Specialty Spotlight: Built-In Bookshelves

by James Florence


Built-in bookshelves are a bold design choice that can be both beautiful and functional. Photo: Closet Factory ©2021

Whether it’s for work, for school or for socializing, the video call is a communication tool that’s here to stay. Over the last year, these calls have given us glimpses into each other’s homes, and one trend that has consequently developed is the presence of a well-curated bookshelf in the background. Celebrities, political leaders, and regular folks alike are using their bookshelves to display meaningful objects and titles. Built-in bookshelves are not only functional and attractive, they can also be a site for self-expression. If your video chats have you thinking about installing a built-in bookshelf, here are some things to consider before you get started.

What makes built-in bookshelves different?

Built-in bookshelves are installed directly into the walls of your home, making them a permanent feature. Unlike modular or prefabricated shelving, built-in bookshelves are created specifically for your home. They can be designed to make the most of the particular space constraints of a room and work harmoniously with the home’s characteristics, such as its color scheme or the direction of natural light. When they’re done correctly, bookshelves can even increase your property’s value.  

Who can build my bookshelves?

Built-in bookshelves can be a DIY project for someone with strong woodworking skills, but if you don’t feel comfortable using a miter saw, you’ll want to hire a professional. While a qualified contractor or handyman can install custom bookshelves, your best bet might be to work with a closet organization specialist. These companies specialize in optimizing storage space and use software programs to design units that fit your needs and design sensibility. A closet organization specialist has the experience to find ways to add functionality to the units (such as drawers or lighting) and finish them off with decorative touches (such as crown molding). 

Homeowners should be aware that built-in bookshelves are a bold design choice. Simply by virtue of their size, the bookshelves will become a focal point of the room. For this reason, it’s important to approach the design carefully and work with an experienced professional. 

Where can I put built-in bookshelves?

Built-in bookshelves can add beauty and functionality to many areas of your home. While we typically associate them with the home office, they can also be found surrounding the fireplace in the family room or displaying heirlooms in the dining room. Another popular option is to design bookshelves to accommodate a flat screen television, which creates a unique entertainment center. Some homeowners install custom shelving in their laundry rooms, pantries or mud rooms to reduce clutter and improve organization. 

Bookshelf design considerations

Function: Think about how you plan to use the bookshelves. Will they be used for display, storage or a combination of both? Consider whether you’ll be frequently accessing the items on the shelves and need to have them within easy reach. 

Visibility: Bookshelves are perfect for displaying objects that are personally important or add decorative flair. If you plan to display larger objects such as vases or sculptures, make sure the new shelves can accommodate the pieces. You may also wish to integrate lighting into your bookshelves to highlight a particular display item or just help brighten the room. Alternatively, if the primary function of the bookshelves is storage, you may want to keep certain items out of view. Consider installing drawers with internal organizing compartments to make the most of the space.

Decor: Bookshelves make a statement on their own, but they look best when they’re integrated with the aesthetic of the rest of the house. Choose materials and wood stains that are the same as (or blend well with) the room’s current decor. Use similar handles and finishes found elsewhere in your home. If the room already has crown molding, it’s best to continue it around the bookshelves.

Future changes: Your family’s needs will change over time, so try to integrate some flexibility into your bookshelf design. One option is to install adjustable shelving—you can change the height to accommodate books, trophies, works of art or whatever you currently desire. Your design tastes may also change in the future. Thankfully, it’s relatively easy to incorporate built-in bookshelves into redecoration plans. You can repaint the surfaces, add a new backing or change the finishes of the bookshelves when you make an update.

Timeline for custom bookshelves

Because built-in bookshelves are custom-made for your home, the design and installation will take longer than purchasing prefabricated shelving. Once you finalize your design with your contractor, it’ll take about a month to fabricate and deliver the materials. Installation takes one or two days, depending on the scope of your project. 

Built-in bookshelves are an easy way to add sophistication and functionality to many different areas of your home. As a permanent feature, it’s important to have a bookshelf design that allows for future changes, and it’s equally important to work with an experienced builder. Find a top rated contractor, handyman or closet organization specialist in your area if you’re considering adding built-in bookshelves to your home.

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