The Library on a Budget

If any of you know Sara and I, you will know we love to read. When we first started dating, when I was a mere pup of 14, we would have book dates. We would sit toe to toe on the couch and read for hours. Many parents would never leave their young teenagers alone without some sort of supervision, but my parents were very trusting of Sara and I. On occasion my dad would realized that his teenage son was unchaperoned at home alone with a girl and he would come barging into the living room expecting the worst, instead he would find two teenagers with books in there hands staring at him wide eyed, wondering why he would interrupt their reading time.

Thus Sara and I always knew we wanted a library. The library would be a place that was comfortable, old fashioned, stunning, and where we could read together and enjoy each others company.

I had designed and redisgned my dream library numerous times. Most involved a two story library modeled after the Biltmore estate or Glenridge Hall. But while I wanted greatness, my budget was a factor. Basically I have champagne taste on a beer budget. I am pretty sure this is the story of my life…

The Library at the Biltmore Estate

The Haunted Mansion’s Library was also an inspiration

The Crow’s Nest library is the smallest library I’ve ever had to design. It has proved to be a worthy challenge and it took a lot of forethought to come up with a design worthy of our dreams. While I have been in charge of the budget, Sara kept her eye on what I was looking at and would put a stop to anything to extravagant no matter how cool something looked. Our overall budget for this room was around $1,700. That seems like a lot for the smallest room in the house but its not when you factor in that this room is one of the most used in the house. We need bookshelves, lighting, paint, curtains, rugs, and furniture all in this price range.

My first design was inspired by the dusty rose color and a little known thing about the Victorian era. Some homes of the late Victorian era had what was called Turkish or Opium Corners. These spaces were rather small tucked away alcoves or separate rooms ( like ours) where gentleman could imbibe in a cigar, pipe tobacco, or more illicit substances that were legal at the time (opium, cocaine, marijuana). Usually these intimate spaces had comfortable furniture to lounge on with velvet furnishing and draperies to absorb the….ummm smell from what ever they were smoking. They also tended to have a middle eastern/Moorish aesthetic. Often the fireplaces had Moroccan tile and the wall coverings featured Moorish arches and Arabian motifs. It was something that looked like was from a fantasy of Arabian Nights. Was this design a fantasy that never existed in the Crow’s Nest? Yes. Would it cost me a whole lot of money to create? Yes. Was it ethical to recreate a space that was debatably politically incorrect? Possibly. Could it end up looking like a circus tent? Yes. Was the design slowly becoming a Victorian Bordello? Yes. So this design was tossed out.

My design sketch….

Our Turkish corner. The colors were not exactly right here but it gives you an idea.

These Lights were easy enough to get but they did not offer a lot of light which would have been a problem but the stained glass effect would have been spectacular.

The Second Design I came up with was a more Victorian gothic affair. This one had amazing potential. With one flaw. It was going to cost a fortune. Building bookcases and the window seat out of quality lumber with reclaimed details was going to be around $2,000. That was more than what Sara and I could afford with a wedding coming up. I looked at many other cheaper alternatives but I came to the realization that custom woodwork of any sort was out of the budget for now. I didn’t save many of my sketches from this. Here are some things from it.

These antique lions would have supported the window seat and added some regal charm. Other salvaged gothic items would also have been used. I suppose the library would have had an English flair to it.

Finally I decided to take inspiration from the Victorian Libraries of the past. They were cabinets of curiosities with weird and slightly morbid collections. The libraries of Victorian Scholars were very personal to the owner and a reflection of how they saw themselves and how they wanted to be perceived by their peers. Sara will have degrees in the Arts and the Natural Sciences while I have degree in Architecture with a minor Historic Preservation (Urban Studies) and I almost had minors in Anthropology and Art History. The library will showcase our interests.

A little scary but Sara and I are both a little morbid. Sara being a biologist finds taxidermy interesting.

I appreciate the various collections.

This seamed do able but I need it lighter and less dark. The room should not be overtly masculine or feminine. It should be a mix or neutral space for both Sara and I.

I already had furniture that was from the 1920s that were ambiguous and detailed enough to be seen as late Victorian. These pieces were my great grandma Emilie’s living room set given to her by her mother in law as a wedding present. Apparently she always hated them and had the sofa and chair reupholstered. My Aunt Des thinks they are uncomfortable (only if you sleep on them). I find the pieces wonderful. Thus we had a base to work off of and I am spending next to nothing for furniture.

If you look at the Painting-Historically Post I did a month ago you will learn we had trouble with the paint color. In the end I chose a sky blue color that is cheerful yet relaxing. For paint and plaster we were at $200.00.

The lighting proved to be another problem. The existing light was a flush mounted 1/2 globe fixture from the early 2000s and was off center in the room. We had the electrician move the electric box to the center of the room and my dad helped me install the antique chandelier I had rewired. It turned out fantastic. The light was $150. All the other electrical work in the house had to be done so I am not counting moving the box towards this.

The next thing was figuring out the shelving for the probably 400 books that were stored in various boxes. I could build shelves but I am no carpenter. To have them built out of oak and going up to the ceiling was going to be close to $1500. Out of the budget. So I began to look for bookshelves I could assemble myself. I found some options at Walmart surprisingly and debated between the simpler one and the detailed one. Sara chose the more detailed one surprisingly. Each shelf was $185.00, thus $740. It was a tough bill to swallow and we actually started out just buying two shelves and when we had the funds we bought the other two. One of the shelves needed modification because the existing heating vent is in an awkward corner where a shelf should go. So I cut out the bottom and put a grate over it to allow air flow. All together $755. We had to buy a small cheap end table off of amazon to fit a small space between the sofa and bookcase for $25. It wont be seen as it is covered by the sofa and a bookcase. Furniture all together is $780.00.

So, we had furniture. We had book shelves. We had lighting. But we were missing something; we needed a focal point for the space. I debated this for a bit and in the end I made a knee jerk reaction.

You see while this project was going on, Sara and I got married and went on our honeymoon. When we returned and officially moved into our home we found out that the furnace had gone out. The repairman came out and told us we needed to replace the 30 year old furnace. It was going to take some time, and the house was getting colder and colder. A lot of the money we had saved up to do projects in the house disappeared for a new furnace. In my somewhat chilled brain I came up with the idea to get an electronic fireplace that would help heat the library. Romantic images of reading by a blazing fireplace came to mind and I was sold. A few clicks on wayfair and the fireplace arrived in a few days and was assembled for $350. I have to give credit to my mother for this. The money for the fireplace was a birthday gift to me.


I was at $1,480. Not bad for what I got so far. I decided that the existing curtains and hardware would stay. They didn’t look bad and once again we are on a budget. Thus all that was left was artwork and decorating. Turns out we had most of it already. We had to frame some pieces but it came out very nice. We are still looking for a rug and some artwork but it will come with time. See the results below.

I love the space so much. I do have plans for the future of this space. I want to install picture rail and put our family motto above the door. I eventually want a rug and new curtains. But for now this is Library 1.0. Stay tuned for Library 2.0.

Merlin likes the library especially the armchair.

Stay tuned for next week, my next post will be on what the outside of the Crow’s Nest looked like in 1893. Please like, comment, and subscribe.

3 thoughts on “The Library on a Budget

  1. Josh. Amazing and thoughtful way to honor your great grandma’ furniture. You and Sara will have a home to be proud of and to enjoy for years to come. Looking forward to your next post. A wonderful adventure the two of you are having.


  2. Love your pictures and – most of all – the word pictures you paint. Looking forward to the next installment.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s