The Built-In Bookcase Project

October 25, 2012

interior work

I have a home office in my living room. Because we shoehorn an office, a school room, and a living room all into the tiny 350 square-foot space, so the room has always been a disaster of clutter and mismatched furniture. This year, I was determined to address the problems.

Earlier in the year, we installed new windows, replacing the 1910 Victorian models. After that, we sewed curtains for the room, painted the walls and painted the trim. Then, I got rid of the monstrous 8-foot hand-me-down blue-and-pink couch and got two small, cushy love seats.

For over a month now, we’ve been building and installing two huge built-in bookcase units. One is 6 feet long and the other is 5 feet. I’ve had intentions of adding such a unit to this room for years. Pre-made bookcases (solid wood only, please!) are prohibitively expensive, and I could not hire a carpenter to do it. So I watched a few videos, read a few how-to articles, and decided to tackle it myself. Due to the “eccentricities” of our old home (that’s the understatement of the year), I had to use my noggin and do a bit of creative tinkering. I won’t bore you with the details here, but I had to use pre-made kitchen wall cabinets instead of base cabinets because wall cabs are only 12 inches deep, which is all I had to work with. We had to create a frame upon which the cabinets would sit, to elevate them to “base cab” height. That took a while because we also had to cut through the laminate floor to secure the frame to the subfloor. I have a very inventive son who is now thoroughly skilled with the Dremel tool. ๐Ÿ™‚

Anyway, here’s a pictorial story of how it went.


Living Room before 1

Marking the wall for studs and placement of the cabinets.


One cab installed. ….five more to go…


The husband would come home from work and wonder what I was ruining now, lol. He has a difficult time seeing the finished work of a project, all he sees is the mess at the moment. I assure him that I am “ze artiste” and I see the end result (which will be beautiful). He just shakes his head and reads his papers….

One of the more difficult jobs is figuring out the measurements for things like outlets. My math-inclined daughter does these kinds of jobs for me. ๐Ÿ™‚


One of the boys loves power tools. Takes after his mom, eh? He tackles all the intricate cutting.


First set of cabinets installed.

Bookcase progress

My other son and I sawed the plywood for the bookshelves themselves. The circular saw scares me, but I gritted my teeth and cut the boards for the first two units. I managed to bamboozle the husband to cut the wood for the final two units. ๐Ÿ™‚

Saw time

Making the first bookcase. I pre-stained and pre-finished the boards before construction. I used wood glue with the fasteners, and glue always ruins my unfinished wood. I learned that when we did the kitchen window trim. So I pre-finished the parts, assembled them, and applied more polyurethane after installation.

Making bookcase

I love these things. They saved the day. Perfect corners!

Corner clamps

First unit in. You probably can’t tell from the photo, but the unit BARELY fit. It scraped the ceiling as we installed it.

Bookshelf unit 1

Second unit. Another tight squeeze.


Shelves installed. Instead of using dadoes (I do not own a router and wasn’t going to shell out $200 to get one), I used cleats. The cleats will be concealed behind the final trim.


We finished the other two unites earlier this week, and installed the shelves. This is what we have so far…

Bookcase Almost there

I moved Livvy’s “cupcake” tree to the window, and she loves her new location.


Obviously, they are not quite done. I was tired to tripping over the books all over the floor so I just put them on the shelves.

I have yet to install the final trim work, a TON of it! I can’t believe how much trim I have yet to do! But the hard parts are done and I think it looks pretty good. I’m going to *someday* install crown moulding in the room, which will give it a more balanced look. And I’ll be hanging something over that window, too. Livvy’s kitty tree will go in front of the window.

I have a few other projects to complete before winter hits hard. I’m halfway through a fireplace mantel in the room. And we are finishing up a few closets around the house (drywall and spackle). More on that later. Thanks for reading!

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3 Responses to “The Built-In Bookcase Project”

  1. Winnie Says:

    The bookcase looks very nice. I also am always living through some project or another, such a mess isn’t it? I’m scared of the skill saw too, but I like the jigsaw (untill I nearly cut through Hubby’s workbench with it!)

  2. Cindy Says:

    Wow, those look great!

  3. Claire Says:

    Hope you are safe from Sandy!