The Proprietor of The Mysterious Bookshop Constructed His Dream Home

The Owner of The Mysterious Bookshop Built His Dream House

It is a generally accepted truth that a man who owns over 60,000 books needs a very large house.

Sometime in the mid-1980s, Otto Penzler, the tireless founder and owner of The Mysterious Bookshop, the Manhattan store specializing in fictional crime and espionage stories and crime novels, could no longer ignore the evidence: his personal collection of first editions had grown out of his office, and boxes of overflow were hidden 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 Penzler, 79, who is also the founder of The Mysterious Press and publisher of numerous anthologies. The latest "The Big Book of Victorian Mysteries" will be released on October 19th.

Job: Bookstore owner, publisher, editor

House, broken: “My second and third wives both knew how to fix things, but I'm completely useless. I tried to change a lightbulb once and ended up burning everything in the house because I used the wrong lightbulb. "

Mr Penzler and his second wife, Carolyn Hartman, who are now divorced, hunted unsuccessfully for two years. “We saw a nine bedroom house, but it was useless,” said Mr. Penzler. "All of these rooms had a closet and a door and window, but what I needed was space on the wall to hold all of these books."

Gradually it became clear that building a house was the best solution, and so the couple spent another year looking for the right framework.

"We went to a friend in Sharon, Connecticut one weekend, and on Sunday afternoon we picked up the New York Times, checked the real estate department, and there was a real estate ad in Kent," Penzler recalls. "I asked: 'Where is Kent?'"

It was only 20 minutes down the street.

The couple made a last minute appointment with the agent and fell in love with the area as they drove to their destination. The purchase of the eight hectare property was a foregone conclusion.

The design of the house was similarly predetermined. When Mr. Penzler was living in difficult circumstances with his family in the South Bronx before puberty, he and his best friend, a boy named Ted Kvell, leafed through a magazine and came across an advertisement showing an imposing stone mansion owned by a Couple was flanked by towers.

“I tore out the page and said: 'I'll be living there someday,'” said Penzler. "If I had told my mother that I would live in this house or on Mars, Mars would have been a more likely option."

Shortly after he became 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." Mind you, that's more than 30 years later. And Ted asked: 'You mean the stone Tudor? ""

That's exactly what he meant.

Mr. Kvell was busy building the model for what Mr. Penzler chatteringly calls his starter house: a 5,800 square meter stone-stucco affair with half-timbering, a turret and a grotesque above the diamond-glazed bay window on the first floor. There is also a gargoyle whose existence is to be believed; it is obscured by a bush in dire need of a haircut.

"I have a friend who thinks every time he comes up the driveway that someone is yelling: 'Let go of the dogs," "said Penzler.

The construction of the living quarters and the attached library began in 1990 and was carried out in stages over a dozen years. Mr. Penzler never ran out of breath, but occasionally he ran out of money, which slowed down progress.

The actual house, said Mr Penzler, was mainly Mrs Hartman's vision – and for the record a pretty nice one – a mixture of elegant gentleman & # 39; s club (leather armchairs, lots of paneling, lots of wood, lots of brown) and relaxed escape from the maddening crowd embodied in the large and very inviting screened-in porch. Fight Mr. Penzler over the chaise longue at your own risk.

He wanted a "statement fireplace". (The one he found in a building scrap store in Bucks County, Pennsylvania used to warm 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 the ticket was the foyer. (Ms. Hartman found it too glaring at first, but eventually got to his way of thinking.)

But what was most important to Mr. Penzler was the library. Modeled on the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, it is a fantasy land for bibliophiles.

"I've been thinking about this room for 30 years of my life," he said, pointing to the two stories of stacks lit by lantern lights, the tufted green banquets, the stained glass skylight, the custom 16 foot table carried by one Pair of carved griffins and the Dante chair.

"We bought a whole trainload of mahogany – real mahogany, no veneer – two and a half tons, I think," said Penzler. "Because we bought so much, it ended up being cheaper than pine."

Unfortunately, most of the beautiful mahogany shelves are now holding on to dust. Mr. Penzler auctioned his collection three years ago. All that remains are reference works, copies of the anthologies he edited and a small fund of rare books: the Raffles novels by E. W. Hornung.

“I have no family, not even a nephew or cousin,” said Penzler. “I thought, 'If something happens to me, I don't want the books to just sit there and nobody knows what to do with them. They were part of my life for half a century or more. "

Giving up on it, he said, "was one of the most devastating things I've seen."

There is a desk in the library, but Mr Penzler prefers to work in his basement office, accessible via the iron spiral staircase in the tower. It has the decorative flourishes that visitors can expect, including a stained glass depicting an accurate likeness of the Maltese falcon and an original drawing by Frederic Dorr Steele, a major American illustrator of Sherlock Holmes stories. A real dungeon door leads back into the living room.

“It fits so perfectly in the house,” says Penzler. “But the young man who installed it freaked out and quit. He told me that he had felt the souls and spirits coming out. "

Mr. Penzler and his third wife divorced seven years ago and are therefore the sole residents. "Now that I live alone, I wish I hadn't built the house that big," he said. "And I miss my women terribly, so there is a poignant element."

Even so, every weekend, when he drives to Kent from his two-bedroom apartment in the West Village, he said, "I feel like I'm coming home."

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