The Robert E. Seydel Reading Room
One of Longleaf Lumber’s most interesting projects this year has been milling the reclaimed wood shelving, benches, nosing, and countertops for Hampshire College’s newest library space: The Robert E. Seydel Reading Room. The room is named for late Hampshire College faculty member Robert Seydel, a much-loved professor of visual art and a man whose academic and artistic pursuits were as important as they were interdisciplinary.
In the wake of Mr. Seydel’s passing, his family donated the professor’s tremendous personal collection of books to Hampshire College. Included in the gift were thousands of volumes of poetry, fiction, photography, alchemy, and other printed representations of Seydel’s eccentric intellectual pursuits.
The design challenge for the room was to create a functional space that represents the beloved eccentricity of Seydel’s career while housing his donated personal library. Charged with the task was Hampshire alumnus and current Harvard Graduate School of Design student Mike Meo, who is just now putting the finishing touches on the space.
Working with Cambridge’s Maryann Thompson Architects, Mike developed a space that featured an eclectic mixture of industrial metal piping, local reclaimed woods, and custom-upholstered seating. Mike’s vision for the space revolves around channeling both Robert’s personal and artistic spirit:
“Robert was a collage artist, among many things. He
worked with found objects, objects that wore the residue of time. This is how I have chosen to approach this project. It has been a process of finding form and material, crafting space that will show the residue of time. The goal is to invert the normative condition in the library. All throughout, the library space is containing books. Books are on shelves between walls. What I aim to do here is allow the books to create the space, to create an immersive environment, a world and labyrinth of books.”
After a few visits to Longleaf, Mike decided that our mix of domestic softwoods reclaimed from barns, homes, and industrial structures was the right material for the job. We call this Reclaimed White Wood, and grade in Eastern white pine, tamarack, spruce, fir, hemlock, and other domestic American softwoods. The resulting collage of lighter-colored woods with reclaimed character is a fantastic fit for the Seydel space. The shelving and bench material for the Seydel Reading Room was milled and assembled from this material.
The rarer and more important books from Seydel’s collection will be housed in custom reclaimed oak boxes built by Mike with salvaged doors and windows. The working counters in the space are all milled from matching reclaimed oak. Images and video below are of the milling process at Longleaf’s Maine mill. The running joke around the shop while we worked the Hampshire College order? “This material won’t be graded.”
Sawing REclaimed White Oak
Drying reclaimed White oak and white wood
Mike worked with a custom cabinetry outfit in Deerfield, MA to assemble and finish the wood components for the reading room. This process involved joining, sanding, and spray-finishing the wood. This part of the job is where working with reclaimed wood gets really special. Picking the location of each board based upon unique character marks was a meticulous process:
“Every piece is unique and tells a different story through the display of its nail holes, mineral stains, pockets and other markings of past life. The story is really for you to decide…I am handpicking pieces for specific locations and displaying the most brilliant features as we are performing our carpentry work.”
Finishing the reclaimed white wood
From their finishing booth and storage area, the material was shipped to the reading room and is being assembled into the finished product. The benches, stools, backrests, counters, book boxes, and parts of some lighting fixtures are assembled from reclaimed wood.
It’s been quite the trip to see this project move from the design phase into the physical construction, and to provide the reclaimed wood for a space which honors the life and work of a dearly missed member of the Hampshire community. We’ll be sure to upload photographs of the finished space. For now, here are some shots of the nearly-completed reading room:
photographs of the completed space
A more full account of the design/build process for the Robert E. Seydel Reading Room can be found on Mike Meo’s blog, The Gund Life.