. ''People want something a bit more elegant than an ordinary office,'' says Suzanne Pitts, Witt sales director. ''And when they have guests, they want them to see it.''

Gopal Ahluwalia, research director at the National Association of Home Builders, says home libraries are most common in houses 3,000 square feet or larger, which is about 20 percent of the total U.S. housing stock.

Home libraries fit in with affluent homebuilders' desire for ''specialty rooms'' that reflect personal interests and hobbies, from meditation and massage rooms to wine cellars and yoga rooms. This year's New American Home, a 10,000-square foot Caribbean-style home built for the International Builders' Show in Orange County, Fla., featured a second-story loft library.

Sometimes, the homeowner collects costly antique books that he has actually read. But sometimes the library is just for show. Antiquarian booksellers, such as New York's 85-year-old Argosy Book Store, say about half their sales of antique books go to homeowners who care more about the looks than the books.

''They buy just to fill up the shelves, and they want it to look pretty,'' co-owner Naomi Hample says.''Some want all the same color. Some don't care what language it's in.''

Tallahassee Democrat - - Tallahassee, FL.

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