How would you build a Zen Art Deco book harem?
February 28, 2011 10:14 AM   Subscribe

Ton of books + unused corner in totally sweet loft = book harem! I'd like to put together a space for up to 4 people to hang out, read, write, meditate, or generally just relax. Help me design & accessorize it!

Reference: Here's a picture of the area in question, here's another view of the apartment, and here are the measurements. I'd like to keep the coloring & style in line with the feel of the loft - Art Deco with brown, golden, red & white colors throughout - but the main focus is on creating a pretty, cozy space.

Look - I've got dozens of yards of lightweight velvet fabrics. I'd love to hang the fabric and create a really lush feel - but I'm renting, so I can't really drill into the walls to hang anything. Is there any fairly cheap way to get this hanging without damage to the walls?

Privacy - I'd like to section off the space somehow - ideally using the velvet. (It'd just be a "formal" division, no need for soundproofing.)

Lighting - I've got a lot of candles and candleholders, but including them might run afoul of my plan to drape fabric. I'm thinking of getting lots of white Christmas lights to hang along the balcony - where can I buy those off-season? And I need to find a single lamp to light the space - but, of course, it must be beautiful.

Sitting & lying down - I've been thinking about getting a beanbag to start, but suggestions for any kind of comfy cozy seating would be welcome. Pillows are ideal for a harem, of course: where can I get a whole pile of non-ridiculously expensive pillows to collapse onto?

Scent - I've got a lot of essential oils, so how should I use them here? Essential oil diffusers? This seems cool but I don't want to drop a hundred bucks right off the bat, and the UFO-esque design makes me a little wary.

Sound - I'd like to have either a small fountain that doesn't require a ton of maintenance or something to provide soothing natureish sounds.

That other stuff you thought of that was too awesome for my brain to even imagine - What else should I do here? Assume my current budget is under a thousand dollars total.
posted by susoka to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Nice area!

What are the walls and ceiling made of? You don't want to punch gaping holes in the walls, but small hooks like this (the image is a bit odd, but you get the idea) shouldn't leave too much of a mark. Otherwise, there are the Command-type mounting stickies, which I think are pretty spiffy. You can get ones that are stickie-only, or some with little hooks.

Fountains: they range in cost from ~$30 to hundreds. The things you'll want to look for are 1) really quiet motors, and 2) minimal splashing. Something like this wall fountain (WARNING: NOT THIS MODEL - it's probably too cheap, as noted by the negative reviews) should splash less than models with water that drops down, but your best bet is to see (and hear) some fountains in action.

And if you have some nice candles in the center of your area, away from any draping cloth or loose paper, you can both have nice lighting and nice scents.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:47 AM on February 28, 2011

Best answer: Futons (without frame) aren't very expensive, and if you're not bed-bug phobic, you can usually find them on CL or Freecycle. Folded up, they're pretty comfy for lounging on or against. You could hang curtains on a tension curtain rod, with no need for holes. You could also use those Ikea short Expedit bookcases on their sides to store books and to also bock the balcony railing.

But to be honest, I think hanging around in a space that you can't really stand up in gets old. Are you going to crawl to get the books? Is there enough light to read by?
posted by Ideefixe at 10:56 AM on February 28, 2011

Best answer: Something like this or this?

I've done this and am planning to build a new one. The problem with pillows, is that you get into a whole engineering problem trying to get back support. If you rely on the wall, the light may not be the best. These chair backs could support pillows. I'm thinking of having some shelves that are build into low wedges, like a 45 degree angle on the side of a two foot shelf. That sloping side and the top of the low shelf would both be padded and carpeted like the room.

The carpeting should be a natural fiber, (is cashmere in your budget?) and should be very thickly padded. If the rest of your house is a shoes-on zone, make this nook a shoes-off zone, and have a place to put shoes just out side.

In a reading room the lighting cannot, according to my efforts, be too bright. Currently I have 32 four-foot 1/2" fluorescent bulbs in a four-foot square frame. It's 16 square feet of tightly packed bulbs, with a side ways dampening glare reducer. There are 8 switches to turn it on 4 bulbs at a time.

