Library makes for novel home

THE BALTIMORE SUN

DULUTH, Minn. - It's been 13 years since the East End Carnegie Library in Superior, Wis., was open for business, but people still stop by.

They may be back in town visiting and want to see the old neighborhood library again. They may have fond memories of going there as children.

"They have stories to share, where they sat, who the librarians were," said Sally Miller, who, with husband, Ron, have made the library their home for 12 years.

The former library was built in 1917 with a $20,000 grant from the Carnegie Foundation Fund and $2,000 from the community - one of nearly 1,700 libraries that steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie built across the country between 1886 and 1919.

Carnegie libraries - in styles such as neoclassical, Georgian and Prairie - are considered architectural gems. They featured high ceilings, beautiful woodwork and large, distinctive windows.

The Millers lived in a nearby apartment when the library closed in 1991 and was put up for sale.

"We were looking for a place to buy and redo," Ron Miller said.

The Millers took a walk one day and looked at the building. They returned for an open house and entered the winning bid of about $17,000.

"It was just kind of a lark," she said of the bid. "We never dreamed we'd ever be able to get it."

The Millers were up to the challenge of converting a library into a home. They had built two houses in the country, one a log home that he had dismantled and reconstructed. He's also an accomplished woodworker who made some of their Mission-style furniture.

The Millers painted, repaired and did a little remodeling of the library. In the former back reference room, they removed a dropped ceiling, and he added a wall to create a kitchen and bedroom. Partitioned walls create a bathroom, closets and a back entrance.

They painted all the rooms in vibrant colors and replaced fluorescent lights with hanging chandeliers. They built an attached garage, taking care to match the library's red bricks.

The library's open design remains intact with the large reading room on one side and a children's room with a fireplace on the other. Magazine racks remain, as do about a dozen oak bookcases that hold the Millers' books, antiques and keepsakes.

"A lot of it are trinkets picked up around the world," said Ron Miller, 63, a retired barber.

The library's large, five-sided oak and marble lending desk is still there. It's no longer in the center of the 27-by-54-foot space but at one end. It's staffed by a mannequin librarian, just one example of the couple's whimsical taste.

"They were supposed to sell the lending desk, but that never got done, so that was to our advantage," said Sally Miller, 62, a retired registered nurse.

A revolving display rack for artwork came from the city's old main library, also donated by Carnegie. A tall cupboard came from an elementary school.

The couple's Mission-style oak tables, chairs, bureaus and cabinets fit right in. The furniture and bookcases are arranged to create a series of sitting areas within the large, open design.

Walls are a lively red with cream trim. The space, with 14-foot ceilings, serves as the couple's living room and dining room. It's where their love of antiques, art and the outdoors and their own creativity combine in a visual smorgasbord.

"I love it," she said. "It's a fun building to live in."

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