Enchanting, unique, surprising and whimsical are just a few words that come to mind when stepping into the new children’s wing at East Hampton Library. The long awaited addition opened to the public on June 21 with a grand ribbon cutting.
The room is more like a theater set anchored by a custom-built 16-foot-tall windmill with cushioned seating inside and out. A detailed colorful rug map of eastern Long Island, designed by a children’s book illustrator, depicts everything from lighthouses to sailboats to mermaids to the early native inhabitants of the area in a canoe.
The $6.5 million nautical-themed project also features a checkout desk shaped like a boat, and two 10-foot-tall blinking lighthouses guard the entrance to the toddlers’ room. Inside the room are chairs shaped like alphabet letters and a wall mural with scenes from the farms, fields and beaches of the East End. Computer desks and iPads programmed with educational apps are scattered around the various nooks and reading niches. There are three sizes of tables and chairs to accommodate kids from toddlers to tweens.
The East Hampton Library’s board of managers worked for 11 years on this grand project, knocking out a back wall of the existing library and expanding into a large yard space. The design focus was on keeping the lovely existing lines of the original library building, parts of which date to 1912, while adding in not only the children’s wing but a secret garden and a new downstairs gallery and meeting room.
Crafted by Manhattan-based Lee H. Skolnick Architecture + Design Partnership, the finished addition is unlike any other library. The friendly librarians sit inside a desk shaped like a 16-foot-long dory under a powder-blue painted sky. Custom-designed lights shaped like white flapping sea birds disguised as books illuminate the space. As for those books—there is now room for 10,000 more of them.
During a tour of the grand space, Director Dennis Fabiszak pointed out the penguin-deer-and-flower-shaped topiary in the Secret Garden as well as the gurgling fountain and Black-eyed Susan flowers that spring up around the border. Designed by Marder’s of Bridgehampton, the bench lined quiet spot was filled with kids—and their parents—on a sunny afternoon.
“Have you seen the great new downstairs?” Fabiszak asks as he heads to the new staircase leading to the Baldwin Family Lecture Room. This elegant dark-wood paneled room is designed for multi-purposes—a projector can stream live New York Public Library events, such as author talks, on a 7-by-12-foot screen. They can also hold music and meeting events there. Actor Alec Baldwin and his wife, Hilaria, donated $1.375 million toward the project.
Fabiszak points out the pictures in the gallery that show a computer-generated model of what the library addition was initially planned to look like next to an actual photo of the completed wing.
“There were a few tweaks along the way,” he says, “such as enlarging the windows and adding some exterior detail. We think the changes were all for the better.”
Other photos show the phases of construction. There are also new restrooms and a new elevator to make the space completely handicapped accessible.
Contributions from more than 300 donors along with state grants funded the cost of the addition, which was under construction for two years after 10 years of legal wrangling. The new wing donations also covered an array of improvements in other parts of the main library, such as new air conditioning equipment, carpet, paint and shelving. The library is still in fundraiser mode to cover some bills.
The new wing is sure to be a hit at the annual Children’s Fair on Sunday, August 10 at 2 p.m. This free event will have author signings, carnival games and rides, music, storytelling, arts & crafts, face painting, a silent auction and more.
The East Hampton Library is open to the public at 159 Main Street, East Hampton. East Hampton Library’s Authors Night fundraiser is on August 9. For more info, visit easthamptonlibrary.org.