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At home with books


Gutenberg still rocks.

Not to diss Kindle, but there are still plenty of purists who treasure the words printed by Gutenberg’s historic invention. On paper, with ink. These self-described book junkies want to hold and own “real” books – as God and Gutenberg intended.

How do they co-exist peacefully with their book collections in this Age of Kindle, blending them into their home décor?

Stephen Westman of the UNC Charlotte library staff, who handles web-based projects there, calls himself “a stranger in a strange land.” He says, “I’m a computer person, but I’m also a librarian, and not only am I avoiding the e-book revolution totally, I’m not even tempted.”

He looks at books and libraries as “the physical representation of knowledge handed down through the ages” and treats his personal book collection with the same respect. “I come from a long line of bibliophiles,” says Westman. “I don’t even know how many I own.” In fact, the need to accommodate those books drove the decision to move from an apartment to his present house, where bookshelves are dominant in the décor.

“Books have qualities that e-books simply don’t have. They’re more verifiable. I’m a fundamentalist on this topic, and this is one front from which I won’t retreat,” Westman declares.“Besides, I’m a Jew, and Jews are called ‘people of The Book.’ I am sure Kindle is not what God had in mind!”

Christina Britt Lewis of The Redesign Company believes books are among the most important elements of one’s home. “They’re here because they tell our story,” says Lewis, who explains that she is not so much as an interior designer as an artist. “I see beauty in what my clients have accumulated over time.” By repurposing, recycling and restaging these items, she creates a “high-end look for a low-end budget.”

Books are central to The Redesign Company’s ultimate goal to create a peaceful, functional and family-focused space – one that downplays TV and other electronics.

Lewis’ own home is the epitome of her philosophy. “We’re just accustomed to a quieter life around here,” she says. Lewis, her husband Tim and their two boys make a point of having dinner together with the TV off. “We talk to one another – which is a novelty in some households, I know. We actually ask one another, ‘What are you reading?’” she says.

“Our home is our sanctuary,” Lewis explains. In fact, her company’s online address is

For some clients, she even converts dining rooms into libraries. “Books are a fantastic art form, after all. So instead of framed art, why not display your books? Bookcases can go into any room. And what better way to steer a conversation, whether it’s a family meal or a formal dinner party, than to be surrounded by your books? Books tell who you are,” Lewis says.

With Lewis’ help, Christy Faircloth of Highland Creek has also de-emphasized the omnipresent TV and made books an important focal point in her family’s main living space. “We love to read. We don’t have a lot of storage, but we needed to have our books accessible,” says Faircloth, who home-schools her children, ages 8, 9 and 11. “And my husband, Jack, is all about functionality. Everything you see in here must have a purpose. He doesn’t like a lot of doo-dahs sitting around gathering dust.

“Christina made our books look stylish and appealing to the eye, but at the same time they’re not just static displays. We can keep things switched around as the kids’ studies change,” Faircloth says. “[The shelves are] also easy to keep looking neat, which is important with three kids.”

For Lewis’ client Peg Robarchek, a published author and lifelong book collector, Lewis brought both visual and thematic order to the books she owns. “I didn’t want to come home and have my books relegated to second-class citizenship,” recalls Robarchek, who hired The Redesign Company to restyle and redecorate her condo in Plaza Midwood. “Christina intuited which books belong together and wrangled some order to them that made sense.”

Karin Solomonson of Huntersville, who calls herself “a total bookaholic,” is also a good example. Lewis created a library for Solomonson from her former dining room. “It’s a tech-free zone that pays homage to my love of libraries from the time I was a little girl,” says Solomonson, a writer and retired teacher. “I’ve always viewed libraries as sacred spaces. I love the tactile feel of books.” For her, Borders Books’ recent going-out-of-business sale “felt like a funeral.”

The custom floor-to-ceiling shelves Lewis had built for Solomonson’s library now groan contentedly with her sizeable collection, with a twist not found in most home collections: Lewis organized all the books according to the Dewey Decimal System.

Beverly Allen of Beverly Allen Interiors, who teaches interior design at Queens University, believes avid readers like herself should always incorporate books into their home design plans. “Books have long been called the soul of a room,” Allen says. “Books bring accessibility to the occupants of the house. They add warmth and texture to a space, but almost more importantly reveal the best aspects of the people who inhabit it.”

Allen encourages clients to display their books liberally – not just on coffee tables and on bedside tables, where they might be expected, but in spaces like breakfast rooms and foyers as well.

Fellow book junkie Cindy Newport, a staff member of the library at Pfeiffer University’s main campus in Misenheimer, shares all librarians’ enthusiasm for books. “I’m like a child; I can’t throw away a book. I don’t sell a book. I hold onto them like old friends. If there’s a 12-inch corner anywhere in my house, up goes a bookcase,” says Newport.

Robin Brabham can’t remember when he was not surrounded by books, and indeed turned his lifelong passion for rare books into a library career. Before his retirement in 2010, Brabham collected books on behalf of UNCC. “That way, I could have my cake and eat it, too,” he says.

Books are found throughout the Brabhams’ home by the hundreds. “When we got married 13 years ago,” he says, “my wife and I had to blend our libraries into one. We had to have bookshelves built in, but we’re running out of space.”

A professed book junkie and traditionalist when it comes to the printed word, Brabham hasn’t bought a Nook or Kindle yet. He sums it up: “There’s something about holding the physical book that you don’t get on a screen.”