DIY: Almost Built-In Bookcases

One of the challenges of an older home is working with walls and spaces that aren’t completely square or level.  This is a challenge we had when looking for shelving options to frame our fireplace.  We concluded that the only way to get the look we wanted while fitting perfectly into the less than perfectly square space was to build our own shelving.  It seemed like a simple enough task (as most things do when we are watching HGTV) so we did some research online and were off to Lowes.

We had a few considerations for materials and landed on MDF.  MDF is considerably cheaper than finished oak or pine and if you plan to paint your shelves you will hardly notice a difference.  MDF is very dense so whenever you are painting it make sure to prime it with an oil-based primer.  This also gives it a glossy finish and saves you time when you come to applying your color.

In addition to the MDF, we purchased a couple wood planks for the frame and trim to line the face of the shelves.  We also purchased primer and paint to finish off the shelves.  When all was said and done the shelves cost less than $200 for two large shelves.  The trim and paint accounted for the majority of the cost and in total, it turned out to be a fairly inexpensive project.  Comparable store-bought shelves range anywhere from $100-$350 per shelf (for wood composite or laminate).

In addition to the materials listed above we used a nail gun, power drill, wood glue, painting materials and  circular saw (which you can get away with not having if you have Home Depot or Lowes cut the your matierals).

In case you don’t remember what the before looks like:

And the finished product… drum roll please….

Not too shabby for our first major undertaking in our new home! I was going to outline our step by step process of building the shelves but really we just used inspiration from other designs to build what worked for us in our unique space.  So below are some links to better-articulated step-by-step accounts for building shelving.  Don’t be afraid to modify to meet the unique space requirements of your home… likely the best design will a combination of a few!

Popular Mechanics


This Old House



6 thoughts on “DIY: Almost Built-In Bookcases

  1. Very nice! …your “completed” looks much better than the original …one of those projects that leave you saying “why wasn’t this done in the first place!” Did you think about stopping short in height to leave enough space to still see the crown molding? (You have beautiful crown molding!) A few low-height items/greenery-plant could still reside on the top shelf but leaving some view of the molding …maybe? …maybe not …just thinking out loud :-)

  2. Quality result! Congrats. We have an almost identical room layout and I was just wondering how you hid the wires from the tv above the fireplace?

    • Thanks for nice feedback! My husband drilled a hole in the wall behind the TV and then we ran the wires through the wall and out into one of the bookshelves. You can still see them run down the side of the bookshelf but that is much better then down the center of the fireplace!

  3. Pingback: A Quick Tour of our Living Room | The Suburban Urbanist

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