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Friday, April 22, 2011

The Big Bookshelf Project

So...have you noticed that lurking in the back of our photos for quite some time has been a rather large step in our project room makeover? If you're watching Growing Home closely enough to have caught that, I'm honored. If you're wondering why the heck it has taken me two months to get off my duff and post about it, it's because it hasn't been finished. And the truth is, it still isn't finished, but what's left is just a bunch of little details and decorations and we can all wait for that. Which means that without further ado, I present to you our new bookshelves...

I'm going to be completely immodest and go ahead and tell you that I love them, and I won't feel weird about it at all because Jim made them from scratch. He wins so many brownie points that I might still be bragging about them when we turn eighty. Aren't you impressed? Clearly, I am. A man who can build you the furniture you want for a fraction of the price is, in my book, hot. And if he's married to someone like me, he's also in for it--everytime Jim does something amazing like this, the wheels in my head start turning. Good thing for him, there isn't much room left to grow in our house.

As I think I've mentioned before, we knew heading into this room redo that the number one facet of the room needed to be storage. We needed a place for the books, photo albums, picture frames, and set-abouts that we've accumulated over nine years of marriage, a place to store the wedding china that had been sitting in my parents' attic for the same length of time, and perhaps most importantly, a place to hide the rapidly accumulating craft supplies needed for all the projects going on on our new tables. At the same time, we did NOT want a piece of furniture so large or so dark that it seemed to take up all the space in the room. A growing family in a small house, we want our home to feel bright and open and cheerful--not cramped. So we decided that simple, clean white bookshelves were the way to go, and I started the research.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, as it turned out), it quickly became obvious that everything we liked was WAY outside our budget. The closest thing to design and height I could find was at Room and Board, but the prices were crazy (or perhaps not for the quality, but certainly for our wallet). Moreover, those pieces weren't white, and we were not going to paint something we had paid an arm and a leg for. So we looked at IKEA. We looked hard, in fact, at that Billy bookcase, and we really tried to convince ourselves that it was the way to go. But it just never felt right. IKEA is fine for the boys' bedrooms--heck, it's fine for most parts of our house--but the biggest piece of furniture in our dining room? We really wanted something that looked a bit more substantial, more intentional, less pre-packaged. And we wanted it to hold up to kid abuse, and lots of weight, and perhaps several years. SO we settled on unfinished furniture, finally found an acceptable vendor and style, and hunkered down to save up about $1800 for the three 96" H bookcases we wanted. And THEN, Jim had his grand idea.

DIY, fully-customized bookshelves. I love this man.

I'm not going to give you a full tutorial on how to make these (I wouldn't have any idea--maybe if you beg, we can convince Jim to do a guest post), but I will tell you that they are constructed from 5-ply plywood with solid poplar trim, and that the lumber and supplies used to create them came to a total of about $250. To save money, he constructed the four cabinet doors from scratch (rather than purchasing pre-cut doors), and although they look fine, we'll probably switch them out for the nicer material in the future so that they look a bit more tailored. Other than that, we wouldn't change a thing.
These pictures, taken in the garage as Jim was working through the January snowstorm, show the plywood skeletons of the bookshelves coming together, post one coat of paint. After that, he attached 1.5 inch poplar trim to the front, screwed them together into one huge piece, and repainted the whole thing (the color is Benajmin Moore's White Dove, OC-17). In my opinion, the trim (which is the part of the shelves that you see in the pic below) is key to making the piece appear solid, heavy, and high quality. 
Once Jim was done with his part, I got to bring in the decorative touches. Or a few of them, just to start:). Because the central bookcase now doubles as my work station, and because the bookcases are open backed, I was firmly convinced that we needed to add some large scale pizazz. Fabric-covered Homasote boards are one of my mom's oldest and easiest decorating tricks, and we loved that using them on the wall inside the desk "nook" would not only provide a punch of fun, but also function. You see, Homasote is made of recycled paper fiber (yes, it's green!) and it is perfect as a bulletin board, in case we ever want to pin something up. Once the fabric was in the nook, it just seemed right to take it all the way up and down. Which is different, and I love the impact. I also love the ikat pattern--it's Braemore's Barcelona in Indigo, purchased here in town at Forsyth Fabrics.
Covering Homasote isn't hard, but it deserves a tutorial, and I promise to provide one soon, as our handmade chalkboard is going to be replaced with a gussied-up version of a bulletin board soon (word to the wise: chalkboard paint is MUCH harder to clean than a normal chalkboard--so much so that I never change the drawings=not worth it).

And so, here's where Project Room Makeover stands. Those big holes in the middle of the left and right-hand bookcases need some art, the window treatments need to be switched out (not to worry, we've got new plans for the bamboo ones), and the chair project is still so daunting that we haven't really discussed it, but it's coming along, and I like it. Especially all that wonderful storage space.
How about you? Any room transformations up your sleeve? Are you a person who takes a year to get something like this done, as we seem to be, or do you do it all at once? I'm curious.
Happy Easter Weekend!
p.s. I almost forgot to mention one other little change--we now have a painted ceiling. I should have advertised this, because I painted it myself, and friends, let me say that the only words I can use to describe ceiling-painting are cuss words. But, after about ten paint swatches, four different samples, and I lot of cricks in the neck, I'm really liking the effect. It's Benjamin Moore's Irish Mint at 75 percent strength (meaning that we lightened it up a bit).
p.p.s. You can usually buy Homasote from your local lumber supply store. Oddly, Home Depot has stopped carrying it. I found it at our intown, old-school lumber store, Randall Brothers.

If you're interested in previous posts about turning our blank dining room into a multi-purpose space, click here, here, here, and here.


  1. I love a good room re-do...clearly :) I'm like you in the gradual nature of things, but eventually I reach the breaking point and it must be finished. It makes Chris a little nervous {justifiably} when I get like this :)

  2. Finally got around to checking blogs and I love all your additions! Congrats on the sponsors! Love the finished room and love your Easter idea - we did something a little similar. Happy Easter weekend!

  3. i am so impressed with Jim! LOVE the bookcases! Oh and tell me where you got those chairs? I love those! Don't tell me Jim carved them :)

  4. Erica, you're cracking me up with this comment. Definitely no chair carving going on around here:). The chairs are hand me downs from my parents and grandparents, who acquired them in the 60s/70s, I think. They were designed by George Nakashima for Knoll, and Knoll has just started reproducing them. You can find the new ones here, but don't look at the price tag! Ours, thankfully, were free:).

  5. Love those-yes definitely out of our budget, however, I am certain with Jim's skills he could reproduce for half the price :). I mean those bookcases are very impressive! I told Jason all about Jim's handy work, maybe he can give jason some lessons. We are moving to CT-jason just got a new job so we will be drastically downsizing and surely redecorating :) I might have to learn some tips on the whole bookcase thing as we surely will not have built-ins in the fixer upper we are bound to end up in!
    Happy Easter! The boys are so cute by the way, I cannot believe how big they have gotten!

  6. What a wonderful post, the book shelf is lovely.

  7. Hi - I just found your blog via Pinterest. Your room and your bookshelves are awesome!

    I'm planning a similar project, so I'm wondering... did you attach the shelves to the wall? If so, how?

    Thanks! Sally

  8. Hi Sally! The three bookshelves are firmly attached to one another, and then attached to the wall at the top corners. Jim actually drilled them into studs at an angle from the top so that the screws would not show. Probably only necessary if you have young kiddos or earthquakes in your area, though--they're very sturdy!