Before & After: Floor To Ceiling Bookshelves

Bookshelves in home office

Once upon a time (like many little girls), I had a brief ambition to be a Disney princess.  It wasn’t the frocks or the (interchangeable) princes I was after though, it was Belle’s library.  Books as high as the eye can see, floor to ceiling windows, spiral staircases to balcony walkways, an open fireplace and period furniture.  It’s basically an interior designer’s dream, and as a book lover it caught my imagination – definitely a better romancing strategy than the usual ‘saving from an evil witch’ schtick.

Skip forward 20 years or so to buying our first house, and though our budget didn’t quite stretch to a palatial library wing, it was my ambition to have a room I could make into a small office with my very own (modest) wall of books.

Books Make a Home Book

It was one of our first home projects, and our talented carpenter friend John did the tricky bit of actually building them for us. I found inspiration in Damien Thompson’s ‘Books Make A Home‘. I sent John away with post-it notes in the pages of the book marking the style of bookshelves I liked, and John ingeniously managed to work out how to recreate them using materials within our budget.

Two segments of the bookcase frameBookcase being assembled

One of the first jobs was to work out the dimensions of the bookshelves.  Once I looked closely at other shelving I realised that the shelves are not usually evenly spaced – they have larger gaps at the bottom, and smaller at the top, so we worked out the height of the largest books we wanted to house to make sure they would fit at the bottom, and then made the others progressively smaller.  Although it’s only  small room, we decided on having the shelves in four sections so that the shelves could be strong enough to hold books without the need for brackets.  John built them as four individual bookcases and then assembled them in the room.

Finished bookshelvesWooden mouldings

To copy the ‘built in’ look we were trying to emulate, we picked up some wooden mouding to line the top of the shelves and to hide the join beweteen the bookcases.  The ‘column’  moulding between the shelves is Homebase decorative moulding in pine and the moulding at the top came from Andy Thornton – similar to this one.  Rather than have gaps under the shelves, or shelves all the way to the carpet, we opted to extend the skirting round onto the bookcase to make it look like an integral part of the room.

Bookcase before being painted

The assembled bookcases and moulding pre-painting (with me looking like a 12 year old boy….)

The bookcases themsleves were MDF, so as you can see, it was a bit of a mishmash, but we knew we were going to paint them so it meant we could save money on the materials and didn’t have to splurge on expensive wood.  We primed the MDF shelves three times with Interational MDF primer, gave it a light sand, and then rollered on the Farrow and Ball Olive paint to match the walls.  We used the same Estate emulsion as the walls, except for the bottom of each shelf on which we used the Eggshell variety for extra toughness where it would get the most wear and tear from the books.

Newly painted shelves

The finished shelves

The painting was a bit of an effort (turns out there’s quite a lot of surface area to paint with shelves), but it was worth putting the time in, and I’m thrilled with the end result.  Once we filled the shelf with our books it gave the room a warm, bright feel and it’s created a beautiful, cosy space for curling up with a good book.

Bookshelf filled with books

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Comments: 4

  1. Shauna Says:
    January 6th, 2015 at 1:48 pm

    Ohhhh my goodness… fellow library dreamer here. This looks fantastic. Such a clever way to do it and love how it’s the same colour as the walls. Swoon!

  2. kath Says:
    January 6th, 2015 at 8:44 pm

    Thanks Shauna! They were a blimmin’ pain to paint (husband vowed he’d never go near a roller again after that lot) but well worth the effort.

  3. Niamh Says:
    March 29th, 2016 at 1:43 pm

    Hearty congratulations for creating the room that dreams are made of!
    Also, thanks so much for sourcing all the components. We are about to start the self same project at home though our friend is determined to spray paint them instead of rollering! Can’t wait! ThanKS SO MUCH FOR THE INSPIRATION.

  4. kath Says:
    March 29th, 2016 at 9:40 pm

    Thanks Niamh, and good luck with your project! Spray painting actually sounds very sensible- definitely a quicker option. Hope it all goes to plan!

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