Before and After: Custom Wall-Mount Shelves Turn This Reading Corner into a Bookworm’s Fantasy

published Apr 4, 2023
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About this before & after
Home Type
House
Project Type
Decor Items & Accessories
Furniture
Style
Traditional
Skill Level
DIY
Rental Friendly
No
Yes
Bookshelves on wall before renovating.
Credit: Rachel

The best kind of furniture is the kind that you can get tons of mileage out of — the kind that you’ve kept since your college or early apartment days, or that used to be your parents’ and now it’s yours, or the kind that’s well-crafted with impressive joinery that’ll last for years.

But sometimes even those pieces reach the end of their life cycle in your home. It can be sad, but it can also be exciting to pick out something new and maybe even splurge on, thanks to the money you’ve been saving over the years by keeping your old standby.

That’s pretty much how it went for architect Rachel, whose home library of books was initially stored in hand-me-down shelves. “I had ‘shopped’ at my parents’ house when I moved away from home decades before for these bookcases, and I had done a few minor repairs and upgrades to get the most use out of them,” Rachel says. “They had served my parents for years before they came to me, and survived moves to several different apartments with me, but even the little fixes I’d done weren’t enough to hide how tired they were getting after over 30 years in service.” Another (growing) problem? Rachel’s collection had gotten too big for the shelves.

Credit: Rachel

“I had many books that were squirreled away wherever I could find a space to put them, which meant I sometimes wasn’t able to find what I was looking for,” Rachel says. Enter: A new, impressive shelving system she built and mounted herself. 

Rachel gave her old bookcases to a friend, and then she bought some lumber from a local lumber yard to take on her project. “Previously I’d only been to big box hardware stores, and their material offerings are pretty limited for finished wood and plywood like this,” Rachel says. “It was wonderful to just walk down the aisles and smell all the different wood species in stock!”

Credit: Rachel

But that’s jumping a little ahead. Before Rachel even went to the lumber yard, she measured out exactly how much shelving she would need, which involved piling all her books together in the living room. “I made a big mess so I could figure out how many shelves I needed in order to consolidate,” Rachel says. The mess — and many measurements — were worth it, though, because when Rachel got to the lumber yard, they cut her materials to exact size for her. She went with a walnut veneer plywood for the shelves. “Their cuts were so much cleaner than I could have done at home,” Rachel adds. 

Credit: Rachel

But Rachel did do a little woodworking on her own, using a pocket hole jig so she could seamlessly join two pieces of plywood together to create a single shelf that was longer than 8 feet. “It was so easy!” she says of the process. “I can’t wait to use it on more projects.” 

Credit: Rachel

Rachel sealed her shelves with an oil-based gel topcoat, and she used standards and brackets from Lowe’s (easy for adjusting the shelf heights later) and a laser level to mount her shelves. To get the look she wanted for less, Rachel spray painted the hardware gold. “If I’d had the budget for it, I would have liked to do solid walnut shelving or even live-edge slabs instead of plywood and used real brass standards and brackets instead of painted steel,” she says. “I also should have been more patient when I spray-painted — there are places where the paint stuck to the tarp or was too thick and dried a little funny, and I had to do those parts again.”

But in the end, she’s come to like the exposed plywood edges with the walnut veneer. “It reminds me of some of my favorite architects, Charles and Ray Eames,” she says, and “the brass color on the brackets and standards feels almost like room jewelry.”

Credit: Rachel

One warning for future hardware spray-painters, though: The extra layer of paint can mean you have to work a little harder to get your brackets fitted exactly right. “Since I painted my big box wall standards and brackets with spray paint, getting the brackets properly seated into the standards meant giving them a whack with a mallet; I discovered this after putting up two shelves and loading them with books, and hearing an almighty crash late one night to discover that the unseated brackets had rotated out of the standards under the weight of the books. Luckily my cats weren’t in the room at the time!” Rachel says. “The joined shelf suffered a little bit of damage, but I was able to pull it back together. And once I gave all the brackets a good whack with the mallet, they were perfectly stable.”

Credit: Rachel

Aside from that setback, Rachel says, the actual hardest part of the project was choosing how to organize her books. But the end result is exactly to her liking. “I love having my books all together on the wall; it really feels like a feature in the room instead of an afterthought,” she says. “I’m also pleased that the shelves are still adjustable, and the layout isn’t too rigid and perfect. I’ll be able to move books and objects around at whim, and it will all still look cohesive and intentional.”