Simplicity of Form

The interior renovation project at OWL is almost complete. But more on that in a moment… First, I’d like to first tell you about the project’s vision and goals. Since 2001, visits to the Library increased by 144%. People are using the library’s facilities for a whole range of services including, but not limited to, using our computers to access the Internet as well as bringing their own laptops to log into our wireless network, holding meetings in our community room, gathering for art openings, attending our children’s and adult programs, for quiet reading and group study, and of course browsing our extensive collection.


One of the major driving factors of the interior work was recapturing and preserving the essence of the 1967 modernist design of the addition to the Oliver Wolcott House by esteemed architect Eliot Noyes. A member of the Harvard Five, Noyes believed in the “simplicity of form”. Our ability to continue to use the library with only modest modifications since his first design forty years ago is proof of his commitment and achievement in creating functional architecture. Noyes created a building that, with all the changes in technology, services, and media formats in the intervening years, still allows us the flexibility to rearrange the interior elements to meet the community’s needs. He also believed strongly in connecting the outdoors to the indoors and this is evident in the large windows that surround his design of the addition. Large glass panes encircle the addition and bring us closer to nature without being subjected to her elements.


Given OWL’s growth, we recognized a need for expansion, yet we recognized that we are blessed with an architecture of significance. The Board commissioned a subcommittee with Joseph Montebello (chairman), Bobby D’Andrea, Bob Petricone, and myself tasked with creating a renovation that respected and honored Noyes’ vision. We wanted to expand the library without expanding it. With fresh eyes, we surveyed the library’s floor plan and realized a huge space that was underutilized and another space that could be reconfigured, effectively discovering 1,000 square feet of space without adding a brick. After reviewing and meeting with several architects, we selected Kate Briggs Johnson, someone who perfectly understood what we wanted to do and ultimately helped us make our vision a reality.

We successfully secured funding from the Seherr-Thoss Foundations, the Town of Litchfield Capital Fund and our generous donors. Then it was time to start drawing exact plans and picking furniture. We selected Mike Smith of Woodmaster Builders, Litchfield, as our general contractor, and he finished the project on time and exactly as we wanted it.

I’ll skip all the minute details and focus on a few highlights. The original design in 1967 included red area rugs. Not all the rugs have arrived yet but if you visit us, you will see them currently located behind the front desk and in the new book area. In addition to being attractive and economical, there are two other special features about the rugs we selected. First, they are modular squares that allow us to easily and economically replace a square if it is stained or worn out without having to replace the entire rug. Second, they are the most environmentally sensitive rugs available, and there is a subplot here: You know that librarians always love hearing how a book can change someone’s life. The man who in 1974 founded the company that manufactured our rugs, Ray Anderson of Interface, was forever changed by the book, The Ecology of Commerce. He had an epiphany about the environmental and economic cost of an industrial society. He dedicated his working life to make Interface“the first company that, by its deeds, shows the entire industrial world what sustainability is in all its dimensions: People, process, product, place and profits — by 2020 — and in doing so, to become restorative through the power of influence…leading a worldwide effort to pioneer the processes of sustainable development”. To read more about Ray Anderson, click here.


In addition, we also recognized a need for improved lighting. The lights should be arriving any day and are the most energy efficient interior lighting available We’ve also added grip strips to the stairs that lead from the addition to the 1799 house. The grip strips will provide improved safety when walking up and down the wide wood staircase.

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Please do stop in and see the renovations (and take a book home) but remember that it isn’t quite finished yet. We still have some finishing touches including signs, a bulletin board, more chairs (seven more), a larger coffee table for the new book area, additional rug squares, more tables, a display table, and of course, the lights!

<!–[if !supportEmptyParas]–> To read more about Eliot Noyes and the Harvard Five:

Eliot Noyes: a pioneer of design and architecture in the age of American Modernism by Gordon Bruce. 728 BRU

The Harvard Five in New Canaan by William D. Earls. 728.37 EAR

~Ann Marie

Ann Marie is the Library Director at OWL.

3 thoughts on “Simplicity of Form

  1. Wow, I had no idea that the library had such novel architecture and was linked to such an interesting fellow. I am all over those books!

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