The Room My Father Built

When I was a little girl, my favorite room in our house was my father’s library.  We lived in a typical 1960s suburban subdivision, where every third house had the same floor plan, but my father had taken our dining room for his own.  He was a lawyer by day, but a craftsman by night, and he lined its walls with shelves that he filled with a literary treasure trove.  I learned to love books in that room, where I read Dostoyevsky and Dickens, Louisa May Alcott and Jane Austen, Bruce Catton’s histories of the Civil War, J.R.R. Tolkien, Patrick O’Brian, Dick Francis, Joseph Heller, Mark Twain, Ross MacDonald, John le Carre, Shakespeare, Ray Bradbury….my father’s tastes were wide and deep, and I couldn’t have gotten a better literary education at any college than the one I got within those four walls.

So, twelve years ago, when my husband and I bought our “forever” home — a small Victorian in Mill Valley, California — I asked my father if he would build me a library of my own.  He was retired by then, and living twelve hours away in Boise Idaho, but he said yes.  I didn’t realize at the time what a massive undertaking this would be.  It took two years, thousands of hours of work, and numerous trips between Boise and Mill Valley in an old Subaru crammed with shelving, paneling, hand tools, routers, a massive table saw, and a springer spaniel named Corky.

First, he made cherry panels for the back wall.  He made them in his garage workshop in Boise, then drove them to Mill Valley Mom helped!and installed them perfectly around an old stained glass window I found at an antique store.  (Mom helped, of course.  So did Corky.)

 

 

Library -Shelving 3Next, he made the shelves.  I bought scores of cherry 1×8 boards, and he lived in our house for ten days at a time, sawing and hammering, amassing a foot and a half of sawdust.  The walls in our old house are almost twelve feet high, so there were a lot of shelves.  But I’d been collecting books for twenty years, lugging them in boxes from apartment to apartment.  They needed to roam free.

Then, just to complicate matters, I found a bunch of old tin ceiling tiles at a flea market, and decided I had to have them.  Surely, I thought, it wouldn’t be too much trouble to put them in my library. I stripped off the peeling white paint and spray-painted them gold, and Dad and I put them up together.  Twice.  The first time, they were one solitary but critical inch off center.Library - Ceiling

The baseboards and ceiling molding — which Dad made himself, naturally — and the wallpaper came last.  Then we stained and varnished everything until it was a deep, warm cherry brown.

Library - Molding

 

 

 

 

 

Now, this beautiful room is my favorite room in the house:

Library - Final 2

I do most of my writing on its comfortable couch, or at the rolltop desk he made me from an antique church organ.  I’m surrounded by many of the books that inspired me as a child, and there is a place on the shelves — between A.B. Yehoshua and Carlos Diaz Zafon — where my own book will someday sit.  But what inspires me most about this space is the always-present spirit of my father, whose heart and soul infuse every panel and every shelf of this paradise he made for me, and who, at this moment, is sitting in his own library in Boise, reading Middlemarch, the current book in our book club of two.

Because somehow, we both missed that one.

 

 

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After a decade practicing law and another decade raising kids, Heather decided to finally write the novel she'd always talked about writing. She holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars, and is an alumnus of the Squaw Valley Writers Workshop and the Tin House Writers Workshop, all of which helped her stop writing like a lawyer. She lives in Mill Valley, California, with her husband and two teenaged children. When she's not writing she's biking, hiking, neglecting potted plants, and reading books by other people that she wishes she'd written.

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This article has 18 Comments

  1. This is my favorite Deb post EVER!! I love your library, love that your father built it and that fabulous desk for you. Love that this is your forever home. I’m also a fan of wood paneling so I feel this could be my library too. I hope you continue reading with your father for many more years to come.

  2. Indeed a true labor of love Heather! Thanks for sharing your story. Looking forward to reading your novel. Wishing you many years of inspirational writings from your favorite room.

  3. Wow, wow, wow I am SO SO AMAZED!!! Wow for your book! Wow for your Dad, and WOW WOW for the fabulous Library. You lucky lucky girl.

    Please say a big Hi to all in that house AND your Mom and Dad. Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  4. Oh Heather! I loved every word of this!! What a beautiful testimony and an even more beautiful library! I didn’t think your Dad could top the library at the Norbeck Road house, but I have been proven wrong. I know he treasured every second and it was truly a labor of love. I am so blessed to have grown up three doors down from your family, from my lifelong friendship with Tracy and having your whole family as my second home!! I can’t wait to read your book!!

  5. The room is stunning, but it’s the love of your dad that is the most beautiful of all. So great to see dads who love and support their daughters’ writing dreams!!

  6. Heather
    I have many great memories of that library while babysitting the three of you. When you were in bed I would sit down there and go through all the books and loved that solitary time. Your dad could build Downton Abbey if he wanted. I remember learning the meaning of the words patina and dental molding from him in that very room and he inspired my own pathetic woodworking attempts I have loved the discussions I’ve had with him over the years on various books Patrick O’Brien included. I have a lovely library in my own home now and I’m sure it’s because 40 years ago I experienced the beauty of sitting in his . Glad you stopped writing like a lawyer I look forward to reading anything you produce .

  7. Hi Heather! Wonderful story! We all hang some pictures to personalize our space to inspire us and remember people, places, and emotions. Your dad hung an entire room for you to remember his love for you and the shared passion of reading and writing. Did you think about telling your dad how wonderful it would be to have a sailing reading room, maybe 24 feet long? Looking forward to your book.

  8. Every once in a while, envy rears its head, but fortunately it’s tempered with joy in your marvelous good fortune. Clearly, you savor every detail of this room and the relationships that helped it come to be. Can’t wait to read your book ❤️

  9. Wow Heather – your post made me weepy, so I can’t wait to read a novel by the same author. I have seen that room your father built. It is stunning as both a work of art and a labor of love. I may show up on your doorstep one day with a cup of tea and my computer, in hopes that my creativity will be unleashed in that room!

  10. Heather!!!! I am so excited for your book publishing, and I LOVED this story. You touched my soul. It was wonderful to catch up with CK last week and hear about you and the family. I plan to send my book club running to get a copy of your book this summer, and perhaps we can “Skype with the author?” Congratulations, you are an inspiration!

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