DIY Bookshelf

If you’re like me and you have a habit of occasionally reading and getting angry, as most people do, you’ll know that “bookcases” sold in stores exist only for storing a small pot of flowers and a couple CDs. Trying to store actual books on them is an absurd idea, as you will no doubt see here.



It is almost always true that the older something is, the more it was built to last. So vintage or antique bookcases are always superior, and often more beautiful,  but not always affordable. It may also happen that the place in which you’d like to store your books is not ideal for a bookcase. So this, Strangers, is why I built my own, and why you should consider doing so too.


First of all, this shelf is built right into the wall, instead of being a standalone book case. So to give it a more “complete” look as opposed to something just floating (which is still not at all a bad choice) I covered the wall where the shelves would be with an accenting wallpaper, which came in a little roll at Walmart. Our living room is a beautiful grey-blue, so for the wallpaper I chose a distressed silver damask. I would also love to make a second accent with this above the mantle, but that will be for another day. The exact height of the paper doesn’t really matter. I matched mine up with the light switch and thus is looks somewhat like a back splash. You may want to get some help with this, because putting it up is very awkward. Consider it a team-building exercise.

A shelf I built 8 years ago with bird feeder hangers, and a great place to display my sword.

A shelf I built 8 years ago with bird feeder hangers, and a great place to display my sword.

Next up, the brackets. To know how far up the shelves need to be from each other, measure with your largest book. That way you’ll know that all of your books will fit and won’t have to be placed front end down, because that’s annoying and you can’t easily see what the book is that way. As far as horizontal distance, we placed each bracket more towards the center than on the absolute edges of the space to prevent bowing of the shelves. The longer your shelves are of course, the more brackets you’ll need. You can get these at different price points from Home Depot, but years ago I used beautiful wrought iron bird feeder hangers that cost just $2 each, so keep in mind that improvising is totally ok here. Remember also to use a level.


For our own shelves we salvaged what was left of the old bookcase, but barring any available scrap you can get some small sturdy shelf boards from Home Depot or even better just cut some solid wood to size and stain it the shade of rich mahogany, or whatever color you prefer. You don’t absolutely need to secure the boards to the brackets. We didn’t. You’ll see here that although we used a level, the boards appear to be slanted. This is because the actual house is slanted, so what can you do.

Because our baseboards are quite high and we didn’t want to ruin them with holes, we used the baseboards themselves as a support system for the bottom shelf. To prop up the remaining corner we piled beautiful yet totally useless old dictionaries to the correct height. If your house is similar to ours in this way you can do the same thing, and use anything you like here, like a pretty dowel or a skull.


Speaking of skulls, no spooky library is complete without one, so among some of the decorative features I placed on the shelves is a beautiful skull candle. The wax inside is red so it looks like it’s bleeding when you light it, but we thought it was just too pretty to burn. Don’t overdo the decorations though, this is a place for books after all. If your decorative items are heavy and unbreakable enough you can use them as book ends. Just to be sure though I used some cheap standard ones I got from Staples. You’re going to need book ends if your shelf doesn’t have sides!

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Creating shelf space in this way doesn’t have to be just for books, and is ideal for small spaces. We did this for night stands, and you can also put a very long shelf on the wall behind your couch to act as a console table or end table. You can even create a lovely little surface by lining an old drawer with beautiful wall paper and hanging it vertically on the wall as you can see in this lovely example. Of course once I do this I’ll probably still fill it with books.

My Cute Little Cottage

We bought a house! What, you didn’t know? We did. We bought our very first house, and somehow in this crazy buyer’s market, we got it for asking price. All the stars really aligned on this one. But because we’re not millionaires, it isn’t perfect. Its size is actually one of the reasons we managed to get it. You see, when you deal with a real estate agent, you get emails of listings customized to your criteria. If you want a minimum of 1000 square feet, you don’t get sent any listings for houses smaller than that. Our house is 995 square feet. It’s missing floor space half the size of a tiny closet so it fell off the radar of a  lot of people. So guys, if you’re looking for a house this way, put your limit lower than what you actually want. No use missing out on a great house over a lack of space smaller than a bath tub.

