Are libraries on the shelf? By Pedro Arrais

Are libraries on the shelf? By Pedro Arrais, Times Colonist March 24, 2012

Featuring Ann Squires Ferguson, Senior Interior designer at JC Scott eco Design.

How can a piece of furniture that is simple, functional and practical be simply overlooked? Bookcases don’t get much respect- until one realizes how difficult it is to live without them.

With the rush to embrace digital storage in one form or another, one would think that the days of the traditional bookcase would be numbered. But people would be wrong to write an obituary for a feature not quite ready to be buried.

While bookcases may lack books to hold, the space they vacate are likely to be quickly filled with a homeowner’s objects of interest and beauty – from memorablillia to family photographs.

“As far as functionality goes, bookcases are right up there,” says Ann Squires Ferguson, senior interior designer for JC Scott Design Associates.

“Cost-wise, it is a design element that gives a homeowner top value for their dollar”.

She says bookcases can be made to disappear seamlessly into a room’s background, or become a design element that enhances it. Bookcases can be custom-built to suit the room or person’s taste and need.

Bookcases can take many different forms, says Squires Ferguson. They can be:

– A window seat – The top of this low bookshelf serves as a seat when placed under a window. Because the bookcase has a greater depth to accommodate a person, the cabinet has enough space for books on one side and storage on the other.

– A room divider – If a bookcase is finished on both sides, it can serve as a room divider. It can be fixed or mobile.

– Built-in wall-to-wall – A bookcase that covers the whole wall fully utilizes valuable vertical space in small rooms. It is also an opportunity for the bookcase to extend to the ceiling.

– Mobile – If a low bookcase is fitted with casters, it can add flexibility to a room’s layout. It can be used as a room divider and, when company comes, be moved against the wall for more space.

– Invisible – A bookcase is like a box. If the sides and back are removed, all that is left are the shelves. Simple shelves on a wall can hold books and other objects without the need for sides or the back of a typical bookcase.

Regardless of the shape or design of a bookcase a person chooses for their decor, it’s always wise to steer clear of trendy styles, says Squires Ferguson.

Bookcases don’t have to be expensive. Ikea sells bookcases from $129. They come in a number for different styles, shapes and colours, and can be outfitted with doors, drawers, dividers and other accessories. All require assembly.

But some people have begun to shy away from furniture made with compressed wood products held together with adhesives that contain ureaformaldehyde resins. Most of these products are made of particleboard sheets with a veneer skin or painted medium-density fibreboard.

Theses pieces give off low levels of formaldehyde fumes when new.

This so-called off-gassing affects indoor air quality and is a health concern for some consumers.

Fortunatley there are still about 20 local buisnesses- from furniture-makers to millworkers – that produce bookcases made from real wood.

“First there is the beauty of using real wood,” Squires Ferguson says. “On top of that, people can even select the piece of wood they wish to use.”

She says that people have begun to move away from exotics as they become aware of the environmental impact – from questionable harvesting to the transportation of the wood to this country.

There is now a move toward materials sourced from Forest Stewardship Council – certified wood from managed local forests.

That’s good news for buisnesses such as Woodpecker Furniture & Futons, which has been manufacturing custom wood furniture in Victoria sinc3e 1974.

“All our furniture are made from B.C. pine,” says May margison, co-owner of the family business. “Many people are happy when they find out they aren’t getting particleboard.”

She says using real wood is important for furniture that needs to support a lot of weight – such as bookcases. Wood is far stronger than particleboard and will sag less under a heavy load. Wood can take a lot of punishment as well, easily outlasting medium-density fibreboard.

Wood can also be repaired if damaged.

“In the long term, using wood is cheaper because it will survive the wear and tear of repeated moves,” Margison says.

Her wood bookcases can be left unfinished or coated with one of 20 satins – dark espresso and ebony have been the most popular lately – to match other furniture or decor.

Margison declined to give specific prices, but agreed consumers should expect to pay slightly more for her locally made furniture. While Squires Ferguson concedes there is a place for inexpensive bookcases, she defends the desirability of locally sourced pieces.

“The cost of a custom bookcase is far more reasonable than people expect – and they get exactly what they need.”

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