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Glamorous Study Areas
In rooms as lovely as these offices and libraries, it's easy to be productive
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Whether you're hard at work on a project or just relaxing with a good book, the right setting makes hitting the books a pleasure.
Symmetry and millwork add a touch of formality to the library in Ray and Virginia Mary Brown's Houston-area home. “Everyone loves this room because we are all readers,” Ray says. Virginia Mary found the gray taffeta drapery fabric at a remnant sale. Pine flooring throughout the house was salvaged from a North Carolina tobacco warehouse.
A chandelier embellished with wooden balls repeats the bleached hue of cypress paneling in this home office. A lavender armchair and ottoman pull out the colors from the landscape painting on the back wall.
A wall of built-ins creates a spot to display books and sit and work in this study. Pops of gold, umber, and aubergine borrowed from an original Robert Cook oil painting invigorate the study’s subdued palette. Bottle-glass nesting tables, a hand-spun wool rug, and a striated Piegatto “S” chair add textural interest.
Furnishings are classic contemporary in this den. “It’s a very easy style to live with, as it sits right in the middle,” creative director Sandra Drechsler at Taylor Howes Design in London says. A sofa, countertop, and floating shelves transformed this extra bedroom into a room for projects.
At the rear of this Birmingham house, a small den strikes a casual chord. Warm gray walls and floor-to-ceiling shelves lined with the homeowner's collection of vintage books and other treasures provide a serene setting for relaxing on a sectional sofa. A patchwork hide rug, cut-velvet pillows, and ceramic sculptures add inviting texture. The curvaceous framework around the built-in shelves echoes the shape of moldings in the nearby living room.
Designers Shea Soucie and Martin Horner kept interiors light with a creamy palette in this stunning Chicago home. A mix of midcentury finds and new and custom pieces adds textural panache. Robust 12-inch-tall baseboards and moldings painted a crisp white tame 12-foot-high ceilings on the main level while balancing dark-stained rift- and quartersawn oak floors. “I wanted a classical, transitional style—serene but modern and youthful,” Kathy says. “Nothing overly decorated,” adds Horner, who coaxed Kathy into popping mustard-color accents into the living room for punch.
The serenity of the public spaces gives way to a more exuberant vibe in the library, which Horner describes as a laboratory for education. A floor-to-ceiling bookrack allows colorful dust jackets to serve as art; a playful print on a sofa strikes a whimsical note. “It’s my favorite room,” Kathy says. “I wanted a place to inspire the boys, where they could have fun learning,” she says. “When they’re working on a team project, everyone loves to gather there.”
Quotes on walls and in artwork, such as this message from Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” reinforce the home’s warm mood. “They reflect what this house is about,” Kathy says. “This is a family home, not just a house.”
The library showcases an artful display of children’s books, while coral Eames molded chairs and an overscale pattern on the sofa carry color throughout the space.
“This home reflects the 1930s and 1940s cabins indigenous to the area, but in a farmhouse form,” architect Stan Dixon says of this Cashiers, North Carolina, home.
To further the illusion that the home was erected a century ago, Dixon incorporated materials readily available to cabin builders in the ’30s. Fieldstone and wide-plank oak floors, reclaimed beam ceilings, painted steel doors and windows, pecky cypress paneling, and walls and ceilings clad in painted boards are woven throughout to foster a graceful patina. “The rustic finishes play against the painted boards for a lovely contrast, and the steel windows and doors add a modern touch,” Dixon says. “There is a simplicity to this house—through thoughtful editing and restraint, we brought a lot of beauty to its design.”
The den’s pecky cypress walls and drapery fabric inspired an earthy palette. White accents, leather-bound books, and a timeworn gilded frame brighten the space.
Beyond stylistic lines, the secret to this Arizona home’s sense of ease and comfort springs from its tactility. A panoply of textures grounds and envelops the interiors. Rough-hewn beams, distressed surfaces, leather, oil-rubbed bronze, hide, lacquer, stucco, and river pebble tiles are just a few of the materials that add character to the rooms. “There’s no synthetic fabric,” interior designer Suzanne Biers Harrington says. “Everything is made from natural fibers. I didn’t want anything to be fussy.”
A reclaimed elm chest, a mahogany-burl desk, and mahogany-stained wood paneling imbue the library with masculine appeal.
