Built-In Bookcases: The Ultimate Shelf Expression

Built-in bookcases are bookshelves that are specifically designed for your home and then permanently installed. They're often planned to maximize storage or display space around a window or door, in a corner or along an entire wall. A built-in bookcase can also do double duty as a dividing wall to create a reading nook, entranceway or study.

built-in shelves

Built-In Bookcases Are Here to Stay

If you're considering installing a fitted bookcase or two, be sure you're not planning on moving house anytime soon. Built-in shelves require planning, contractors, and quite a bit of construction. They're pretty much a permanent addition to your home. If you do move one day, don't bother taking your built-in units with you. They almost certainly won't fit well in another location.

Constructing built-in shelves is certainly a more expensive proposition than buying stand-alones, but it's also one of the most elegant and aesthetic ways to display your books, collections, and treasures.

Built-in units add a completely different dimension to the beauty and character of your home. Freestanding bookcases just don't offer that kind of striking impression. Also, you can't always find freestanding bookcases that fit in the space that you want.

Transform Your Walls with Fitted Bookshelves

Fitted bookcases can cover an entire length of wall, incorporating everything including the fireplace, doors, light switches, and windows. It's a perfect way to create an eye-catching feast for the eyes while using every available inch (or centimeter) of wall space.
Depending on the amount of space that you need for storing books and display items, you'll probably want to mix it up a bit. Incorporate space for a picture or flat screen TV on the original wall, add a window seat and let your imagination lead you to the perfect design.

Food For Thought Before You Start Designing:

  • Are you planning on living in your home for the foreseeable future?
  • Are you absolutely sure that the location you've chosen for the unit is the right one?
  • Do you need adjustable shelves, or do you already know the height needed between each shelf?
  • What material or combination of materials will you use for the shelves?
  • Do you want to incorporate lighting in your shelving design?

Most other shelves can be moved or adjusted if you are not happy with them or if your needs for them or the space they occupy changes. Built-in bookcases have to be done right the first time, or you won't stop kicking yourself for not thinking ahead. Take your time with the design, and ask around for tips and ideas.

Ready, Set, Design!

Designing a built-in bookcase takes serious thought but it's not difficult. Invest the time to really think about what you want in terms of both form and function and you won't go wrong. You might also consider hiring an interior designer to advise you and draw up plans for the shelving. Interior designers bring a wealth of knowledge and experience from other projects that might very well help you to create the dream design you've been looking for. While this is an added cost, if you're already planning a serious investment, add a little more money and get exactly what you need.

Before Your Start, Prepare:

  • The exact measurements of the space for your built-in unit.
  • A detailed list of the items you plan to put on your shelves.
  • A list of all the measurements of the items that you plan to put on the unit.
  • A list of other things inluded in the shelving(light fixtures, switches, floor-standing items, television, stereo components, bar, etc.).

Choosing a Contractor

Here's our contractor checklist:
  • Get personal recommendations for contractors if you can
  • See at least three or four examples of their work
  • Get three or four references and ask each one tough questions
  • Ask about memberships in professional contracting and business associations
  • Get detailed quotations which allow you to compare each contractor's quotation
  • Double check that the contractor really understands what you want and how you want it
  • Find out if the contractor can do the entire job or will need to subcontract part of it e.g. the glasswork or plasterboard. Find out who the subcontractors are if that's the case.

Build Your Own Shelves

We've got ideas for free-standing and built-in shelves in our build-you-own section. So, if you're feeling ambitious, if woodworking is your hobby, or you simply want to cut down on costs, you can always build your own shelves.

See How It's Done: A Built-In Bookcase Project In Action

Our neighbors recently decided to redo their living room wall. They had a beautiful set of free-standing bookcases, but they wanted a built-in unit instead to use their wall space more effectively. Take a look at the process, including before, during and after pictures of their built-in bookcases project.

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