Look, let's shelve this discussion for a minute.
December 27, 2013 5:47 PM   Subscribe

I just moved into a house and I'm trying to figure out what to do with our considerable wall real estate. One thing we saw that we liked was this image of bookshelves along a wall and above a doorway. We were hoping to emulate that idea with this wall. Can you help us?

The idea of going above the door frame is likely not possible simply because there's not enough clearance, but the walls on either side have about 3' 5" width wise, and we were thinking about putting a shelf every 13" - 15" all the way up the wall.

We're not super handy, but we were hoping to set up two sets of bracketed shelves on either side of the doorway. We looked into the "elfa" system at the Container Store, but the widest their shelves get is 30". Since we have @41" to work with, we wanted to maximize that space.

So, keeping in mind our relative lack of handyness, we have @ 41" of width to work with, and we'd like our shelves to look as much like the shelves in the linked picture as possible, how would you - a handy mefite - go about making this dream a reality? I will take suggestions up to and including "hire a professional".

Thanks for your help!
posted by to sir with millipedes to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I've done something like this a couple of times and I'm NOT particularly handy. I'm also trying to save money usually, so I get 1" x 8" pine boards for the shelves--I've found the building centre is happy to cut them to length as long as there aren't a lot of fiddly cuts. Then you can sand them and stain them or paint them. The shelves in the picture there are held up by brackets and standards (the long vertical rails that the brackets hook into). Here are a couple of online tutorials (Note: I haven't checked out the tutorials in detail)
posted by Sing Fool Sing at 6:08 PM on December 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have something very similar in my apartment, with Elfa shelves. I'd just do the Elfa, because it's easy, and if you want you can have them install it (we installed it ourselves). It is kind of pricey, but our system has held up (literally) for 4 years, with a LOT of books (including the tax code and regulations, law textbooks, and giant art books). Ours is hung on brick, so YMMV. The top bracket needs to overhang the standards by a few inches, and the "Decor" line of shelves come in a 3ft length.

For above the door, I'd get a similar-looking floating shelf and put not heavy items on it.
posted by melissasaurus at 6:35 PM on December 27, 2013

As Sing Fool Sing said, those are just your typical, cheap, easy-to-do shelving things. Hit up your local lumber place - or Home Depot if you must - and they can help you find them and figure them out. Just get the right "bracket" things (don't know what they're really called) for the width of the boards you intend to use. The last set I got, I picked up at a rebuild-it place. Our local Walmart even has the brackets, but not the boards, of course. (More variety, same approximate price, at the lumberyard. Around here, pine boards, self-sanded, are the cheapest way to go. (Check them for straightness!) Or buy actually shelving, if you desire.

To me, visually, it looks like you'd have plenty of clearance for a shelf over the middle, too... but then, I like using all the space possible. And measurements may make me a liar, or you may not want a shelf that size. :)
posted by stormyteal at 6:37 PM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I got an estimate for a similar project; it's simple enough to be worth scoping out handyman prices -- big enough of a job to not run into issues with paying somebody just to set foot in your house, but small and simple enough to be cheap-ish. On the even cheaper side, Ikea has loads of brackets and shelves.

But I have a similar-ish sort of wall and want to caution that the photo looks nice in part because the books are all queued up by size; if you're into having books in a useful rather than pretty order, it's more "public library" than "home decor." Here is the best representation I can find from a peek at available book porn. Slightly more chaotic.

Be sure you are very very committed to the paint colour behind the shelves, and don't forget to figure out the issue of bookends!
posted by kmennie at 6:38 PM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's a simple project and like singfoolsing said, you just get… whatever boards fit your brackets, you know? I got mine at the hardware store because I am lazy and they had nice smooth melamine ones but you can get whatever you want at the hardware store if you want to sand and stain.

