This Smart Shelving Trick Will Fake a Built-In Library Look in Your Living Room

published Jun 11, 2020
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For many city dwellers, the concept of being able to showcase an expansive book collection without sacrificing valuable square footage is just a pipe dream. Washington, D.C. resident and Instagrammer Dominique Gebru, however, was determined to get creative in her small apartment. Her latest project demonstrates that a trip to the home center and some careful planning can go a long way in making a luxe, library-like display a reality—even in the smallest of living rooms. Moreover, you don’t necessarily have to splurge on a custom built-in to get there. In fact, Gebru estimates that this whole project cost her under $250 total.

Gebru knew she’d have to come up with some kind of solution for books in her place. “My partner, Geoff, likes to read—a lot,” Gebru says. “When we moved into our current one-bedroom, which comes in at just under 500 square feet, more than half of our boxes were filled with books.” Fortunately, she was open to covering an entire wall with shelves for their combined collection. “I’ve always dreamed of having an at home library,” she says. “I drew my original inspiration from ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ but now I just use Pinterest!”

When the couple settled into their space in late 2019, Gebru first tried an IKEA IVAR system in the living room. “There’s a utility box jutting out from the wall, so I needed something modular that we could build around it,” she explains. “The shelves (pictured above) were great! But they did take up a lot of valuable floor space.” After further consideration, Gebru decided that a wall-mounted option—still spanning the entire length of the wall—would actually be her best bet.

Track shelving isn’t always the most visually appealing solution, but it would save space, so Gebru figured she’d she take a chance on it. “I headed to The Home Depot’s website, and after lots of sketching and measuring, I decided to go with a Rubbermaid track shelving system,” she says. “I was a bit worried the living room would look like a glorified closet, but since we have so many books, I felt assured the tracks would be hidden.”

Therein lies the crux of this project: Because track shelving is super flexible and customizable within its modularity, it does use metal tracks that have lots of visible holes in them. There are some decorative track shelving options on the market, but many are more utilitarian in their aesthetic. However, if you are more of a maximalist and going to actually fill out your shelves to capacity with books and larger decorative objects, you won’t really notice the brackets or the holes for the most part.

To get that true library look, it’s best to start your shelves near the ground and take them almost all the way up to the ceiling, as Gebru did. Shelf styling is key here, too. Not only did Gebru vary the orientation of books with both horizontal rows and vertical stacks—even within single shelves, she also made sure the shelves were hung so that the books occupied almost the entire space in between them. This makes off-the-shelf shelving look like it was engineered deliberately for this space. Plus, anywhere the books themselves didn’t quite obscure the tracks, she artfully added in plants and little objects, such as bookends and vases, to provide additional coverage and give the eye something else to look at and.

While the whole project presented a few challenges, Gebru is highly pleased with the end result. “I think a lot of folks are afraid to mount things on walls,” she reflects. “The most important part of this project was, by far, determining which wall fasteners to use.” With her plaster and lath over brick walls, finding the wall studs was difficult. She knew the shelves would have a lot of weight to support, so the solution had to be secure. After testing a few options, Gebru went with self-anchoring concrete screws that were long enough to grip the brick. “These things aren’t going anywhere!” she says. “I had to use two lengths of shelf to fill the whole wall, and they do droop a bit at the ends, so it’s not a perfect line-up. They’re imperfect, and I love them anyway!”