The Owner of The Mysterious Bookshop Built His Dream House

It’s a reality universally acknowledged {that a} man in possession of a superb 60,000 books have to be in need of a really large home.

Sooner or later within the mid-Eighties, Otto Penzler, the indefatigable founder and proprietor of The Mysterious Bookshop, the Manhattan retailer specializing in fictitious tales of crime and espionage and whodunits of a excessive order, may now not ignore the proof: His private assortment of first editions had outgrown his workplace, and cartons containing the overflow have been stashed in a pal’s storage. They wanted a room of their very own.

“I was hoping to buy a place in the country large enough to hold all those books,” mentioned Mr. Penzler, 79, who can also be the founding father of The Mysterious Press, a publishing firm, and the editor of quite a few anthologies. The most recent, “The Big Book of Victorian Mysteries,” is due out Oct. 19.


Occupation: Bookstore proprietor, writer, editor

Home, damaged: “My second and third wives both knew how to fix things, but I’m totally useless. I once tried to change a light bulb and ended up blowing out everything in the house because I used the wrong size bulb.”


Mr. Penzler and his second spouse, Carolyn Hartman, who’ve since divorced, hunted fruitlessly for 2 years. “We saw one place with nine bedrooms, but it was useless,” Mr. Penzler mentioned. “All those rooms had a closet and a door and windows, but what I needed was wall space to hold all those books.”

It progressively turned clear that the very best answer was to construct a home, so the couple spent one other yr searching for the proper setting.

“One weekend, we were visiting a friend in Sharon, Conn., and on Sunday afternoon we picked up The New York Times, looked in the real estate section and there was an ad for property in Kent,” Mr. Penzler recalled. “I asked, ‘Where’s Kent?’”

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It was simply 20 minutes down the highway.

The couple made a last-minute appointment with the dealer, and fell in love with the realm as they drove to their vacation spot. Shopping for the eight-acre property was a foregone conclusion.

The design of the home was equally preordained. When Mr. Penzler was a preadolescent dwelling together with his household in straitened circumstances within the South Bronx, he and his finest good friend, a boy named Ted Kvell, have been leafing by way of {a magazine} and came across an advert that includes an imposing stone manor flanked by a pair of turrets.

“I tore out the page and said, ‘Someday I’m going to live there,’” Mr. Penzler mentioned. “If I had told my mother I was going to live in that house or on Mars, Mars would have been a likelier option.”

Quickly after turning into a landowner, Mr. Penzler phoned his childhood good friend, Mr. Kvell, who had grown as much as be an architect. “I said, ‘Ted, I’m ready to build my house.’ Mind you, this is more than 30 years later. And Ted asked, ‘You mean the stone Tudor?’”

That’s precisely what he meant.

Mr. Kvell received busy constructing the mannequin for what Mr. Penzler waggishly refers to as his starter home: a 5,800-square-foot stone-and-stucco affair with half-timbering, a turret and a grotesque above the diamond-paned bay window on the primary ground. There’s additionally a gargoyle whose existence have to be taken on religion; it’s obscured by a bush in severe want of a haircut.

“I have a friend who, every time he comes up the driveway, thinks someone is going to call out, ‘Release the hounds,’” Mr. Penzler mentioned.

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Development on the dwelling quarters and the hooked up library started in 1990 and was achieved in phases over a dozen years. Mr. Penzler by no means ran out of steam, however he did often run out of cash, which slowed progress.

The home correct, Mr. Penzler mentioned, was primarily Ms. Hartman’s imaginative and prescient — and for the document, a reasonably good one — a mix of chic gentleman’s membership (leather-based armchairs, numerous paneling, numerous wooden, numerous brown) and relaxed escape from the madding crowd, as embodied by the massive and really inviting screened porch. Battle Mr. Penzler for the chaise at your peril.

He did desire a “statement fireplace.” (The one he present in an architectural salvage store in Bucks County, Pa., previously warmed the toes of visitors on the property of John Jacob Astor.) And he insisted {that a} chandelier that after hung in a movie show was simply the factor for the lobby. (Ms. Hartman initially thought it was too gaudy, however finally got here round to his mind-set.)

However what Mr. Penzler cared about most was the library. Modeled on the Bodleian Library at Oxford College, it’s a bibliophile’s fantasyland.

“I thought about this room for 30 years of my life,” he mentioned, stating the 2 tales of stacks illuminated by lantern sconces, the tufted inexperienced banquette, the stained-glass skylight, the custom-made 16-foot-long desk supported by a pair of carved griffins, and the Dante chair.

“We bought an entire trainload of mahogany — real mahogany, not veneer — two and a half tons, I think,” Mr. Penzler mentioned. “Because we bought so much, it ended up being cheaper than pine.”

Alas, many of the stunning mahogany cabinets maintain solely mud now. Three years in the past, Mr. Penzler put his assortment up for public sale. All that stay are reference books, copies of the anthologies he has edited and a small cache of uncommon books: the Raffles novels of E.W. Hornung.

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“I have no family, not even a nephew or cousin,” Mr. Penzler mentioned. “I thought, ‘If something happens to me, I don’t want the books just left there with nobody to know what to do with them. They had been part of my life for half a century or more.”

Giving them up, he mentioned, “was one of the most devastating things I’ve lived through.”

There’s a desk within the library, however Mr. Penzler prefers to work in his basement workplace, reachable by the iron spiral staircase within the turret. It has the ornamental thrives guests would possibly anticipate, together with a pane of stained glass with a exact likeness of the Maltese Falcon and an authentic drawing by Frederic Dorr Steele, a serious American illustrator of Sherlock Holmes tales. A real dungeon door leads again to the dwelling quarters.

“It fits the house so perfectly,” Mr. Penzler mentioned. “But the young guy who was installing it freaked out and quit. He told me he felt the souls and ghosts coming out.”

Mr. Penzler and his third spouse divorced seven years in the past, which makes him the only real resident. “Now that I live alone, I wish I hadn’t built the house so big,” he mentioned. “And I miss my wives terribly, so there’s a poignant element.”

Nonetheless, each weekend when he heads to Kent from his two-bedroom rental within the West Village, he mentioned, “I’m feel like I’m coming home.”

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