While I was building the light, I got a lot of comments about how overblown it was, and that it would be blinding, etc. In place, everyone loves it, and immediately start examining things in their possession, or themselves in the mirror, because suddenly they can see so good.

Also, I would put a small table just at the entrance to serve as a landing pad for bussing coffee and tea cups.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:56 AM on February 28, 2011

Best answer: This might not be your style, but how about the combination of old record player + Miles Davis records (sound), manual typewriter, coffee brewing (scent), editor's desk, and fountain pen.
posted by mattbucher at 10:57 AM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

This or this?
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:07 AM on February 28, 2011

Also from mattbucher's link: this.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:12 AM on February 28, 2011

old record player

An actual crank-up 78 player sounds good in a confined space like that, and it does add to the adventure.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:20 AM on February 28, 2011

Not very harem-y, but you could chalkboard-paint the trapezoid-shaped wall and use it for drawing, writing out nice quotations you find, mind-mapping, timelines, whatever. I have 2'x3' whiteboard hung up next to my desk that I scribble whatever I need or want on, but an even bigger writing space would be awesome.
posted by oinopaponton at 11:56 AM on February 28, 2011

(ignore my suggestion if your lease won't let you paint)
posted by oinopaponton at 11:58 AM on February 28, 2011

Best answer: If you're worried about candles and fire, you can try the "candles" that are currently popular is so many restaurants, the wax pillar with a flickering LED in them. Some turn on/off on a timer, which is fun. You can also use LED tea-lights inside any decorative votive holders you have now, or use one of these inside a paper lantern (e.g.)

This is all accent lighting, not lighting to read by (not even read book titles by). For that, listen to StickyCarpet. Lots of light. One key thing in that description that is absolutely essential is the 8 switches to turn it on in increments; fluorescent lighting isn't as easily dimmable as incandescent, and varied lighting levels is what you really want for a book nook - mood lighting for enjoying the nook as conversation or curled up with a book and a spotlight, that can be turned up to bright lighting for full library mode.
posted by aimedwander at 12:40 PM on February 28, 2011

Best answer: Oh, another thing - if you've got more of your velvet than you need for drapes, use it to make pillowcases. Then your search for cheap pillows is easier, as they can look like absolutely anything.
posted by aimedwander at 12:42 PM on February 28, 2011

Best answer: When you say book harem, I picture this! Comfy, art inspired, classical.
posted by thatbrunette at 12:46 PM on February 28, 2011

Best answer: Due to the lack of wall height and the roof pitch:

Invest in 2 ft tall sturdy book cases and mount them on locking wheels so you can have rows of cases along the short walls but they're flexible enough to be shoved together and used for seating with a cushion on top or moved around to make little nooks for reading.

Instead of hanging your velvet fabric, consider investing in room dividers - again a more flexible option. Get some particle board, hinges and foam and you could upholster your own dividers with the velvet.

Since there doesn't seem to be a natural light source, maybe you could use a cable hanging system and mesh or gauzy fabric so you're not cutting off all the light. If you're in love with hanging the velvet, a cable system would do the least amount of damage.

If you have good second hand stores in your area, look into buying old Persian style rugs and making them into rug pillows for that harem look. We used to take damaged rugs, whack off the bad bits and sew front pieces onto existing (really ugly) pillows. Use the big upholstery needles and yarn or embroidery thread. For a cushy loungy thing, sew the rug pieces onto those long body pillows. Rent a Rug Doctor and give any second hand rug a good shampooing before you use them unless you really trust your 2nd hand dealer.

The railings don't look very harem but since you're renting, you can't do much with them unless you'd like to build in removable inserts. Get some perforated aluminum sheets (the type used for radiator covers) and cut it down to fit in between the railings. If you don't have pets or small kids and the floor doesn't bounce with movement, you can slot the metal pieces into painted out wood blocks and just set them in the spaces.
posted by jaimystery at 4:49 PM on February 28, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks all! Haven't built it yet, but with the awesome suggestions here - Persian rugs! Of course that's what you need for a harem! - I'm off to a good start.
posted by susoka at 9:31 AM on March 10, 2011

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