Designer Phyllis Taylor balanced traditional and modern influences to create interiors with a youthful twist suitable for a young couple with three preteen children in their Florida home. “It was important that furniture frames were modern and sleek,” she says. “And if we used a traditional frame, it has a very contemporary expression in the upholstery or color.”
Phyllis also used whimsy as a foil for formality. The library, for instance, features intricate millwork and trefoil cutouts above a bay window, so she softened the scene with a silk Fortuny chandelier and a box-pleated ottoman. Pale yellow and lavender floral draperies brighten the library’s dark millwork, imparting a sunny vibe that’s picked up by a settee piled with pillows.
Gorgeous in Gray
Classic yet youthful and remarkably approachable, Atlanta designer Jennifer Healey’s style embodies everyday elegance. She believes there’s no substitute for strong bones, honest materials, and quality artisanship and asserts that décor has the power to elevate a space from ordinary to extraordinary when it is thoughtfully composed. “I’m not a minimalist, but I don’t like visual clutter either,” Healey says. “Having too much color, too much pattern, or too many things is distracting.” She likes to start a project with a clean slate by painting walls and trim the same neutral color in two sheens—like flat and semigloss or satin and glossy. Sometimes she even dresses windows in draperies of the same hue. “Using a variety of textures is what keeps a monochromatic room from looking monotonous,” she says. “It helps control the eye so that you can focus on the room’s strongest decorative element.”
Healey’s den illustrates her passion for texture. “Despite the room’s stormy palette, it feels cozy and warm thanks to colorful book bindings, dark wood ceilings and furnishings, and a chunky sisal rug, smooth velvet sofa, and plush, downy pillows,” she says.
Comfort was the guiding principle as designer Joe Kelly and homeowner Marcia Miller chose a color scheme and furnishings in step with her home’s architecture. “The neutrals were inspired by sepia photos we looked at in books about Lutyens and his designs,” Kelly says. “We chose furniture with old forms, but dressed them in current fabrics so they would feel accessible. Then we spent lots of time at flea markets, antique shows, and junkyards looking for oddities to give the home a sense of being collected over a period of time.”
One of Kelly’s most intriguing discoveries is an antique map of London made up of 24 panels that now hang on a wall in the library where gilded frames lend a glittering finish. The library walls are lined with lime-washed oak.
Reviewing a photographic history of this 1929 Georgian home, added to by each of the property’s previous owners, prompted interior designer Kevin Walsh to include bronze-and-crystal chandeliers, hand-painted wallpaper, and stone and wood surfaces All were inspired by details that once decorated the home. Walsh then gave the home an updated lift by mixing streamlined arrangements of midcentury modern pieces with refurbished French antiques.
The homeowners like to head to the library to kick back and watch television. Walsh enhanced the room’s masculine feel while maintaining a modern edge with a contemporary armless, flannel-covered sofa, a back-painted glass coffee table, and a pair of sleek leather barrel chairs.
Paneled and beamed ceilings, weighty crown moldings, tall arched windows, Venetian plaster walls, and marble floors satisfy one Dallas couple's love of formal profiles and finishes, but a medley of past and present furnishings invigorates the classic architectural features. A refreshing palette of blues and purples, brightened with brass and gilded accents, also contributes to the home’s enlightened attitude. “The ocean colors bring a sense of calmness, like the feeling one gets when watching waves rolling in,” designer Mary Beth Wagner says.
Just off the entry, the study introduces the home’s soothing tones in noteworthy fashion. An ethereal shade of paint that’s one part gray and one part sky blue sweeps over walls, built-ins, and a coffered ceiling. The unified perimeters spotlight an artful mix of antique, vintage, and new pieces, including a retro game table set, a brass chandelier, and a mirrored coffee table. “This is definitely a room that invites relaxation,” Wagner says. “The colors and furnishings just make you feel good.”
Designer Mary Beth Wagner employed a vintage card table and chairs as a contrast to the study’s classic millwork. The chairs’ upholstery fabric inspired the tone-on-tone linen drapery fabric. High-gloss paint plays up the study’s intricate beamed ceiling and bounces natural light around the casual gathering space. An accent pillow on the sofa covered in dyed cowhide adds a flash of whimsy.