“Creating a library is like painting a portrait, because it’s so personal to the owner, their tastes and what they will store or display,” says artist Andrew Miller. With work spanning sculpture, photography and drawing, Miller has found a surprising niche as the creator of site-specific, bespoke libraries.
This creative odyssey began three years after he graduated from Glasgow School of Art, when he was invited to make a moveable library for a Royal College of Art group show in London. Commissions for art institutions followed at Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery and Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. Then private clients started requesting them, too.
Turner Prize-winning artist Douglas Gordon gave him a free hand to build a library for his former home – a Georgian townhouse in Glasgow – where Miller’s joyfully artistic design (first picture, similar commissions from £22,000) gives an elegantly proportioned room a colourful, contemporary look. “I’m inspired by Donald Judd’s work and wanted to incorporate a logical system within the design, so I chose seven colours and seven hardwoods to create 49 boxes, making use of negative space between the boxes,” says Miller.
Gordon then commissioned a library for his current home in Berlin. “The living room was a narrow space with three doors, so it was a challenge to create a big footprint within a small room,” says Miller. To resolve this problem he mirrored the library’s design on each side of the space and created “an animated harmony of colour that’s almost musical”. For shelving he used recycled iroko school-laboratory tops and pitch pine from redundant church pews, interspersed with medium-density fibreboard uprights, some lacquered in bright colours and some with gold-leaf detail (similar commissions from £25,500).
When gallerist Eva Presenhuber invited Miller to create a library (second picture) for her Zürich home, he took inspiration from the Modernist house itself. “It has lots of exposed concrete so I gave the library a cool, almost concrete feel,” he says. The verticals are solid ash, stained in neutral tones from white through grey to black, while pale-teak shelves add to the library’s tranquillity. A similar commission would start from £28,000, with site visits and installation as additional costs. Local materials and vernacular architecture similarly inspired Miller’s library for the Caribbean Contemporary Arts Centre in Trinidad, where he employed corrugated-plastic sheeting wrapped around plywood shelves (third picture).
For the model Stella Tennant, Miller built a sculptural library with a slightly Japanese appearance (fourth picture, similar commissions from £17,500) along a single wall in her London home. Initially he created a colourful wall drawing of abstract forms using acrylic paint. In front, he built mahogany shelves and uprights, held in place with brass rods, adding base drawers and some hanging space behind perforated-steel shutters. “Bespoke libraries can transform a room,” says Miller. “Aesthetically, it’s like buying one of my sculptures.” And, of course, they are highly functional, too.