So yeah, this is a small house. It’s so small that when I google image search (I do a lot of this lately) “small house decore”, I get to look at the most glamorous houses twice the size of my own. Helpful, eh? But when it comes to any kind of art, there is no such things as problems. There are only new ideas, and new sources of inspiration. When your house is small, don’t be silly by trying to decorate it as though it’s a mansion. Yes, some very opulent pieces are great for balance and interest. But don’t lie to yourself. It’s just sad. Instead, focus on each aspect of your house in a positive way. Cottages are small. Cute little fairy houses are small. And those are awesome. They’re so charming and cute. So we’re going to go with that, in an adult-friendly way of course. We’re going to accentuate what we have in a way that makes it look like we wanted a tiny house the whole time.

Size doesn’t tell you shit about what it looks like though, so I’m going to go off the trail here a little bit and describe it to you. It’s a 1921 bungalow, with a garden for a front yard (yes the whole thing) and a charming back yard which we just discovered has an apple tree. Across the front of the house is a 4-season sun room. The living room is about 16 x 11, the same size we had in the apartment, with a pretty little fireplace with red and blue tile. Next to the living room is the master bedroom, which has french doors opening onto the sun room. Behind the bedroom is the bathroom and second “bedroom” (ie big closet because a bed can’t reasonably fit there), and behind the living room is a tiny formal dining room with built-in china cabinets on either side of the door. Going across the back of the house is an eat-in kitchen, with plenty of floor space but almost no counter space. It’s also yellow, and the appliances are so small I think they were made by Fisher Price. It needs work. But it has cork floors, which is super soft and eco-friendly. The rest of the house minus the bedrooms has the original hardwood floors, and original wood trim.

The house is in such great condition that it feels like walking into a 1921 house back in 1921. It’s solid, perfectly maintained, and original. The previous owners have all respected the house’s history, which is a huge thing for us. They left the lazy susan in the kitchen wall, and even the garage must be from about the 40s. On the day we moved in we found a whole pile of legal papers relating to every owner the house has ever had. It was the coolest thing ever. Other details include that the builders were perfectly aware they were building an over-sized doll house, so the master bedroom has a dresser built right into the wall with an ancient pull-out tie rack(!), and the stairs going to the fully insulated basement have a drawer in them for shoes. This is just genius, I highly recommend it. When we finish the basement one day, we’ll have twice as much space. I’m already jumping for joy over the storage. Nobody likes having useless shit in their face all the time when they live in an apartment. It’s half the reason our Christmas decorations were up half the year. There was simply no other place to put them. This by the way, is greatly remedied by decorating for christmas mardi gras style. It gives you 2 more months to leave that shit up without embarrassment. It’s also way more fun, and an excuse to drink more. I digress.

So that’s the plan, go with what we have in a positive way. We’re going to play up the small, not play it down. Here’s an example I’m particularly proud of. We have piano windows in our house. Another smart move by the builders, because you don’t want to look at your neighbor’s wall, but you still want to let light in. But the rule for curtains has always been that they should reach the floor or they’ll look like flood pants. With piano windows this doesn’t seem to make any sense. And I hate blinds. They bore me. Give me opulent luxurious curtains please. So we found ourselves a little stuck. Big curtains would look silly on our piano windows. Small ones would make it look like a basement. What I remembered then however was that when I was a kid, my mom (who goes on a different crafting kick every few years) would actually paint windows to look like stained glass. She could make real stained glass too, she did it a lot when she was a teenager. But you can actually create the look through special paint. It also peels right off, so it’s non-permanent and if the next owners are boring they can get rid of it in a snap. So here’s what we’re going to do. The bedroom is going to be stained-glass-painted in spider webs. This creates privacy while letting in the light, and is just awesome. It also ads that elegant little touch of “fairy house” without looking like a five year old designed it, and appeals to my gothic sensibilities, which refuse to let go. The larger windows, which we actually do look out of, will have spider webs painted in the corners, with pretty jeweled spiders hanging down, just to tie the whole thing together. I’m super excited for this. I’m a damn genius.

Keep in touch here to see how it all turns out, bit by bit. Then who knows, maybe you’ll see me on Nate Berkus’s “House Proud.”