Austin Channing Brown spends her days writing, producing her web series, and public speaking about topics like racial justice and the Black experience in America. Needless to say, her schedule is full. But when she does take a moment to unwind, she curls up with a book in her very own Reading Room, nestled in the Canton, Michigan home she shares with her family.
“It’s where I go to take a deep breath,” says the I’m Still Here author. “The lighting is soft. The books are pretty and poetic. The electric fire ‘burns’ any color I want. It’s a room that meets me no matter what mood I’m in.”
With the help of Havenly designer Melissa Wagner, Austin recently converted the once-bare space into a bona-fide shelf care oasis. “This room was largely empty before Havenly stepped in,” Austin remembers. “All I had was one couch and an antique secretary’s desk. I had no idea what else to put in here.”
Fortunately, Melissa had a wealth of inspiration thanks to our partnership with Reese’s Book Club which helps people create cozy spaces to unwind and read a great book. She delivered on Austin’s request to transform the awkwardly-shaped space into a functional and colorful library ideal for diving into a good story. Ahead, Melissa shares *exactly* how she did it:
Nailing the Layout
When Austin first moved in, she struggled to utilize the pass-through room and its two different-sized niches in a functional, stylish way. “It was hard for me to even envision a layout,” she admits. “Could it be cozy and still have a clear pathway? Could the nooks seem purposeful? How do you create a conversation space without cutting off a portion of the room? I didn’t know what to do.”
Melissa, however, saw a solution right away. First, she situated the existing light gray sofa across from a set of ultra-comfy blue velvet Crate & Barrel chairs to create a conversation-friendly gathering space (for when Austin welcomes others into her retreat).
In one nook, she installed an electric fireplace and a narrow Burrow wall shelf for displaying books, while the other features Austin’s beloved vintage writing desk and a few art prints. “Add in a hot cup of tea, and you have the perfect setting for getting lost in a really great book for the evening,” says Melissa.
Beyond the sky-hued chairs, Melissa incorporated color via throw pillows and whimsical floral-print Anthropologie curtains. Austin was initially hesitant about the bold drapery, but eventually fell in love. “I thought they were beautiful, but as someone who often chooses gray, I was scared to jump in,” she reveals. “Now, I’m so glad I did! They really tie the palette together and complement the colorful artwork, which was an unexpected surprise.”
Melissa blended Austin’s personal art collection with playful pieces by designer Justina Blakeney for an eclectic look. “I felt they captured Austin’s beauty, genuine thoughtfulness, and rare mix of stillness and spirit,” Melissa considers. “Austin loves Justina’s designs, and wanted to support her as a fellow successful Black business woman.”
Melissa finished the cozy space with throw pillows, a Bird of Paradise plant, a neutral rug layered over the gray carpet, and a textured glass statement chandelier from West Elm for that perfectly bright, yet soft reading light. “I love how I feel in my new space,” adds Austin. “It’s so warm, cozy, relaxing, and inspiring. I love it.”
Fast Five with Austin Channing Brown
Three things you can’t live without? Ice cream. Bookstores and libraries. My Black Americana collection.
Favorite book to curl up with all day? No fair! I have so many follow up questions! What kind of mood am I in? Is it a cold and dreary day, or a bright and sunny one? Am I blocking out the noise of other people in the house or am I alone? So many factors to consider… On a cold, quiet, dreary day, give me Sula or Rebecca. On a warm, breezy day when I’m tuning out everyone, let me reread Judy Blume or Jasmine Guillory’s latest romance. If I really have all day, hand me the best mystery, thriller, suspense you’ve got and I’ll stay up all night until it’s done.
Possession you’re most proud of? Both of my grandmothers were artists, but both had to make sacrifices for how that artistry looked in their lives. One grandmother worked at a department store and was unable to finish her degree in art. The other became a home economics teacher and wove artistic elements into her classes and the creation of costumes for school plays. My greatest possessions come from the two of them. The artwork, the programs, the drawings, and the memories of their work.
Favorite part of your new space? How I feel when I’m in it: warm, cozy, relaxed, inspired. I love it.
Room to tackle next? My son’s playroom would be next on the list. There are so many factors to consider… my desire for it to be organized, and his desire to spread out! How do we make it grow with him? What are the best pieces of furniture for a playroom? Instead it just sits, while his toys are still spread all over the house! Haha.
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