By Meda Kessler
Photos by Ralph Lauer
A spacious attic inside this 1893 home in Fort Worth houses years of history and an incredible library
The aroma of leather and lumber is intoxicating. There’s nary a bestseller in sight; instead, custom-built shelves in this attic library with 20-foot ceilings hold first editions of The Arabian Nights and beautifully bound books on Asian religion. Everything is arranged by subject matter.
We stumbled onto and into this bibliophile’s den of delights during a tour of Fairview, the three-story 1893 mansion restored by Fort Worth preservationist Brent Hyder.
Located in Arlington Heights, Fairview long was considered one of the city’s most treasured buildings, but it suffered from modifications that didn’t quite suit the stately brick home. Hyder, drawn to its craftsmanship and architectural elegance, bought it in July 2014.
While Hyder, who grew up nearby, faced many restoration challenges, he was equally concerned about having enough space for his unique assortment of art, furniture and rugs, much of it acquired during his years living in and around Asia and the Middle East. (Hyder at one time owned two homes in Turkey.)
And then there are his books. Numbering at least 3,000 strong and including a 400-year-old Quran, the mainly theological-themed bibliotheque called for a special space in a special home.
Hyder began building his personal collection while attending the University of Oxford. The Bodleian Library there is the second largest in the United Kingdom and holds many special collections. “This obviously was way before the internet, and I spent much of my time browsing bookstores in Oxford, London and Cambridge.” In the Middle East, he did the same thing, getting to know the people who shared his passion for books. He acquired the Quran by trading with a man who needed money to pay for his daughter’s wedding. Bringing all those books back to the U.S. required a lot of packing and perseverance.
When he was considering buying Fairview, he entered the vast attic space by way of an unwieldy steel spiral staircase and knew he had found the right spot for his treasures. “This was the first room we cleaned up. We opened up the ceiling, which was only 7 feet, to the rafters.” The walls and ceilings are constructed of natural longleaf pine, the wide planks adding a rustic touch. “Everything was in pretty good shape up here, and there was so much space,” says Hyder, who points out just a few areas that required patching, as well as rafters signed long ago by the original construction workers. To keep it climate controlled, he installed ductless wall-mounted units.
As the only natural light comes via three sets of original attic windows, lamps sprinkled throughout the two rooms add to the cozy ambiance. Selections from Hyder’s rug collection are put to good use on the wood floor. In addition to stacks of books, some of the tables hold 1920s French metal windup toy cars. An 18th-century Gilbert & Co. brass telescope sits near one window.
Hyder also has a writing desk here. But it’s the French recamier — or daybed — purchased at an antiques show in Fort Worth that invites one to sit, relax and, of course, read.