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Floor-to-Ceiling Bookshelves: 12 Step Guide

How to build floor-to-ceiling bookshelves

Throughout the past seven or eight years, I've moved at least eight times. For someone like me, who values roots and permanence, that's a lot. I've worked really hard to maintain a sense of "home" wherever I go, and a lot of times, that springs from the memories that I've made with the stories I've read or the books I've studied. After two degrees and a lot of imagination, these precious artifacts are bound manifestations of my journey and growth, so I display them proudly. When I move, I don't feel at home until the books are out. Most of the time, I'll unpack them first, even though it's not really practical. Once the books are on the shelves, I can relax and start creating a new home.

Built-in bookshelves DIY

Last fall, we bought our first house. We finally committed to Memphis as the place we called home, at least for this piece of life. So far, we've completed a lot of DIY projects around the house - painted a few rooms, knocked out a wall of outdated spindles and put in a bar-top counter, refinished the kitchen cabinets - all things that we could do ourselves (with the help of a generous and handy friend).

After we finished the last project, I decided I wanted to tackle the lifelong dream: floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. We have an office/music room and a guest room in our house, and I decided to add these to the guest room since it had a bigger window. So, I switched the furniture, found a blog on Pinterest (risky, I know), and started planning with my friend. While my husband was working a non-stop schedule, I figured I'd knock this out. How hard could it be, right?

After a month of construction, working here and there, we finally finished. I posted our progress on Instagram, but when I asked if anyone would read a how-to blog, I received a unanimous "yes." So, here it is, a step-by-step guide to building your own bookshelves.

Step 1: Measure and clear

First, we needed to measure the room to determine what materials we'd need. Our room was 12'x12' from wall to wall (not including the baseboards). We cut those out with an oscillating saw. We wanted to be sure the base we were installing would be flush against the wall.

We also ripped up the carpet in this area so the base would be on the flat foundation. Depending on your floor, this may or may not be necessary.

(Fun fact: houses are not build with exact measurements. Did anyone else know this? I didn't. Our walls are apparently wider at the bottom and more narrow up high. This will make for some fun adventures later on.)

Step 2: All about that base

Building bookshelves

Then, we used a miter saw to cut 2x4" boards to fit the space. We decided to go with 6' boards and add five smaller support beams - two on the ends and three in the middle. We bought six boards total and needed about five. (The other one did come in handy later, though.) We used construction screws and drilled the base directly into the wall. Find a stud, if you can. We couldn't find any, but luckily, our measurements were so close that the boards fit snug and we didn't need to worry too much. Before we secured them to the wall, we drilled the support beams into the back side of the long boards. Then, we positioned it against the wall, drilled it in, and added the front-facing boards. You can fill these drill spots with wood putty at the end if you'd like to hide them.

I will say, it was good to have my friend helping, as I hate measuring and would have probably trusted the logic of a 12' space a little too much. Measuring for each step is super important.

Step 3: Cabinets

Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves

Once we had the base in, we could add the cabinets. I purchased unfinished, 36" cabinets from Lowe's. Four of these would fit great in my perfectly-measured 12' space........

Well, since nothing is square in construction, we had a little trouble getting them to fit at first. We had about 1/8'' too much, when considering the front lip of each set. We considered sanding down some of the edges, but didn't want to compromise the integrity of the cabinets. So, we ended up staggering the cabinets. The first and the third sets sit flush against the back wall, while the second and fourth sets stood out a bit more, but still sit snug against the others. In the end, I barely notice, especially with the countertop, and it actually gives the whole structure a bit of dimension.

Step 4: Countertops

At this point, we were feeling pretty good. We knew that to cover the tops of the cabinets, and to offer a bit more overhang space, we'd need at least 14" of countertop depth. So, we used two 6' 1x12" boards toward the front, and filled in the space in the back with two 6' 1x3" boards. This gave us plenty of space to work with. These, we screwed into the top frames on the cabinets. We had a bit of trouble finding the right size screw to use, so we ended up using some scrap wood underneath the tops of the cabinets to screw into, just so there wouldn't be anything sharp sticking out on the inside.

(Tip: When selecting lumber, try finding the nicer cuts of wood for the highly visible pieces like this. Also, look for knots, bowing, or any cracks.)

Step 5: Frame it up

Built-in bookshelves

After the countertop was installed, it was time to decide on how deep I'd want the actual shelves to be. The blog we were referencing suggested 12", but I decided to go with 10". We needed seven 6' 1x10" boards for the outside frame and vertical structures, and six more for the actual shelves, totaling 13 boards.

We measured each spot from the countertop to the ceiling to be safe and then subtracted the width of the top board (about 3/4"). We cut them all a little bit short, just to be safe, and were able to nudge them all into place tightly.