How to Live in a Book, Part One | Creating a Victorian Library

Have you ever wished you could live inside your favorite books? All it takes to transform a basic room into a literary-themed oasis is a few key pieces, and I'm here to show you how! This is part one of my How to Live in a Book series, and today I’ll illustrate the theory behind immersive decorating by showing you exactly how I transformed a very plain room into an elegant, Jules Verne inspired, Victorian library!

If you'd prefer to watch this discussion on YouTube (with lots more photos!) instead of reading through this whole, long post, please click here!

I launched the Storyteller’s Cottage to create immersive events based on my favorite books, and if you’ve watched any of my videos where I explain how to host a literary-themed event, you’ll know that I always start with evocative decor!

Surrounding yourself with carefully curated items that suggest certain times and places can really make you feel like you’re in another world, whether you’re decorating temporarily for an event, or decorating the space where you live.

Today I’m going to show you how I used the same strategies that I normally use to create literary-themed spaces for parties … to transform an entire house -- the Storyteller’s Cottage, to be exact! And I’ll share my secrets so YOU can also create magical, otherworldly spaces, inspired by your favorite books, on a very tiny budget.

Back in 2016, I bought a commercial property that was once a Victorian home, right on the main street of my small Connecticut town. This house was built in 1891, and had bounced back and forth between being a residence and being a series of offices. When I took over, it was currently in use as a house, but I wanted to use it as a space for my literary-themed event business.

I spent the better part of 2017 redecorating the entire house, so each room had its own distinct theme that could serve as a backdrop for a variety of bookish activities.

The living room became the Victorian-themed Jules Verne Steampunk Library.

The dining room was transformed into the Regency-era Jane Austen Salon.

The sun room became the whimsical Alice in Wonderland Tea Room.

An upstairs office became the Magical Common Room, and we even built a bookcase wall with a secret door into a Medieval Castle Keep.

Two bedrooms were transformed into escape rooms that were themed to time travel and Agatha Christie.

And within months, the whole house was filled with delighted book nerds enjoying enchanted activities like Harry Potter parties, Great Gatsby jazz supper clubs, masquerade balls, Jane Austen tea parties and even live murder mysteries!

The prospect of decorating an entire house in a highly themed way might sound daunting, but it was actually really fun, and because I ended up having to wait nine months for an unusually-long zoning approval process, there was no pressure to rush. I spent a very pleasant year building the essential background settings for all of these literary events, by sourcing used furniture and decorations on Craigslist and at the local thrift shop. I was able to furnish the entire 8-room house for less than it cost me to buy two new couches for my actual house. Never again will I buy furniture full price at the store!

Now let’s see how I transformed this empty, strangely-cantaloupe-colored room into a warm and elegant Victorian library that became the backdrop for all sorts of turn-of-the-century themed events. Be sure to check the links at the end of this post to view the rest of the series to see how I transformed each of the other rooms at The Storyteller’s Cottage.

This space is the first room you encounter upon entering the front door of the house. When we first saw it, it was being used as a staging area for the previous owners as they sorted out their possessions before packing them up to move, which made it a bit difficult to imagine what could be done with the room.

Once it was empty, however, it was much easier to appreciate the charming historic character that luckily was still intact, namely, this gorgeous fireplace, and beautiful windows with gothic arched muntins. We were very lucky that everything was in very good condition, including the wood floors, and the previous owners also left behind an ornate chandelier that would do very nicely for our purposes.

Attacking an empty room can be a bit daunting, but the secret is to approach the process of filling it up very methodically. Think of your room as a canvas, and think of yourself as the artist who will be filling this canvas with five layers of items - just five - that’s manageable! These layers are:

  • Your background

  • Large furniture

  • Accent furniture

  • Lighting

  • Accessories

You can also think of your empty room as a mood board, where everything in it works together to say “I am in Victorian London,” or “I am at Hogwarts,” or whatever it is you’re trying to achieve.

To determine what types of things I would need to give my room a Victorian mood, I started by thinking about what items always appear in the Victorian adventurer stories that I love -- things like curved and tufted furniture, elaborate clocks, huge portraits, globes, and even palms and fern plants on stands. As I brainstormed, I realized that I was really drawn toward the Steampunk version of Victorian decor, so I made a point to add some gears and gadgets to my “things to find” list.

1. The Background

I knew I wanted this room to be dark red to complement the beautiful warm wood of the fireplace surround, and I also knew that a Victorian room would never have had painted walls but would be wallpapered, so my first step to build the first layer of this room, was to find a gorgeous vintage looking wallpaper with a beautiful gold pattern -- and it happened to be 50% off since very large-print, vibrant wallpaper really isn’t popular with anyone but me!

To round out the background layer, I needed a nice, vintage, red rug. I’m very lucky to have a friend who’s an oriental rug dealer, so I was able to get a hold of a whole house full of vintage, used rugs at a very reasonable price.

In the library, I choose a gorgeous 1950s Herez style rug, and I just love how it warms up the space immediately. You can see I grabbed this beautiful gold peacock fan fire screen early on too -- as soon as I saw that on Craigslist I knew it would be exactly right. Silky burgundy curtains with gorgeous long gold fringe - also a Craigslist find - set off the windows perfectly.

2. Large furniture

Next, it was time for the large furnishings. I knew I couldn’t afford to fill the entire house with period antiques, and I also knew that because this would be a business that would have a lot of people in and out every day, my furniture needed to be durable. So I decided to spring for one, eye-catching statement piece to set the tone for the room, then build around that with complementary, but more modern pieces.

I found this fantastic red Victorian sofa on Craigslist for just $150, and it’s my favorite piece in the room. There is no mistaking the theme of this space when you see this sofa! Having said that, it was not particularly comfortable to sit on, so I went and found tw