Perusing a great bookstore can be thrilling—and easy to lose track of time in. And a wonderful, independently owned bookshop that conveys the personality of its community is a treasure. A Room of One’s Own, a queer- and trans-owned feminist bookstore, is one such place that has fiercely forged on for Madison booklovers for 46 years.
After 10 years downtown on Gorham Street, the shop moved to the east side and opened in early October 2021 at 2717 Atwood Avenue. This is the shop’s fourth location since their inception in 1975.
Co-owner Gretchen Treu says their new renovated space, which was previously an automotive repair shop and then a co-working space, is perfect for the business’ needs. “We wanted something that was unique and memorable, [with] a sense of clean lines and a more spacious floor plan. We also wanted to highlight the industrial beauty and pay homage to the history of the building. There’s a Model T pulley wheel hanging above our checkout desk from the building’s original purpose as a repair shop a century ago.”
Indeed, this sense of history that permeates the 4,300-square-foot shop was paramount in capturing A Room of One’s Own’s sense of place. Michelle Schildgen, director of interior design and branding at Sketchworks Architecture, says, “When you walk into the store, it still has that charming old bookstore feel. There are bench seats at the windows now, so you can really take your time shopping through the store. They invite people in, and want them to feel comfortable.”
When Gretchen and her team met with Michelle about the building renovation in spring 2021, their must-haves for the new space included shipping and receiving areas, a checkout desk, distinct spaces for browsing different subject areas, and multiple workstations for staff.
But the most important consideration was having “as many linear feet of bookshelves in the store as possible without making it too cramped,” says Gretchen. The oak bookshelves from the shop’s prior location were ferried over and retrofitted specifically for the new space.
Michelle says, “The space planning of the bookcases was probably the most complex part of the entire project. [We needed to] salvage the bookshelves, have our contractor cut some of the shelves down to fit or attach them to create nooks. It was a lot of configuring, but the result is so beautiful.”
Several walls were partially or fully removed to open the entire space and provide optimal flow throughout the open, airy shop. Drywall and stucco layers were removed from walls to expose the building’s original brick, including the signature brick wall in the middle of the store. Arched bowstring trusses dress up the ceilings, and wood beams from Deconstruction Inc. unify the entire space to lend an industrial, storied feel to the shop.
Beyond the beauty of the architecture, the bookshelves, and the stacks of beautiful books, little else was needed to dress up the space; however, a few significant art pieces are hung throughout to proudly convey the bookstore’s social justice roots. Those include painted boards with messages about BLM and the Stonewall riots that were taken down from the Gorham Street shop windows after the protests downtown in 2020. Gretchen says, “They felt important to us, and so we found spaces for as many of them as we could in our new [building].”
As A Room of One’s Own carries on nearly five decades after its founding, the lovely intermingling of old with new in the Atwood Avenue shop feels comforting, yet exciting. “[We] generally found a beautiful balance between cozy nooks and openness and height that restores the wow of the building,” says Gretchen. “Our customers have been overwhelmingly astonished by the beauty of the building. I couldn’t be happier.””
Sketchworks Architecture is a local architectural and interior design firm specializing in living, working, and entertaining environments. Our award-winning portfolio spans corporate, hospitality + retail, multifamily, government, and brewery + distillery projects.
7780 Elmwood Avenue
Middleton, WI 53562