It is a universally recognized truth that a man who owns at least 60,000 pounds must need a very large house.
At one point in the mid-1980s, Otto Penzler, the indefatigable founder and owner of The Mysterious Bookshop, the Manhattan store specializing in fictional crime and spy stories and high-profile thrillers, could no longer ignore The obvious: his personal collection of early editions had grown too large for his office, and the boxes containing the overflow were stashed in a friend’s garage. They needed a room of their own.
“I was hoping to buy a place in the country big enough to hold all of these books,” said Mr. Penzler, 79, who is also the founder of The Mysterious Press, a publishing house and publisher of numerous anthologies. . The latest, “The Big Book of Victorian Mysteries”, will be released on October 19th.
Otto Penzler, 79 years old
Occupation: Bookstore owner, publisher, publisher
Broken house: “My second and third wives both knew how to work things out, but I’m totally useless. I once tried to change a light bulb and ended up blowing everything up in the house because I used the wrong size bulb.
Mr Penzler and his second wife, Carolyn Hartman, who have since divorced, hunted for two years in vain. “We saw a place with nine rooms, but it was unnecessary,” Penzler said. “All of these rooms had a closet, door and windows, but what I needed was wall space to hold all these books.
It gradually became clear that the best solution was to build a house, so the couple spent another year looking for the right setting.
“One weekend we were visiting a friend in Sharon, Connecticut, and Sunday afternoon we picked up the New York Times, looked in the real estate section and there was an ad for a property in Kent,” recalled Mr Penzler. “I asked, ‘Where’s Kent? “”
It was only 20 minutes down the road.
The couple made a last-minute appointment with the broker and fell in love with the area on their way to their destinations. The purchase of the eight-acre property was won in advance.
The design of the house was similarly predetermined. When Mr Penzler was a preteen living with his family in dire conditions in the South Bronx, he and his best friend, a boy named Ted Kvell, were perusing a magazine and came across an ad featuring an imposing stone mansion flanked by ‘a pair of turrets.
“I tore up the page and said, ‘Someday I’m going to live there,” Mr Penzler said. “If I had told my mother I was going to live in this house or on Mars, Mars would have been a more likely option. “
Shortly after becoming a landowner, Mr Penzler called his childhood friend, Mr Kvell, who had grown up to be an architect. “I said, ‘Ted, I’m ready to build my house.’ Be careful, it’s more than 30 years later. And Ted asked, ‘You mean the Tudor stone?’ “
This is exactly what he meant.
Mr. Kvell took care of building the model of what Mr. Penzler calls his starting house: a 5,800 square foot stone and stucco affair with half-timbering, a turret and a grotesque over the bay. diamond-tiled glazing on the first floor. There is also a gargoyle whose existence must be presumed; it is masked by a bush which is in serious need of a haircut.
“I have a friend who every time he walks up the aisle thinks someone is going to yell, ‘Let go of the dogs,’” Mr Penzler said.
Construction of the living quarters and the adjoining library began in 1990 and took place in stages over a dozen years. Mr. Penzler never ran out of steam, but he ran out of money at times, which slowed progress.
The house proper, Mr Penzler said, was mostly Ms Hartman’s vision – and for the record, quite a nice one – an elegant gentleman’s club mix (leather armchairs, lots of paneling, lots of wood, lots of brown. ) and laid back escape the mad crowds, as evidenced by the large and very welcoming screened porch. Fight Mr. Penzler for the chair at your own risk.
He wanted a “reporting hotbed.” (The one he found at an architectural salvage store in Bucks County, Pa., Once warmed the toes of guests at John Jacob Astor’s estate.) And he insisted that a chandelier that once hung in a movie theater was just what the foyer needed. (Ms Hartman thought it was too loud at first, but eventually adopted her way of thinking.)
But what mattered most to Mr. Penzler was the library. Inspired by the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford, this is the fantasy land of a bibliophile.
“I have thought about this room for 30 years of my life,” he said, pointing out the two stories of fireplaces illuminated by lantern sconces, the bushy green bench seat, the stained glass skylight, the bespoke table. 16 feet long. supported by a pair of carved griffins, and the Dante chair.
“We bought a whole train of mahogany – real mahogany, not veneer – two and a half tons, I think,” Penzler said. “Because we bought so much, it ended up being cheaper than pine.”
Alas, most beautiful mahogany shelves now contain nothing but dust. Three years ago, Mr. Penzler put his collection up for auction. Only reference books remain, copies of the anthologies he edited and a small cache of rare books: the Raffles novels by EW Hornung.
“I don’t have a family, not even a nephew or cousin,” Penzler said. “I was like, ‘If something happens to me, I don’t want the books to sit there without anyone knowing what to do with them. They had been a part of my life for half a century or more.
Letting go of them, he said, “has been one of the most devastating things I have experienced.”
There is a desk in the library, but Mr. Penzler prefers to work in his office in the basement, accessible by the turret’s iron spiral staircase. It has the decorative flourishes visitors might expect, including a stained glass window with a precise likeness of the Maltese Falcon and an original drawing by Frederic Dorr Steele, a great American illustrator of Sherlock Holmes stories. A real dungeon door leads back to the living quarters.
“It blends in perfectly with the home,” Mr. Penzler said. “But the young man who was setting it up panicked and quit. He told me he could feel souls and ghosts coming out.
Mr Penzler and his third wife divorced seven years ago, making him the only resident. “Now that I live on my own, I wish I hadn’t built the house so big,” he said. “And I miss my women terribly, so there is a poignant element.”
Yet every weekend, when he travels to Kent from his two-bedroom rental in the West Village, he said: “It feels like I’m coming home.”
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