How to Build a Built-In Bookcase

Updated: Jan 29

This bookcase came about a year early. It's always been part of our living room renovation plan, but I couldn't wait any longer for a spot to organize all the books floating around the house. Our living room is long and narrow, and divided into two sections by a wide, arched doorway. This front part of the living room didn't get used very often because it didn't have a functional purpose. What better spot for a built-in bookcase than this under-used, unloved corner of the living room?

Our house was built in 1941, complete with plastered walls that have never seen a square corner. This meant I had to customize every piece of the bookcase so that it stood level and plumb in the end. In order to make this bookcase built-in, I removed the baseboards to nestle it into the corner. After it was built, I cut the baseboards down so they fit snug against the side of the bookcase.

Step 1: Before I started building, I ripped 1/4" off of all my framing material. See Step 3 to find out why.

Starting with the upper and lower corners, I mounted my (modified) 2x6's to the wall, at the ceiling and the floor. I made sure to attach these pieces so they were level, rather than flush to the ceiling and floor. I framed out an L shaped box to create the dimensions on either side and to provide the inner structure. I wanted my finished bookcase to be 12" deep, with the left side being 3' wide and the right side 5' wide. I cut my pieces accordingly, taking into account the 3/4" of depth that my side panels and face frame would add.

Step 2: Next, I built and attached the side panels to the framing at the ceiling and the floor, making sure they were plumb. I screwed them on from the inside, so there would be no evidence of screws on the outside panel. I built these panels the same way I would build a shaker style cabinet door. I used 1x6's on the top and bottom to match the reveal of the face frame, a 1x3 for the middle dividers and on the side of the panel that meets the wall, and a 1x2 on the outer edge of the panel. I used 1x2's here because I knew I'd be attaching a face frame, which would add another 3/4" of depth to the panel. This would give the appearance that the front vertical piece is the same width as the back vertical piece. Read that again. It makes sense. Keep in mind, the panels will be mirror images of each other, not identical.

Step 3: I covered the front of the framing with 1x6 select pine and I attached 1/4" plywood to act as the "floor" and "ceiling" of the bookcase. Because I ripped 1/4" off of my framing material, this allowed the top of the plywood to sit flush with the top of the 1x6.

Step 4: Next, I mounted 1x2's along the walls and inside the side panels to act as brackets to hold the shelves. Because my wall are not square, each bracket and shelf piece had to be cut to size. The shelves were built from 3/4" birch plywood that I ripped to 11 1/4" wide. I made straight cuts at the ends, rather than mitering them in the corner. To hold them together, I drilled pocket holes at the end of one board and screwed them together after placing them inside the bookcase. I secured them in place to the brackets with brad nails.

Step 5: This step really gives the bookcase that finished look. I added a 1x2 face frame to the front of the vertical panels and to the front of the shelves using brad nails. This extra piece attached to the front of the shelves covers the end grain of the plywood, and helps to give extra support so they don't sag from the weight of the books. Last, I put up crown moulding and a piece of quarter round trim where the panels meet the wall.

Step 6: Finishing. All the nail holes were filled and all the seams were caulked. I painted the whole bookcase with a brush. I figured brush strokes would add to the character, making it look like it could be original.

When it came to styling, I didn't want knick knacks cluttering up the shelves, taking away from the bookcase itself. I scaled way back from what I intended to add here and there between the books. Over time, as our library grows, the decor pieces will become fewer and fewer. I'm so happy I decided to go for it and just build the bookcase now, rather than later. It's added so much warmth and character to this room, and I'm happy to say, we spend a whole lot more time in here.

And in case anyone is wondering, the books are arranged by genre, and then alphabetized by the author's last name. Is there any other way to do it??

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