Paneled in Books

The title comes from a conversation I had with my husband and First Reader yesterday. We were talking about the house we are working on buying – contract is in place, inspection happens Monday, and if there aren’t fatal flaws uncovered in that, we close April 11 – and the work that will need to be done on it. We aren’t buying a shiny new house. We’re buying a home with a story behind it. Built in 1950, it’s been owned by one couple since then, until we came along with an offer to the estate. That’s a lot of Christmases, and birthdays, and hopes and dreams and little modifications to make life easier (like installing a light under the kitchen sink) and likely we will never know all of that story in detail. We’ll be able to deduce it from context. Feel our way around the outside, so to speak, and fill in the blanks. The house has three bathrooms. One is original (and needs renovation). The other two? One is a tiny thing shoehorned into a literal closet of what would have been the master bedroom. The other is a full bathroom in the garage, and an obvious afterthought. I took one look at the photos of it and said “He had a Dirty Job ala Mike Rowe, and she wouldn’t let him in the house until he had cleaned up.”

We meet the house in person later today. Yes, we really did put in a serious offer on a house we’d never seen. We were hours away from the target living area at the time. A trusted friend and our helpful realtor walked it, hours after it was on the market, and before close of business we submitted an offer, later tweaking that just a little to sweeten the pot for the seller as we knew we were competing against other potential buyers. It’s that kind of market, even in Tiny Town USA. One of the things we know will have to go, without ever seeing the home in person, is the cheap 80s panels that were slapped up during the last remodel that was done. As an aside, contemplating that was 40 years ago has me feeling more than a little crochety… But I pointed out to my husband that while we plan to paint them white (short term fix) and replace them with drywall (long term and permanent fix) the easiest thing to do would be to… panel the house in bookshelves! Bookshelves on every visible paneled wall would serve to cover them up! Might not make those rooms brighter, but hey. Library house!

I really miss not being able to lay hands on volumes I know I own. I was looking for my copy of Kipling’s Child Stories so I could loan it to a friend, but it’s in storage. Drat it. I was looking for some exemplars of the kind of pen-and-ink drawings I plan to do for the Hunting Anthology (title to be determined) and found most of the ones I wanted are in books that are… you guessed it.

Speaking of the anthology! If you have hunting stories, I want them. I’ll be illustrating this one, and from now until 30 June, you can send in your true story… ok. Look, I know that most hunting stories are a beautiful embroidery of fiction wrapped around a kernel of truth. Not all! Some of you really did have that hilarious or haunting experience. What I want for this anthology? Stories that feel true, like you’d tell them around a campfire, or to your grandchild. I’m not looking for SFF, but yes, if you want to make up a hunting story whole cloth, have at it. You’ll find the details at the link above, and I get into even more detail on my weekly chat.

Our life story is going on, almost according to plan. But I look at the houses we’ve been seeing, and think about the story of someone who’d been in one place for seventy years. It’s almost (almost! I am an author, so I can try) unimaginable to a person like me. Longest I ever lived in a house was ten years. I did live in that house for about four years, left for a few years, then came back, so I knew it up until it was torn down. And I grieved the Farmhouse, despite its myriad flaws. One of my children was born there, another came home from the hospital to it. There are stories inside every house that has been lived in. I intend to enjoy discovering another tale, and I plan to take years going through that process while I am still writing my own. This next chapter promises to be good for the storyteller in me. I’m writing every day, now that the situation with work and housing is looking promising. That temporary feeling of the apartment has been deeply unsettling. We’re going home.

21 comments

  1. My current 1812 log cabin has 30 library-style bookcases (and it ain’t enough, even though I buy all fiction & narrative non-fiction in ebook these days) with 1100 book boxes (and about 100 more bookshelves) in storage. It’s utterly exasperating. And, yes, every house I’ve had was paneled in bookcases.

    Last year we did what you did — bought a house (1857) in a small town (northern MS) without seeing it in person first. (We’ll be only the 3rd family to live in it.) As soon as we finish subdividing the current 300 acre farm, we’ll be moving, but that may be a year or more away. I did visit it shortly after the closing. Lovely people. Nice southern town that never burned, so there are 70 plantation houses still standing. Our only hope is going to be a defunct warehouse in the nearby cotton depot.

  2. Lighted bookshelves exist. Just saying… it COULD make the house lighter.

    And if you can convince your First Reader to go for it, then maybe I can convince mine to do the same. 😀

  3. Two walls of my home office have book cases covering large parts of them. Mom and DadRed had a room added to the house just for books. That’s how we discovered that books expand to fill all available space + 1 set of shelves.

    1. A lesson I learned early in life. I was dreaming of a house with a room that we could turn into a dedicated library, but this house didn’t offer that. Still! Bookshelves in every room has always worked before.

  4. I grew up in a house paneled in books. I got into so many books way before they were age appropriate.

    Unfortunately the SO doesn’t feel that walls covered in shelves overflowing in books is terribly beautiful, so ours probably won’t have the same experience.

