This is a story of longing, intrigue, temptation, excess, and bone-headed mistakes. A story of squandered potential and compromise. It is the story... of not building a bookcase.
As far back as I can remember, I have always dreamt of my own perfectly styled built-in bookcase, the stylish moments punctuated by some genius color. I wanted this:
No, I wanted to be this person who lived like this. Spend hours lounging in my sunroom, surrounded by plants and pot boiler novels. But I always ended up with this:
Now what's wrong with this picture?
Number 1: I don't collect knick knacks or enough stuff that I want to show off. It just hasn't been my way. I am more likely to buy art or a poster, but not objet d'art. I just never had a place for them, so I never felt compelled to purchase dozens of cute sculptural objects to put on my non-existent shelves.
Number 2: While we have lots of books, none of them are very pretty and they are mostly technical. Plus, I don't read for fun anymore. I have no shame about this. I was an English major and I have read plenty of books in my day. Oodles and oodles of books, most of which I really loved. However, I spend most of my down time researching design, reading blogs online or --gasp-- actually going outside and being active. I feel a certain freedom not succumbing to this idea that I need to read for entertainment. My husband is the more avid reader in this relationship, and every single one of his books are technical and very, very boring looking. They do not need to be displayed.
Number 3: I have been cursed with picking the expensive yet absolutely unusable shelf over and over again. They are always too shallow and so any knick knacks or books I do happen want to display are too big for the space.
So cut to our current mini-renovation. I will stress that our home was turn-key-esque. I could leave it the way it is and I would be perfectly happy. However, I wanted to make some modifications to accommodate our uber-technical entertainment requirements (for the movies we watch instead of reading). Which brings us to this very awkward setup in the TV room/kitchen:
We wanted to put our 65" TV in this room for regular TV watching/Netflix binging. Unfortunately the built-ins, while extremely nice and well-built are:
1) in the wrong place. If you notice, because of their placement far right in the room, it forces us to push our 120" sofa against the wall, which makes it unpleasant for the person who has to sit on that side. They can't get out without blocking the view of everyone else. They're next to a window. AND (most importantly), it is not pleasing to the eye.
2) We would have to rip out the top shelves. I wouldn't mind doing that, but I had a different plan for them.
And 3) Putting the TV in this particular spot means that the person sitting on the left side of the couch must ignore the fact that they have to look around a corner to see the TV (the TV is very big). Due to the structure of the house, we cannot move the entertainment closet since it is basically holding up the back half of the second story.
Now all this is pretty boring, but here is the interesting part: why not build out a wall flush with the closet so that I can center the TV and sofa and have enough room on either side of the sofa to make it comfortable for anyone sitting there? GENIUS!! I was well on my way to patting myself on the back. Plans were made, the drywall went up, doors were moved. And then I had an epiphany after one too many weed mints.
Why not build a bookcase into the new wall and mount the TV to that? No, really... we could get a wine fridge, keep the storage, paint it a fun color, give it some visual interest, et voila! Instagram-ready designer moment. I would be getting the bookcase from all my Pinterest dreams!
I called up the contractor and asked how much to do all this -- move the door again, take down the drywall, build some shelves, paint, etc.... I was prepared to pay whatever amount to make it happen since I thought I was wasting a momentous design boon. Then the figure came: $9K. That was a little more than I bargained for. After all, I will typically spend $12K on custom kitchen cabinets from the same guy. Why would a few cabinets and some simple shelves cost so much?
I was about to get a second opinion, but then I really confronted my reasons for wanting this bookcase. Was it because I had been groomed into wanting one? I also remembered a passage from one of my favorite books, The Great Gatsby (ironic, I know), when Nick wanders into his benefactor's library and comes across an "owl-eyed man":
"Absolutely real - have pages and everything. I thought they'd be a nice durable cardboard. Matter of face, they're absolutely real. Pages and - Here! Lemme show you."
Taking our scepticism for granted, he rushed to the book-cases and returned with Volume One of the Stoddard Lectures.
"See!" he cried triumphantly. "It's a bona-fide piece of printed matter. It fooled me. This fella's a regular Belasco. It's a triumph. What thoroughness! What realism! Knew when to stop, too - didn't cut the pages. But what do you want? What do you expect?"
Meaning, most rich people in those days did not bother buying real books to create the illusion of wealth and education; they bought cardboard books and used them like props to impress other people. For me, a bookcase filled with books I don't read and knick knacks I don't want is the height of pretension. That is not to say there are people out there who do read books for entertainment and also collect chachkies, but I am not one... if I were to build a bookcase, I would need to purchase even MORE stuff just to fill it out.
Plus, while I am not the cleanest person that ever lived, the thought of cleaning multitudes of shelves every week seems even more banal and wasteful. It never made sense to me to collect a bunch of stuff, display it, never use it, let it collect dust and then have to pack it up and move it every few years. I have moved 4 times in the last 13 years. That's a lot when we already have vast collections of art, movies, records and furniture. That is not to say I will not have shelving in other places, but building something that we can't take with us when we move seems... DUMB.
So, much to my surprise, we decided NOT to build another expensive and wasteful dust depository for our ugly books. I'm not going to lie, expense had a lot to do with it. Don't get me wrong -- I will spend the money when I think it's worth it. Check back with me once we are done with our movie room... YIKES! The key is to truly analyze how I use my home and what I'm naturally drawn to without forcing it.
Instead, we are opting for a wall with applied grid moulding to add some dimension and interest:
It's clean, it's bright, and it's a great palate cleanser for this:
But where are the current bookshelves going? Well, they will be behind the wall and it will store half our movie collection. I have essentially created a media room to hide all of our components and cords, as well as my less attractive design supplies. I opted for the storage I need vs. the storage that is pretty on the surface but totally ineffectual in practice.
It also ties into the living room wall's same applied grid moulding:
I wanted something simple, classic, NON trendy (even if you've seen this everywhere lately, it's been around for a very long time and isn't going away any time soon). Plus, I want my wallpaper and artwork to be the stars!
My main takeaway from this experience is the realization that while I would love to live the aspirational version of my life, I would much rather design for who I am now. My goal in life is to become even more me and that is the goal for my home as well.
Until next week, have a good one! And if you are in Texas, I am sending warm thoughts!!!