Sunday 17 November 2019

Novel idea: How to create the perfect cosy reading nook

From library wallpaper to wing-back chairs, create the perfect space to devour a tome

Mid century reading corner from Room Essentials
Mid century reading corner from Room Essentials
Andrew Martin's Nicholas Nickleby wallpaper
Library wallpaper
Luxxu alcove
Kubrik wing-back chair
Reading corner from Essential Interiors

When I was a teenager I used to read sat on my bedroom windowsill. It was draughty and not particularly comfortable, but I loved the sense of enclosure and the way I could look out at the trees in the neighbour's garden.

When I drew the curtains, it felt as though I was in my own world. The house that I live in now has narrow window ledges, too small to sit on, but it does have an alcove beside the chimney breast. That's my book nook. It's probably my favourite part of the house.

The place where you like to read is very individual. I frequently find my husband reading his book at the top of the stairs. It's away from the hurly burly of the living room and you can see through the fanlight and all the way down the street. It satisfies his desire for both solitude and for keeping an eye on things.

Some people like to read in a busy family kitchen and take comfort from the activity around them. Each to their own. My son, as a small child, used to read his book inside a large cardboard box. My point is, for those who like to read, it's important to find a space that feels right.

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So much of interior design is organised around visual entertainment - the television, the gaming console, the prototype home cinema - reading corners are often overlooked. But it doesn't take much to create one, so long as the basics are in place. That would be natural light, freedom from digital distraction, and somewhere comfortable to sit. Of these, light is probably the most important, although back-lit electronic readers, like the Kindle Paperwhite, make the lighting issue less crucial. With them, you can virtually read in the dark. But, in general, it's best to have natural light during the day and artificial light in the evening.

Smart lighting is the reader's friend and becoming more accessible every year. Ikea's Floalt light panel (from €65) has both dimmable and colour temperature controls that allow you to adjust the light from bright white to warm yellow. The design is minimal to the extent that it looks like something out of a 1960s sci-fi movie, but it's an inexpensive way of achieving adjustable light. It could, potentially, be combined with an attractive table lamp or even candles. But don't read by candlelight, however romantic it may seem. The flickering light is bad for the eyes.

Andrew Martin's Nicholas Nickleby wallpaper

In rooms with hard flooring, a rug will make a reading nook seem cosier. It will also help to delineate that part of the room from the rest of an open-plan space. I would go for wool, even though it's more expensive, because it feels nicer underfoot and is easier to keep clean.

There are some attractive low-cost options in JYSK and the auction houses are full of beautifully made Persian rugs that cost far less than a new one of similar quality. Ground it with furniture: the whole chair, if the rug is big enough; the front legs if it isn't. A rug that floats awkwardly in the middle of the floor can look a bit silly, like a magic carpet that's about to fly away.

Then there's the chair. A high-backed chair creates a feeling of enclosure. A wing-backed chair is even better because the wings absorb the sound around your ears and make it harder for other people to get your attention. The Marks and Spencer Highland Button Armchair (€808 to €1,279) or the Kubrik wing-back chair (around €399) from Made look like suitable reading chairs - both are contemporary redesigns of traditional armchair types.

But seating is very individual. Sit on it and see. When my ship comes in, I'm going to buy Patricia Urquiola's Fat chair, a massively expensive blob with a wrap-around back. It's made by B&B Italia and it doesn't look like much. I only discovered how amazing it was when I sat on one in a showroom. It took three retailers to get me out.

Library wallpaper

Some people like to recline with their feet up but, comfortable though they are, it's hard to find a recliner that doesn't look naff. The Dynamo Fabric Electric Recliner Armchair (€799) from EZ Living Interiors has more character than most, but whether you like a recliner or not depends on how you use a chair.

It's hard to curl up in a recliner. A footstool can be a versatile alternative, especially if it is large and firm enough to support a tray of tea, or wine, or snacks. Many footstools double as storage boxes, in which you can keep a selection of snuggly rugs. There is a strong trend for mismatching footstools, to the extent that matching footstool-and-chair combos are almost considered a design crime. If you like things that match, stand firm against the style police. Enjoying matching furniture does not make you a bad person.

Then there are the books. Some people position a reading corner beside the bookshelf, but it's hard to focus on a whodunnit when you're surrounded by improving books. I prefer to retreat to a part of the room where I can read my crime thriller in peace. A book nook should be free of things that remind you of duty. In any pile of reading material, the lightest always rises to the top.

Reading corner from Essential Interiors

Less reproachful than a real bookcase, Andrew Martin's Library wallpaper - a design showing the spines of painted volumes (around €151 per roll) - recalls the libraries of the Big House. It's nostalgic, creates a bookish atmosphere, and would look funny in a semi-d.

Even better, Martin is shortly to release the Scholar collection, which includes wallpaper decorated with the opening chapters of books. You can paper the walls with pages from The Great Gatsby, Nicholas Nickleby, Pride & Prejudice and even Genesis (although that might be a bit much). It's available in November (from around €463) and whether you love it or hate it really depends on your taste in reading. Not everybody will want to live between the pages of a Dickens novel. I do, but then, I've always wanted to live inside a book.

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