Transforming small formal living room into reading room/library

Monika Jones
July 24, 2012
We have a small living room space in the front of our house intended as a formal living room. It's hardly ever used and we have many, many, many books. It's an open floor plan, opening both into the foyer and the adjacent dining room which is behind the fireplace in the photo. I'll probably paint the walls grey as well. I'd like to convert it into a reading room/library and would love your ideas.

Comments (32)

  • michigammemom
    What a pretty room! Based on your description, it sounds as though the wall behind your sofa is the best place for bookshelves. I like the configuration in this inspiration photo with a large space for a mirror. You could add decorative molding as desired to make the shelves more formal.
    Riverhouse · More Info
  • judianna20
    Contemporary Living Room · More Info

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  • Monika Jones
    The ceilings are vaulted. About 15 ft. Can the bookshelves go up to the ceiling?
  • Julie
    Jealous that you have a room you can turn into a library!! With a fireplace, even! I agree with "michigammemom" that the wall where the sofa is would be a perfect place for bookshelves. That will cozy the room and give it definition.

    The mirror might look good over the fireplace to reflect the light from the window so it doesn't get too closed in. The candlesticks on the mantel are nice, but might do better in the dining room. They're a little tall for this room.

    You have a perfect opportunity to put a window nook underneath the window for reading - a low chaise with a small tea table and a good reading light (where the floor lamp is would work, if you have enough room to the side of the bookshelves). If you take out the area rug and leave the floors bare, it will make the room seem larger - maybe just a small foot rug in front of the chaise for warmth. A couple of upholstered chairs in front of the fire with another small table for a drink and to put your book if you want to nap would pull it all together.
  • triselmore
    I am a big fan of using what you already have-especially since your pieces look fantastic already!
    Here's what I would do:
    1. Remove mirror from back wall and instead put it above that fab mantle.
    2.Budget Friendly: For the back wall: Buy some simple, stock bookshelves (Ikea, perhaps) and trim it out with a nail gun and paint the same color-you seem to like white-so that's easy :). OR, hire someone to do floor to ceiling and decorate with all your lovely books and decorative items.OR, use crates-simple, trendy, and beautiful!
    Storage Boxes design by Baileys:
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    3.Move the sofa to the left in front of the window-pulled out a couple feet or so.
    4. Place the coffee table in front of it.
    5. EITHER, Put 2 green chairs (slightly angled inward toward each other in the front) perpendicular to the book shelves on this side of the coffee table and place a small table between them and leave be, OR add another chair that would fit comfortably into that far right corner with a tiny table next to it (Plant stand) for all the coffee mugs you will use while sitting there reading your books.
    6. Looks as though you may also need to turn the rug so it is long ways in front of newly placed sofa.

    These leave room for a TV:

    I like the size of the cabinets on this one-should make your space seem roomier:

    Voil'a -c'est magnifique, no?!
  • PRO
    Frugal Design - Lenora T. Brandoli, Allied ASID
    What you might consider is having your bookcases with a ladder rail. One large, long oil painting positioned over the shelves is a possibility. Two overstuffed chairs with ottomans, large rug, and drapery in a textured fabric, hung on rings. I would user lots of wood to cozy up the space, wainscotting, wood side tables, etc...
  • Street
    Hire a carpenter and surround the walls with book cases and one of those cool rolling ladders.Ditch the couches and get some comfy chairs to read from. Maybe a game set if there is room.
  • auntju
    I would put an oil painting over mantle. Put the mirror in another room. I would either use dark wood or paint walls a dark color. A library should feel cozy and dark walls with dark bookshelves would do that. I would put couch in front of window. Window should have wooden shades and darker curtains. Lots of lamps. Turn rug. An oriental with some red would look great. Leave chairs where they are but place them straight not curved inward. Get a upholstered ottoman for in front of the couch. Couch should be darker than it is now. No to candlesticks but keep floor lamp. Paint color-gray can be cool. You want something with some warmth
  • Carol Shaffer
    I quite like the colors you are using however the mirror is too big for the smaller furniture. Maybe place the mirror above the mantle and put a grouping of pics above the couch!
  • Carol Shaffer
    Sorry, I just noticed you have tons of books. Yes, by all means put up a bookshelf to the ceiling to add height to the room. Still love the colors you have though.
  • Anastasia Sin
    i suggest having it simple and clutter free. hope these help : )
  • Marta St_John_Anders
    We just established a library in our house. We had an Ikea kitchen installed and one of the installers returned and customized Billy bookcases for our space. Our chairs are from Ikea also.
  • jingstad
    I would build floor to ceiling bookshelves around the window with a window seat under the window. The bookshelves would continue around the corner to fill the "big" wall...leaving nooks for a painting. The sofa would be placed perpendicular to the window wall...facing the "big" wall. The two chairs and a side table would angle in front of the bookshelves. That beautiful mirror would go on the wall above the fireplace. I would LOVE that room!!!!
  • capri
    I was just mentioning to my husband that we needed to figure out where to put the books and he suggested that maybe we should just mount a floating shelf and load it with a few KINDLES since there really isn't much space!
  • Steven Crosbie
    hello...the simplest idea i think would be to move the mirror over the fireplace,swing that sofa to form an "L" shape facing the fireplace,making the whole wall available for some shelving units,or ikea style "floating" shelves,turning the whole wall into a giant bookcase/display shelf. this would be the easiest and most inexpensive option i believe.
  • rileysgranny
    This is a great tutorial on a DIY using the IKEA bookcases. Wish I'd seen it before I started building bookcases in my den/library - I'd already be through and have them filled.
  • Marta St_John_Anders
    Those bookcases in the link you shared are beautiful, rileysgranny. We haven't done all the finish work she did with molding. I love her finished wall! One time a few years ago I got two bookcases from walmart for about $29 each and I wallpapered the backing before assembling them. Loved how that turned out for display.
  • aparki
    This is beautifully simplistic. Keep the wall behind the bookshelf the blue color. and the shelf white.
  • sueschus
    Remove the glass top from the coffee table and put the mirror on it as a table top. Put the mirror table in front of the fireplace where it can reflect light from the window and the fireplace. Bookshelves on the back wall up to the ceiling with a library ladder. More bookshelves on the window wall creating a window seat with a thick, down cushion. Two or three very comfy, leather, swivel chairs with arms that can hold a draped leg around the mirrored table. Or two chaises. You already have the dark wood floor, just add a leather shag rug under the table - something with toe texture. Are there niches on either side of the fireplace or doorways? If niches, frame around them to match the fireplace, add rope lighting behind the framework, glass shelves with art and objects - no books. A rest from the books in the rest of the room.
  • PRO
    Sandy G. ltd.
    _-- Wow! Tons of great ideas in this thread. With so many electronic ways to get your hands on books these days, it is exciting to have someone like you who still loves their old fashioned paper books!

