This article was originally featured in New Orleans CityBusiness and published on February 17, 2023.
NANO’s extensive historic renovation at locally owned independent bookstore, Octavia Books, will help guide the bookstore into the future without losing sight of directions from the past. The creative reimagining of Octavia also incorporates Scrambled, a restaurant next door.
To help Octavia Books and Scrambled better serve their community, NANO renovated and rehabilitated the 100-year-old structure they share. Building on the bookstore’s established design language, we expanded both businesses with a dynamic and flexible design that provides more space for holding public events, displaying books, and enjoying a cup of coffee or meal with friends.
“We started this project pre-COVID, back in 2018-2019,” said Project Designer Kelsey Chappuis. “It was an old corner store back in the 1800s, with kind of the classic architectural corner store entry with the wraparound canopy. We were hired to extend the existing bookstore, Octavia Books, into the rest of the historic building expansion space. At that time, we also wanted to expand the café next door by a couple hundred square feet as well.”
“One of the new features in the new bookstore is having this large, pivoting bookshelf wall that will remain open when the two businesses have shared business hours,” she said. “We think that will be kind of a neat, unprecedented business program in the city, to be able to walk back and forth between the bookstore and the café.”
The dividing wall between the two businesses is made up of three custom bookshelves, each with a pivoting hinge system allowing them to open and close completely. Customers will have a “secret” passageway between the two worlds, Chappuis said.
“Basically, that will be composed of wood and metal four-foot-wide by 10-foot-tall bookshelves that are pretty massive,” she said. “They will pivot on this certain hinge that we studied and detailed. They’ll pivot almost a full 90 degrees open. When they’re closed it will just look like a wall of bookshelves.”
Overall, the renovation basically doubles the size of Octavia Books, from around 3,700 square feet to 7,500, Chappuis said. A new space for book signings and other events will be easily converted for a variety of programming, and the children’s section was expanded with a custom nook and platform.
“We really were trying to keep the existing language of the bookstore,” she said. “There are some kind of weird angles in the space, within the ceiling and the shelves, so we did a study of the existing plans with some mappings and determined that a lot of the existing angles in the bookstore denoted the true North arrow. That’s kind of how we based the rest of the design and developed that language into the rest of the bookstore.”
Chappuis said she believes the store being aligned with true North was an intentional element of the original design, especially since New Orleans has always been built into the nooks and crannies of the Mississippi River.
“Obviously with the street grid and the ‘U’ of the river, it makes the streets have wonky angles,” Chappuis said. “So we really took our protractors out on site and matched that.”
“…We believe the outcome of the renovation will be transformational, harkening back to the original Octavia Books but bringing forth a more progressive 21st century bookstore”. – Terri Dreyer