It is a book room with rather more to it than meets the eye. Wanting a place to display her treasured collection, Emma Burns, senior decorator at, transformed a converted barn at her country home into a sitting-room-cum-guest-cottage full of hidden suprises and witty details...
Hardline minimalists must still be rejoicing at the invention of the e-book. No more lines of shelves cluttering up their walls, and no more irregularly shaped spines in all the colours of the spectrum - just a slim electronic device that can be tucked out of sight in an instant.
That Emma Burns is not of this persuasion is hardly surprising, given that she works as a senior decorator at the proudly maximalist . Indeed, such is her devotion to physical books that when she converted a barn at her country home into a sitting-room-cum-guest-cottage, she made them its main focus.
'This place used to be a glorified garden shed,' she explains, 'and though it seemed daft to have so much space and not do anything with it, we couldn't decide what. Then we moved from our old house in London into a much smaller one and ended up with all these books sitting in storage, so we decided to make it into a book room.'
It is a book room, however, with rather more to it than meets the eye. From the outside, the barn looks much as it always did, with its beautifully weathered stonework and roof tiles: the one change is that the original doors have been re-made as shutters. The new doors - tall and glass-panelled - concertina back; entering them, you find yourself in a sitting room with a ceiling that rises more than 12 metres to the full height of the gable roof. On either side, running along the length of the room, is a built-in bookcase equipped with a ladder - not for reaching books, but for climbing up to its own small gallery, framed by the splendid roof beams. One of these galleries functions as a study, the other as a bedroom.
'EVERYTHING YOU SEE IS RECYCLED. THE SOFA WAS A WEDDING PRESENT TO MY GRANDPARENTS, WHICH I RECOVERED IN CORDUROY; THE BED IS ONE I BOUGHT FOR £50 IN A JUNK SHOP YEARS AGO'
'What I really wanted to do was keep the whole roof space and the feeling of the barn, while creating storage for the books,' says Emma. 'So I had the idea of making the two galleries with bookcases underneath. But behind the bookcases would be...' she says, and pauses to push on one of them, so that part of it swings open to reveal a trim little bathroom. When she does the same thing on the opposite side of the room, we find ourselves staring into a pantry with long shelves filled with crockery and picnic paraphernalia. A further storage space, accessible only from outside, is devoted to gardening equipment - a reminder of this elegant outhouse's humble origins.
Not that anything in the cottage is too smart. 'I didn't want it to feel new, but as if it had always been here,' says Emma. 'Everything you see is recycled. The sofa was a wedding present to my grandparents, which I recovered in corduroy; the bed is one I bought for £50 in a junk shop years ago; the desk, which I've repainted to match the door frames, was thrown out by someone at Colefax; the carpet came out of a skip.'
In the same spirit, Emma and her late partner Menno Ziessen lime-washed the walls themselves: 'It was a hideous job - we had to go up long, extending ladders during a freezing cold winter, working with head torches. Someone else would probably have done it all beautifully, but I think our slightly amateur painting makes the walls look nicely aged.'
Nor did they want the tongue-and-groove panelling in the bathroom to appear immaculate. 'Christopher Bell of Banbury, the absolute genius who did the joinery, came and hacked bits off to show up the individual boards and give it a feeling of being uneven,' explains Emma.
The furnishings are multifarious and eclectic. The bedroom gallery brings together an enormous blue-green abstract painting, an ancient zebra skin, an Ikea reading lamp and a Chinese screen that Emma has used to create a tiny dressing room. In the study gallery opposite, she has combined a leopard-skin chair, a sofa covered in a tartan throw, a tea caddy lamp with an orange-and-white-speckled shade, and an old doll's house.
Downstairs, the sitting room is dominated by a glass-fronted bookcase opposite the main doors. 'I didn't want to put in a fireplace,' says Emma. 'In a way, the bookcase provides the samekindof focus.'Near it stands a large Spanish chest in studded brown leather, a pair of cane armchairs upholstered with jajim rugs from Central Asia and a nineteenth-century Swedish games table with old suitcases piled up under it. The only pictures on the walls are four prints of country scenes by Graham Clarke: 'The books give all the colour that's needed.'
A heating system under the oak floor means that the barn can be used all the year round. 'Summer's certainly lovely,' says Emma, 'and if it's not quite warm enough to sit outside, you can at least have the idea of it in here. But equally the room is cosy in winter if you close the curtains. We've used it for lots of parties, and at Christmas we have an incredibly tall tree - always decorated by the same friends - who luckily have a good head for heights.'
Of the paintwork, she says, 'We decided to have everything in the same kind of palette, just lighter in the bigger space and darker in the small rooms - so the bookshelves are a shade of white and the bathroom is light grey. The door framing is all Farrow & Ball's "Down Pipe", and the shutters are "Pigeon".'
And why 'Pigeon' in particular? 'The main house is called The Dovecote,' explains Emma apologetically. 'It was an irresistible pun'.