    So, surround yourselves with your books! Install bookcases around the window and on the sofa wall - up to the ceiling. Add the rolling ladder for sure and store it in the corner by the window.

    Add shelves to the niches and use that area for books you particularly love that have beautiful covers you want to enjoy. Stand them up on the shelves on plate holders/table top easels, facing out. Also, some books are very large, like atlases and coffee table books and are hard to work in with "normal-sized" books so place them in these niches. A collection of interesting bookends would be awesome used in here.

    Remove the sofa and cocktail table. Find a pair of reading chairs and an ottoman or two that could face the fireplace with a table between. Also find a battery operated reading lamp that would serve both chairs for the side table. Your mirror could go over the mantle or you might find a new work of art.

    Keep the room relatively simple with only the necessary pieces of furniture. If you feel you have the room, however, add a small library-style table [30" x 18"] and straight back chair, with just enough room for a phone, laptop, sculpture, note paper, whatever.
  • amynancys
    Anastasia Sin - I am the librarian at a small private elementary school. My library is currently in boxes and will be moved to a much smaller location for the coming school year. I am at my wit's end trying to figure out how to fit my books in the smaller space and am intrigued by the sliding shelf system photo you have posted here! It looks custom built and like something kids would love!! Can you tell me more about it, or where I can find out more about it. Thanks.
  • dani_tarv

    It would help if you had more living room shots, so I'll know how big the living room is. I suggest moving your mirror on top of the mantle, and using the wall behind your sofa as your place for books, you can either cover up that wall completely with books or look for an arch-type bookshelf so you won't have to move your sofa.


  • PRO
    Studio M Interior Design

    Ikea has a ton of great built-in looking bookshelves that'll make the space look as though it was made to be a home library. What a fun project! :)

  • Monika Jones
    Here's what it looks like now. We took out the fireplace and made it a hrand room with the dining area. This is the "library" side.
  • txtea3

    i dont see your "now" picture ! would love to see it monika!!

  • esan_segun8
    cool I wish my extra room should be like this
  • Monika Jones
    Here is the now!
  • rileysgranny

    Wow Monika, that looks really nice and inviting!

  • decoenthusiaste

    Great transformation. My only suggestion would be to center your free floating art pieces at 5' above the floor. That one by the window looks awkwardly high. We'd love to see more pix.

  • Monika Jones
    The painting below it fell. :-)
  • Monika Jones
    What do you think about dark paint?
  • NE Broe

    Wow, the light is so beautiful in here and the colors too! I already want to sink into a book in there! And having a fireplace and traditional rug are also classic library touches. Seems like all you need are some gorgeous bookcases and a nap-worthy reading chair. I'm converting a small, little used room off my dining room into a library, too, so I am excited to see someone else'else's project. I love having a reading room dedicated to all the good books, old and new! Can't wait to see your finishfinished project!

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