RICHLAND HILLS — All kinds of optical illusions are going on at the library. Most notably, everyone who goes inside says it’s bigger than it looks from the outside.“When you walk in, it’s still the same space, but it looks bigger,” said Bettye Mastin, library board vice chairwoman. “It looks cleaner, not all junked up like it used to be.”In an 8,000-square-foot building that began life as a church house, the library that has served Richland Hills residents since 1988 has been transformed into a bastion of enlightenment and entertainment through an $85,000 remodeling project, said Lisa Harper Wood, the library director. And it didn’t cost taxpayers a penny.“All the work was done using grants from the Tocker Foundation and the M.R. and E. Hudson Foundation,” she said.The project also was probably a third as expensive as it would have been if Wood had contracted with professional library designers, architects and other vendors. Instead, local designer Annie Perez brought out what she believed the library wanted to be all along, Wood said.“As soon as she walked into the building, she said, ‘I kind of feel that this is a secret garden or cathedral,’” she said. “She took the entire building and designed it as a secret garden cathedral.”Gothic windows gave the building its cathedral feel. Wood didn’t know where Perez felt the influence from The Secret Garden, a 1910 children’s book by Francis Hodgson Burnett, illustrated by M.B. Kork, about a girl in India whose British parents die in a cholera outbreak. The girl is taken in by an uncle in England, on whose estate she finds a garden locked away from the rest of the world, where wonders begin to happen.The theme begins just inside the front door with faux stone-block walls. Overhead, books and butterflies are suspended from a ceiling that looks like it’s dissolving to show a cloud-dotted blue sky.It’s an artistic treatment that represents “when you open books, beautiful things fly out,” Wood said.Down a hallway to the left is a 500-square-foot auditorium, where Perez built an enormous “enchanted cottage” puppet theater. A bright-blue adult-size door adds to the magic, Wood said.From the foyer, patrons pass under a message — “Be warned: Entering these doors changes lives.” — and walk through an ivy-covered hallway to reach the library’s main space. Here, Perez merely had to make all the bookcases match with identical end caps and line them up to give the illusion of a larger room. But to make it more kid-friendly, she really poured her secret garden theme into the children’s section.Plastic grass covers each bookcase, and sculpted animal topiaries are strategically placed on those tiny “lawns.”Anchoring one side, an 8-foot-tall hollow tree is furnished with tiny toadstools so kids can enter, sit and read in secret.A wall in the juvenile area is covered with a mural depicting a dragon. Under one wing are books, and under the dragon’s claw is a pile of jewels and gold.“It shows that every book contains hidden treasures,” Wood said.Youngsters have so enjoyed the new decor that the children’s book circulation is up 25 percent, Wood said.All of the remodeling was done in a whirlwind of work, Wood said. Perez did her first walk-through in March, and renovations started in June. The greater part of the remodel was finished last month, and only a couple of finishing touches still are coming — like a Pegasus topiary to join the fox, rabbit and giraffe, and a few activity nodes that give pre-schoolers challenges that increase their motor skills.Adults weren’t forgotten in the renovation. Three computer work stations with comfortable task chairs were added. There’s a big new area rug in the leisure reading area. And all the walls have been repainted in soothing shades.“It’s more user friendly,” Mastin said.
Terry Evans, 817-390-7620 Twitter: @fwstevans