Home is Where Your Books Are: A Virtual Exhibit

October 14th, 2021

The Library is one of Brucemore’s most recognizable rooms. Located across the Great Hall from the Study, the room served as a formal family room during the Douglas era. The room featured many of the family’s favorite items, most notably their collection of artwork and books. Many people are surprised to discover the Library is also one of the home’s most altered rooms.

When construction was completed on the house for Caroline Sinclair in 1886, the home featured a library. Newspaper articles described the room as being in the southwest corner of the Great Hall, roughly the area where the Study is today. No known photographs of the Sinclair Library exist.

When the Douglas family purchased the home in 1906, they made changes to the layout of the Great Hall and moved the Library to the northwest corner. The room remains in the same location today. The current layout and decoration of the Library is based on the Douglas’ original plan for the room. Photographic and archival records show the decorative plaster ceiling, half-room height bookshelves, and green linen damask wall coverings. By 1934, however, Irene Douglas installed additional shelving that went from floor to ceiling.

When Margaret and Howard Hall inherited the house from Margaret’s mother in 1934, they did not make any changes to the structure or décor. By the mid-1950s to 1960s, lighter woods became the trend. The Halls had the wood “antiqued” with a light gray finish, giving the room a much brighter and open feel. The Halls also replaced the darker furniture of the earlier Douglas era with lighter furnishings with cream and tan upholstery. When Margaret died in 1981, the Library remained decorated in the Hall era style.

As Brucemore transitioned from a private residence to a historic site, staff developed an interpretation plan to share the mansion’s history. Staff identified1915 to 1925 as the period of significance to interpret the site as a bustling country estate at its largest size and function. Interior restoration efforts began with the Great Hall, Dining Room, and Study. The Library was completed in 1997.

The restoration of the Library required significant research and difficult decisions. The shelving Irene Douglas added was carefully removed, numbered, and stored. The restoration also included removing the Hall era carpeting to allow the underlying floor to be refinished. Staff carefully chose wall coverings and draperies based on photographs and historic evidence. Furniture from the stored collection was returned to the room and reproductions were made of nonextant pieces, like the green velvet sofa and the rocking chair. The process ensured any restoration performed would be reversable, should future evidence change the interpretation of the room. A small section of the Hall era antique finish was left on the pocket doors, demonstrating to guests changes to the room over time.

The décor chosen by the Sinclairs, Douglases, and Halls reflected their personalities and the times in which they lived. From the dark, formal Library of the Douglas era to the light, airy Library of the Hall era, the room remained a showpiece within the home. Even though some objects were removed from display following the restoration of the space, they remain part of the Brucemore collection and continue to provide opportunities to teach visitors about the lives of the Halls today.

View a selection of objects from the Library collection that have not been on display since 1997.