The brackets do need to be in studs if you are going to be putting books on the shelf, so you should go over the wall with a stud finder first to make sure yours are in visually ok spots.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:25 PM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you are thinking of going the do-it-yourself way, instead of using pine boards as many here have suggested, see if your local lumberyard has what are called finger-jointed primed boards. They come in the usual sizes, but they stay a lot flatter than regular pine boards (they're made up of narrower pieces of pine joined together) and they're already primed, ready for painting. They're used for trim boards where things need to stay flat.
posted by BillMcMurdo at 7:55 PM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Use 1" x 8" clear pine boards but, because they will sag over time use three tracks and supports per shelf. You can have the pine boards cut to length [or cut them yourself - they usually have a cutting jig] at your supplier. I would use adjustable wall mount shelving pic as in your picture to break up the order and provide flexibility - this is just my preferred aesthetic though.

If you get the boards cut at the store the only other tool you will need is a drill [with bits] for pilot holes and a phillip's bit for screwing the shelving tracks into the studs [the vertical members of the wall which should be 16 inches on center]. You don't need a level, a marble and a string with a weight will do.

For each side [left side of the door and right side of the door]:
- low on the wall, maybe a foot up, measure from the wall furthest from the door somewhere around thirteen inches
- knock on the wall as you would a door
- the stud is where it has the least hollow sound - mark this place with a pencil or a scratch
- using your drill with a small bit - drill - if you have found the stud you will feel increased resistance and see wood coming up from the yield.
- having found your stud you now need to find the vertical
- high on the wall, using a string with a weight [plumb bob is the term when you tell your friends] align the string with the weight such that such that it aligns with your lower mark. Drill here

Congratulations, you have your vertical axis

Go ahead and screw in one track.

- Measure 32 inches toward the doorway. Repeat the above process but don't screw in the track yet.
- put a support bracket [anywhere] in the first track
- put a support bracket in the same location [number of holes] in your as yet unmounted second track
- hold the second track against the wall at approximately the same height as the first, put one of your pine boards on the brackets
- use your marble to ensure that the tracks are level with each other

Screw in the second track

You can now mount your third track on the stud midway between the first two, you don't need to be incredibly precise here regarding level, the shelving will 'settle' somewhat

Repeat the same process for the other side.

It's actually a lot easier than my description would indicate. Basically you are finding the vertical and using that to find the horizontal. Good Luck.
posted by vapidave at 8:40 PM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is a very simple project, but I came here to make the same basic points vapidave was making: be sure you've attached the supports to the studs (not bare drywall), and be sure that your brackets are sufficiently stout. A shelf of large hardback books could easily exceed 150 pounds, but even a shelf of small paperbacks could tip 50 pounds.
posted by grudgebgon at 10:15 PM on December 27, 2013

Do you own this house or are you renting? This would be a pretty big project in a rental house, given all the holes you'll be making in the walls.

Also, if you're not especially handy, this might be a bit harder than it seems. What kind of tools do you have in the house, for example?

In any case, I do have another suggestion: how about matching bookshelves? If you get some with open backs, the look will be similar and more polished. The VITTSJO bookcase from Ikea comes in 20" and 39" widths. The EXPEDIT units come in 31" and 17" wide options.

I suspect a couple of bookcases like that could end up costing less, and would certainly be a lot less work, than wall shelves.

If you're really into that look and you own your house, then I'd hire a handy person.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:10 PM on December 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding what BillMcMurdo said above if you are planning on painting the shelves. The finger joint boards are more stable, somewhat less expensive, and more easily painted.

I hate em. :] but so what.
posted by vapidave at 4:34 AM on December 28, 2013

Elfa systems are super easy to install -- the hardest part is attaching the horizontal rail high up on the wall. If you want to go this way, I suggest you get two 20" shelves for the 41" space. If you use a shelf that's much longer than 20, you'll need to place a support at the center to prevent sagging. Books are heavy! (The elfa hardware can support a lot of weight, but even plywood boards are vulnerable if you just use a single layer.)

If you use 20" Elfa shelves, the center support will hold up the left and right board, so you'll just need 3 supports for the two shelves side by side.
posted by wryly at 12:40 PM on December 28, 2013

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