DIY Projects

Built In Bookshelf DIY Plans

Do you have a spot where you’d like to have a diy built-in bookshelves with cabinet below? Maybe there’s a spot over a door or under a window where you want some extra storage or a wall of built-in bookshelves. This is a three part series on built in bookshelves (this is part 1, THE PLAN). You can see Part 2 where I build in the base cabinets and Part 3 where I detail the upper shelves.

diy built in bookshelves

Adding bookshelves is a great way to add storage if you have limited closet space. This is a problem in lots of old houses. They don’t have to store just books, you can store anything inside. I’ve got a wall in my dining room that was begging for bookshelves. I really wanted to have something custom made until I got a few quotes. Whoa! That’s expensive.

In case you’ve never quoted out custom cabinets, they can run about between $500 and $1000 per linear foot. For example, nine feet of wall could be $4,500-$9,000 depending on what type of cabinetry you want. The cost is higher if you want doors, drawers and lots of moldings and trim work.

I decided to do a “semi-DIY” version, which I’m going to share in a multi-part series. This is a series on how to build a built in bookcase if you aren’t handy with power tools. You’ll see what I mean by semi-DIY as you read on. First let’s walk through how to plan your shelves.

How to Plan DIY bookshelves

First, find pictures of bookshelves that have the style you want. Look on Pinterest for examples until you can narrow down the look and style you want to copy. Do you want open shelves, cabinet doors, drawers, painted wood?

I don’t own a saw or a nail gun and I’ve never sawed a piece of wood. It is not my intention to become a carpenter. I realize my own limits don’t extend that far. We will talk more about how I will “DIY” with no carpentry skills later.

Step 1 – measure your space

As with almost every home project, the first step is to measure the space. Measure it VERY thoroughly. By this I mean, how wide is the space with trim and without trim? These things can make a difference. Measure your moldings. How wide are the windows or doors in the space, with trim and without? How tall is your ceiling? If you have carpet that will have to be removed? Do you have crown molding that you will need to match?

One of the first things you’ll have to decide is how deep do you want your cabinets/shelves to be? Most standard book shelves are 12″ deep. Most base or floor cabinets are 24″ deep. This doesn’t mean you have to choose 12″ or 24″, but the depth with affect your plan.

I wanted something deeper than 12″ on the bottom/base so there is a ledge that the top shelves can rest on, but I couldn’t fit 24″. There are some work arounds if you want something in between the standard depths.

Step 2 – Decide Your Storage Needs

Are you looking for open shelves only? Do you want cabinets with doors? Do you need drawers? Open shelving is cheaper and easier to DIY. Adding doors and drawers adds expense. Can you get away with open shelving and some baskets to conceal some of the less pretty things?

I could not get away with baskets. I have some bulky things to store that won’t fit in a basket. I really need cabinet doors on the bottom and not drawers.

Step 3 – Determine Your DIY approach

There are different degrees of DIYing bookshelves. If you are very handy and have lots of power tools you can do the advanced version. If you aren’t as handy and don’t have lots of power tools (or a handy husband) you can probably still do the medium or beginner approaches.

Advanced – Bookshelves built completely from scratch are not easy, but if you know how to use a saw, a nail gun and you can make pocket holes you can make anything. I was really inspired by this blogger, Darbin Orvar, who builds all of her bookshelves from scratch. She has a woodworking room.

I’m not going to pretend that I can do this right now. Maybe in the future, but let’s be real, maybe never. If you are looking for an advanced tutorial I’m not the right person to give it to you.

Medium – There is a middle of the road DIY approach where you learn how to build built in bookshelves using pre-made cabinets or bookshelves and build shelves on top. You can do this in one of two ways. You can buy assembled cabinets or you can buy cabinets that require assembly, see examples of both versions below.

  • This is a pre-assembled all wood upper cabinet from Home Depot. This one measure 30 inches wide x 30 inches tall by 12 inches wide. This cabinet comes in many sizes, but this size is $80. Because it is a wall cabinet you would need to build a base under it. The advantage of buying this type of cabinet is that you can build shelves on top of it and paint it all to match.
  • This is pre-assembled laminated cabinet from Home Depot. This one is also 30″ x 30″ x 12″. This cabinet wouldn’t need to be painted and the cost is $126.
  • This is an Ikea Base cabinet assembly required that measure 30″ x 30″ x 15″. The price is $93. The advantage of this cabinet is that it can be used as the base for a bookshelf and it will be slightly deeper than the book shelf. It comes with a base as part of the unit. The other advantage is that you can order different doors from this flat white one, but the doors often cost almost as much as the cabinet itself. The disadvantage is that it has to be assembled.

If you purchase one of the Home Depot (or Lowes) pre-assembed wall cabinets you will need to put them on some type of base or attach a foot to get them off of the floor (see more details on this in part 2). Cabinets that sit on the floor usually have some toe kick space so your foot fits below the door if you swing it open. If you just want open shelving on the bottom, you can skip adding a base.

Eample of base for preassembled wall cabinets

The base cabinet decision is the first step but once you have the base in place you still have two more things to accomplish: 1.) adding a countertop and 2) building in shelves. You can buy a pre-cut countertop if you have measured your space precisely or you can make one from plywood. The countertop details will be covered in the next section with details about how we built ours.

For the bookshelves on top, you can buy a bookshelf that just has to be assembled and mount that on top of your base. The other option is to build shelves into your wall using brace piece or cleat that are attached to a stud.

Beginner – This is a version of DIY where you simply purchase a bookshelf, most require assembly, but you add trim and molding to make it look built in. You can search the internet for Billy Bookcase hack and see many of example of this, but here are the best ones I found.

This example uses IKEA Havsta cabinets as the base cabinet.

This example uses Billy bookcases from IKEA as the base.

Step 4 – Draw out your plan

Once you have decided what type of DIY project you will attack it’s best to draw it out. This helps you with Step 5, which is to buy the building blocks.

I like to use graph paper and a pencil, but if you have more sophisticated technical skills you can do it with a floor planning tool.

You may find, as I did, that off the shelf cabinets don’t fit exactly into your space. For example, I’ve got 74 inches to fill and there is no combination of cabinets that will exactly fill this space. Get the closest configuration that fills the space but doesn’t go over. You can fill up the extra inches with trim, see subsequent parts of this series.

You can see there’s a gap on the right side of my plan.

Step 5 – Buy Your Building Blocks

I decided to go with the solid wood assembled cabinets from Home Depot. The advantage of this option is that you can paint everything to match existing woodwork. This will give it a built in feeling.

I bought four cabinets and had them delivered. The total cost was $350 for the cabinets and $100 for delivery. The rest of the wood for the bookshelves I plan to build on top will be in Phase 2. It’s important to get the base installed before you try to move on to the shelves on top.

Next steps in your diy built in bookshelves

Now that you’ve got a plan of action and you have purchased the main building blocks you are ready for phase two. In the next phase of book your DIY Build in Bookshelves we will go into details on building the base of your cabinets.

Plan your DIY built in bookshelves.  A beginners guide.

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