Monday, January 13, 2014

Living Room Shelves

David and I have been talking about bookshelves for the living room since before we moved into this house.  I knew I had to have them (I like the idea of books having a place in every room in our house) but I wasn't quite sure what I wanted.  I love the look of built-ins (even the faux built-ins that we created at the old house) but with our stained pine trim, I didn't really think white painted built-ins would be a good fit, and with wood trim and wood floors I didn't really want to add a wall of more stained wood.

Then I happened upon this photo on Pinterest (of course) and loved the look of it.

on Pinterest; original from Style Me Pretty Living
I liked that the shelves were asymmetrical and more open than traditional built-ins.  I also like the sort of industrial vibe of the pipes, even though I wasn't sure how that would look in our home.  I showed it to David, not sure what he would think (he usually doesn't like things that are asymmetrical).  But he thought it was really cool.  So I told him I needed to keep thinking about it.

While I was continuing to mull it over, David and my dad started making plans, and it turned out that these bookshelves were a Christmas present for me!  Due to unexpected illness before Christmas and a shortage of supplies, they didn't get put up until after Christmas, but David told me on Christmas morning that we were ready to go with getting them up.

Of course, I had a quiet little moment of panic because I hadn't actually decided for sure that these shelves would look right in our living room and maybe we should just buy a couple of ready-made bookcases (I still love the look of these from World Market).  But considering this wall of shelves was going to cost a quarter of the price of two bookcases, and they'd already purchased most of the supplies, the decision was pretty much made.

David copied this picture (almost exactly) and followed this very useful tutorial to gather our materials and put up the shelves.

Doesn't everyone's husband look this happy while working around the house?
First, we spray painted all the piping (oil-rubbed bronze) and stained the shelves (dark walnut).
Then David measured where to drill the holes through which we would thread the pipe.  And then it was just a matter of piecing the puzzle together.

Step one--the first shelve leans unsteadily against the wall.
Good thing one of them knows what she's doing.
Almost finished!

Tightening and securing (Obviously I couldn't resist sticking a few things on the shelves immediately)
Like many people with an adventurous toddler, I was a little nervous about how sturdy the shelves would be if Zuzu would get the crazed notion to, say, scale them.  We tried to preempt this by keeping the lowest shelf high enough off the ground that she couldn't get a knee on it--it's about shoulder height for her, so she can reach her things but (hopefully) isn't tempted to climb up there herself.

But I also discovered that the shelves are actually sturdier than many inexpensive bookshelves with adjustable shelving, precisely because once the shelves are put up, they are not adjustable. Although the back of the shelf simply rests on the end of pipe (and isn't screwed into the wall), the pipe in the front locks them into place and they can't tip forward because the hole threaded through the pipe is too small to allow for the shelf to tilt.

The snug fit of the pipe through the shelf.

View from the side.
We attached the ends of the pipe to the wall at the very top of the shelves, and for extra security, we went ahead and drilled the bases into the floor.  (The floor already had a couple of holes in it from what we assume was the previous owner's television--probably before they built on the extension and created a family room in the back.  So while screwing into the hardwood made me a little squeamish, we felt like the safety element was worth it.)  These babies aren't going anywhere.  Even if I decide to climb them.

The foreman approves of Dada's workmanship.
And here's where we ended up!

Still adjusting displays and needing to purchase some book-ends.

Another angle--this picture is already outdated, I've moved so much around, but you get the idea.
And now that they're up, I love them.  They leave the room feeling open, which is exactly what I wanted, and they add interest and storage and personality without competing with the stuff we love about the house itself (the original woodwork and the arched doorways).

The total time required was a day for painting the pipes, a day for staining and sanding the shelves, and a day for drilling the holes and piecing it all together.  Once everything was dry and ready to go, putting the shelves together only took a couple of hours, but it definitely required two sets of hands since the first few layers are pretty unsteady until the shelving really takes shape and then gets fastened down.  Still, if you have the drill and the manpower, it's not a difficult project (especially if you keep your measurements easy--we made the shelves 8' wide so we could buy pre-cut boards and spaced our shelves so that the pipes were standard lengths as well).

I'm still trying to figure out the "styling"--mostly trying to pare down my favorite books and tell myself it's okay not to have all of them in the living room (especially those sporting the neon orange "USED" sticker from the campus bookstore).  I have a tendency to add too much so I'm really trying to leave some open space and let the shelves breathe, while still displaying all (or some of) my pretty and sentimental things.

Related:  I totally want to start collecting the cute hardback edition of the Penguin classics that I love--at roughly $20 a pop they add up fast, but I'm thinking I could use them as a special treat/reward now and again (and put them on my wish list for holidays...) to amass a little collection of them.  Alas, they are not an "essential expense" so they are off the list for the next 21 days!  (Financial fast began today.)

So that's our latest home improvement.  We have a couple more projects on the horizon that we are outsourcing--I'll be posting about those soon!


  1. I was already impressed when I saw these on Instagram and now I'm 20 times more impressed when I realize that they actually had to put these together themselves. I mean I knew that you had to assemble them, but I thought that you ordered all the wood and the piping ready to go, like they were shelves you buy as a set. Way to go Ducks. It looks incredible.

  2. As u know I think they look amazing! So impressed! And I finally bought a bookcase that was delivered today! Can't wait to show u a pic when I have it fixed (hopefully this wknd)

  3. I am beyond ridiculously impressed and jealous of these!!

  4. Also impressed. Also jealous. They look incredible and I knew they would in your house!

  5. Those are amazing. I love them!! If only I owned this house.... They might be the first thing I've seen that both my husband and I would like to have in a room.

  6. I absolutely love this. I basically echo everything Caroline said above - I really liked them on Instagram but am blown away knowing you all made them (not from a kit) and seeing the shelves from the different angles, and between the two arches, it makes it even cooler. I am deeply jealous that we don't have an open wall in our house for something like this!

  7. I love everything about this! What an awesome Christmas surprise! I need to look through my books, I think all of my penguin classics are just the paperback ones but if I find any of the hardcover ones you can definitely have them. I really need to get rid of a lot of my books.

  8. I love those! They look fantastic!

  9. Oh wow! Love! (Peaking over from thirtstoryies)

  10. Those look ridiculously good. And omg to all that Caroline said. You literally MADE THESE! That's crazy. I love them.

  11. I really like these shelves! I was trying to figure out how you made them (did you buy a kit, make them yourselves ..) so I'm glad you wrote a post on it. Now I have to remind myself I don't need more bookshelves.

  12. Those shelves look great! Yay for husbands and their willingness to build things unprompted!!