  5. I know of a house in south Knoxville (TN) that has had only 2 two recorded owners since it was build.

    From ’38 until the 80’s it was the home of my grandparents. My mother grew up there and I spent many a summer playing in the yard. My grandmother passed in ’84 and after a few years my grandfather could not longer maintain the house.

    All public records show the house as last sold in ’91. I think I last saw the house in person around 87.

    The stories that house could tell. -grin- I know some of them. 😉

  6. Also in the camp of, “we need a house desparately, we’ll buy that one”. The one we are currently living in. Our realtor videoed the inside and outside in a tour for us. There were a few things that she didn’t look into, like I would have (like the very odd closet in the master bedroom.) And there are definitely quirks…

    Also in the camp of “Bookshelves and person Art make great paneling”. Every place we’ve lived we tried to put up as much art and as many bookcases as we could. Currently, many boxes are in storage. Some we gave away to a child who asked for favorites of what he grew up with. As it was getting more and more expensive to move, and we lost a lot of bookcases (and unfortunately books) to a flood where our things were stored. But, eventually, hope to get them all in one place again, and out of boxes. (finally got 98% of my art and craft supplies out of storage, but still not enough room to get them all out of boxes!)

    I hope all goes well for you guys and you come back from your ride with lots of dreams floating around in your heads! For while the stories of the past are wonderful to ferret out, the stories you make in the future, make a house a home.

  7. Much of our house is paneled in bookshelves. Bill built them and someone who saw them described them as inciting feelings of envy and despair. They brighten up a room because the upright sides are 1 inch plywood stained bright lemon yellow while the shelves are white melamine. Route out the plywood to better support the shelf. We stick to 2 foot wide units to support the weight of the books. Building them yourself (IF you have energy and time) means you can custom-fit odd corners and make custom size cases for paperbacks and oversize.

    As for the paneling you’re facing. I’d be wary of removing it. My father (still hanging on) paneled virtually every room of the house (still in it after 50 years). The walls were plaster and lathe and an active railroad line is less than 100 feet away. The walls were river deltas of cracks when we moved in in 1972. The paneling is the only thing holding the walls together.

    In our current home, many of the rooms were paneled. With the right primer, you can almost paint air. I prepped, primed, and painted as though the walls were drywall. In some cases, I ignored the paneling grooves. They disappeared under the other wall treatments such as gold and silver stars. In other areas, I painted a white line down each groove, giving me pin-striped walls.

    Oh to have that energy again. In both cases, it was easier by far to paint over the paneling than to remove it and go down to the studs. The only reason you might want to do that is to insulate and improve the wiring.

  8. But I pointed out to my husband that while we plan to paint them white (short term fix) and replace them with drywall (long term and permanent fix) the easiest thing to do would be to… panel the house in bookshelves! Bookshelves on every visible paneled wall would serve to cover them up! Might not make those rooms brighter, but hey. Library house!

    I like this idea.

  9. We bought a house last summer. The ability to see the inside and outside at a distance, both photos and videos, was a HUGE jump in home buying. I was able to knock out a lot of homes based on that. And, I was able to use google maps to plan our routes when going in person.
    BIG time-and-energy saver!
    It was great after spending time looking, to have the ability to go back to the photos and specs, and refresh our memories.

  10. I say I decorate in Swedish modern bookcases. Our living room has everywall cover plus half the entryway and parts of the den, office, and music room. Even the master bedroom has them.

  11. My friends said that I used books to save money on wallpaper. Sadly I lost most of those in a fire a decade ago and miss them a lot, but I’m slowly replacing them.

  12. Congratulations/good luck on the new house.

    When I moved from New York to the DFW area, the movers picked up 314 moving boxes, of which 20 were media, and just under 20 were “stuff”. The rest were books and magazines. And it’s a good thing I gave away a few thousand books and magazines before I moved — because, for the first time in decades, all the books and magazines are on shelves, and sorted. Of course, in sorting books to reshelve them, I got rid of another dozen boxes of books. My preliminary order of bookcases from Ikea ran the main DFW store, and the DFW warehouse, out of bookcases. Fortunately, by the time I ran out of shelf space during the unpacking, they’d restocked and I could get four more (plus some large media shelving units). It’s also a good thing that almost all of my book buying is ebooks now — if I had to add another few thousand volumes that I have as ebooks, it would be pretty hopeless.

  13. I’d be tempted to stain wood to match the paneling and do the walls in open back shelving. But then I’m a wood fanatic, married to a paint it fanatic.

  14. Oh Cedar, a new house… Here’s a beautiful song called “This old House”, that tells the tale from the spirit of the house being sold. So if there is such a thing as a spirit, why wouldn’t a house be imbued with one?

    It may take a while for your ‘new’ house to turn its face to you and really become your house. Here’s the song (oh, and by the way, I love your stories and books, many have stayed with me for years and years.)

    Cap’n Jan
    Somewhere in Central Texas, soon to be back on the water.

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