Updated: May 23
Historical fiction connects past and present in a delightful yet enthralling way, linking readers of the present to their dreamy counterparts from bygone days. Each time we encounter a character immersed in her books, reading to escape the daily burdens of her era, we feel a pang of familiarity. Reading a gripping story not only blots out the buzz of everyday life, but magically nudges away the chill of winter as well.
Fashioning a cozy reading nook is always a pleasure, especially in the depths of winter, and creating a historical fiction inspired hideaway is even more satisfying. What will you need to turn the imaginary link between yourself and your favorite fictional heroines into a real connection?
A cheerful reading nest can consist of simply a comfortable chair, but a properly useful refuge should also include good lighting, book storage, and space to set down items like bookmarks, teacups, reading glasses, plates of scones, etc.
Ideally, your reading nook will be secluded and quiet, and will be earmarked just for your own personal use. Look for a likely corner in a room that's not used very often during the day (like a bedroom, or even a dining room). If you can repurpose a comfy chair that you already have, wonderful, but you might also consider looking online for something used on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace.
And that brings me to the various ways you can incorporate history into your reading lair! Think about the furniture that would surround your favorite fictional character, and try to pinpoint the name of the style. Jane Austen's heroines would perch on Regency parlor chairs, Agatha Christie's suspects would curl up on a tattered Victorian sofa in some British manor house library, and Juliet Ashton of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society would read in a worn, 1940s style armchair by a tiny gas fireplace.
If you can find a comfortable chair that mimics the lines of your favorite historic style, snap it up! If not, think about ways to modify a chair you have to hide some of its anachronistic features.
Add a pillow in a vintage fabric, or a throw blanket in colors that evoke your target era. A Regency pillow might be made of a shimmery light blue silk, while a Victorian pillow would be a darker velvet, perhaps with gold tassel trim, and a British wartime pillow could be made of needlepoint or floral barkcloth.
Or, how about a blanket ... Laura Ingalls would wrap herself in a crazy quilt, Scarlett O'Hara might use a fringed silk shawl, as would Sayuri from Memoirs of a Geisha, but in a stunning Oriental print.
If you're handy, you might modify a thrift shop item into a blanket to toss onto your reading chair -- perhaps you can remake a curtain, or a long skirt might become your throw.
You'll need a small table next to your chair, and here you can also find something with historic lines. The used furniture market is FULL of older pieces that don't appeal to modern sensibilities, and you can choose to keep them as they are or paint them to match your decor.
If the right table isn't available, think about stacking boxes or bins, or even a trunk next to your reading chair. If you're planning to use a floor lamp to light your pages, your table need only be large enough to hold a cup and plate, but if you will be using a table lamp, look for a wider top and make sure your stack is sturdy. Think about using a vintage lamp as well!
Trunks and boxes will hold your To Be Read book pile quite nicely, or you may want to find a narrow shelf to tuck in beside your chair for that purpose.
If your historical era includes farm style, or primitive style, a leaning ladder shelf might do the trick.
And now the fun part - it's time to accessorize! If you're already a fan of the historical era you're trying to reproduce, it's likely that you already have small items around your home that you can press into service here.
Depending on how much table space and shelf space you have, you can add historically accurate vases, clocks, teapots, potpourri jars, candles, treasure boxes, doilies or linens, or even jars of hatpins, lace trim pieces, or buttons.
Imagine the special, personal items that your heroine would hold dear, and collect a few to create an evocative still life in your historic reading nook.
If there's room on the wall next to your chair, you might even like to hang some thematic artwork to complete the look.
And now you're all set to curl up with a good book in your new, historical fiction inspired reading nook! Happy reading :)