Interior Design: Case Study

By the Book: David Mitchell imparts life and whimsy to the library of a McLean home

When he was asked to turn an empty room into a warm and welcoming library, David Mitchell started—not surprisingly—with floor-to-ceiling built-in bookshelves. And not just any bookshelves: These waxed white-oak shelves are bordered by inset strips of chocolate brown leather with French brass nail heads. The result is both sophisticated and inviting—and leaves plenty of space for the owners’ collection of more than 3,000 books.“This is a real reading library,” Mitchell observes. “It made it great that these books are really in use.” Sconces are attached to the leather strips and easels drop down from ceiling height to display a series of Art Deco gouaches. “They create a layered effect,” says Mitchell. “And they hide any books you don’t want people to see!”The designer combined traditional and modern elements. An antique rug is paired with transitional upholstered pieces from Donghia, including a subtly striped blue sofa and chairs and armchairs in an olive and ivory botanical print that brings nature in. In the window, a stacked box table by Ted Boerner provides a focal point; on it, accessories include a trio of pots purchased at the Smithsonian Craft Show and two dark-wood steering wheels from Model T Fords found by Mitchell at a salvage shop and mounted on stands. A coffee table by Baker is paired with the sofa, while Tucker Robbins’s barrel-shaped Spider’s Nest side table sits between the blue chairs. Silk fabrics from Donghia were cut and sewn in wide stripes to create drapes. The chandelier of wrought iron and parchment was designed by Paul Ferrante.


  • Don’t use the concept of an eclectic space as a crutch when you decorate, by throwing a lot of things together and calling the results by that term. An eclectic style is a mix of things, but it should always be carefully considered. It should never be random.
  • Don’t be afraid of color. Decorating with beige is not necessarily sophisticated, and it can actually be boring.
  • Define your style before you embark on a decorating project. Everyone has a style and you should be clear about what yours is when you start.
  • When you are designing a library, don’t build too many bookshelves. You never have as many books as you think you do. Also, it’s okay to have a library look in a room, with paneling but no books. That look is always inviting and warm.