I've had a beautiful set of white built in shelving posted on our Gallery page for awhile now, but I was going through my photo archive recently and realized that I've never shared a "behind the scenes" blog post to show you how it was made.
The building process is the thing that sets our handmade bookshelves apart from the pre-fab stuff. Unlike pre-made furniture that's usually installed as separate units with seams in between, custom shelves can be created as one large unit, with no seams or gaps. That's because we personally install the shelves, so we're able to add the small touches that tie everything together.
Let's start with a picture of the finished bookcase with all the books in it, so you can see what we were working toward.
Next here's the empty room to compare it to. It's a bit of a visual surprise to see that this bookcase wasn't always there... it looks like it was built with the home, but of course it's quite new.
By the way, I learned something when we designed this piece. If you compare the "After" picture to the "Before" picture, you can see that without the bookcase, the room was dominated by the big fireplace, which seemed a little too large for the small space.
It's hard to get a sense of the size of the hearth from this photo because the ceilings are fairly tall, but that mantel is about six feet up! You can get a better idea of its height from the scale drawing which Faith made for the room.
Somehow the bookshelves made the room seem bigger, even though they actually reduced the floor space. The takeaway is that if you have a large element in a room and you can't easily change it, you can try balancing it with other large elements.
And these bookcases are definitely on the large side. The ceiling is nine feet up, a little higher than standard. This added some design challenges, because standard materials come in eight-foot lengths.
In the end I decided to build each of the three bookcases as two smaller units: a short section at the bottom with a taller section on top. (I could have built it another way, but I chose this option because it brought more structure and stability to the project, which is an important consideration on tall bookshelves like these.)
Once the cases were assembled, I cut out the individual shelves. I love projects like these, where there are lots of identical pieces. You can get into a nice rhythm of work and the time just flies right by.
Building the cases as smaller units also made the delivery and assembly run smoothly and efficiently, despite the narrow hallway I had to enter through.
You may notice that the sides of the bookcases seem fairly slender in this process photo. That's because I hadn't trimmed the unit out yet.
I covered the whole side of the unit with a long floor-to-ceiling board, and trimmed out the faces of the case with white painted wood. This gave the shelving a more substantial look, and it also added strength and solidity, which is very important when you're going to be putting hundreds of pounds of books on it!
Last but not least, I added crown and shoe molding to tie the unit in with the rest of the room. We went with a simple Shaker style to coordinate with the lines of the fireplace mantel.
The onsite installation of the trim is what makes the six parts look like one continuous piece... and since they're caulked together in place and the paint is touched up by hand, they'll always look that way.
It's a great technique for building a "big" bookcase in small pieces, and it's not something you typically get with pre-made bookshelves. Those almost always have visible seams between each bookcase.
I also cut out the baseboard behind the shelves so I could install them right up against the wall. Then I secured them to the wall for even more stability, and caulked the seam between the shelves and the wall.
That personal touch is what makes the shelving read as a continuous part of the room, as if it had always been there. And it helps that we custom painted everything to perfectly match the existing white trim.
The homeowners were so happy with the large unit that they had me come back and put in another, smaller shelf on the other side of the room.
I love the way they look with the books in them. There's something comfortable and warm about a home library.
If you want a cozy library of your own, give us a call. We can do white built in shelving, or freestanding wooden bookcases, or anything else you have in mind.
I'm Arthur Teel, a craftsman who builds custom furniture in Asheville, North Carolina. Give me a call to talk about your next project!