Have a space in your house that needs a built-in? Here’s a step-by step to build this easy project to turn bookcases into built-ins.
This is one of my favorite places in the house.
It’s the middle room at the top of the stairs. It’s between two bedrooms and it’s kind of a catch-all room. There are doors on three sides leading to other spaces and I think it used to be used as an upstairs study.
But this space?
This is where I first brought the twins home from the hospital.
They were premature and born at 29 weeks and 2 days and they needed constant care. You can read their story here and here. We carried them upstairs in two tiny carriers and for two months I barely left this room and the room attached to it. I’d feed one and get her ready and then her sister would need to be fed and then her sister would need to be held and on and on and on.
I loved those days.
I wouldn’t change a single minute of that bonding time that I had with the twins.
But today? Today is all about the bookcases in this room. Here’s the before.
This is how we turned bookcases into built-ins.
The started life as plain, ordinary wood bookcases that my mother stained brown. They sat in that upstairs room for years and then when I moved to Kentucky, my mother gave them to me for my new home.
I painted them white.
And added molding to the top (you can see how we did that here).
This is a picture from 2012 of the bookcases in the front room at the farmhouse.
(total aside: that is a LOT OF DECORATING going on in this picture).
When we moved back into the house, I brought the bookcases home and put them right back in the same place.
The room has the original shiplap from 1908 when the house was built. We took off the back of the bookcases to let the shiplap shine through, but just between us? They always looked a little awkward.
The molding didn’t really fit.
It kind of bumped into the other molding.
And there were gaps behind the wall and the bookcases were SO CLOSE TO LOOKING CUTE.
So I came up with the idea of building them in. I wanted them to fit. I wanted them to feel like they had always been there.
Want to see what they look like now?
CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?
Doesn’t it look like it’s always been there?
And the best part?
The room isn’t even really decorated yet. I have big plans for the rest of the space, but I was so excited about how these turned out that I couldn’t wait another day to share.
Here’s how to turn bookcases into built-ins.
How to turn bookcases into built-ins
1. Start by removing the existing moldings
You cannot skip this step.
In order for the bookcase to look built-in, you have to take off the moldings on the walls around it for it to be flush with the wall.
Here, we removed the small crown at the top of the ceiling and the quarter round from around the base of the floor.
We also removed the crown molding from the top of the bookcase (and saved it for later to add it back on the very top of the bookcase).
2. Build a frame to extend the bookcase to the ceiling
This was probably the most challenging thing to figure out about the project.
If you just built the frame all the way to the ceiling, then the crown molding would hang down in front of it and there would be a gap behind it.
Instead, we added a square box to the top of the existing bookcase. It was the exact width of the bookcase and four inches shorter than the ceiling.
We nailed the pieces to the top.
3. Reattach crown molding
Next, we attached the crown molding to the top of the box so that it looked like the bookcase was now built-in.
There were some slight gaps, but we fixed that with caulk.
You can see at the top of the picture where we removed the molding from the top of the ceiling so we could attach the crown, creating the look of a built-in.
4. Add molding piece to side
We didn’t want any gaps to show, so we added a piece of molding that runs the length of the bookcase.
You can see it here on the right-hand side of the bookcase in this picture.
We just used molding that we had on hand that fit snugly in the gap.
5. Attach molding to hide the gap
We also added a flat piece of molding to hide the gap between the existing bookcase and the new top that we built.
The piece of molding was simply cut flush to the front of the bookcases.
Look at the difference in the shelves, too. We cut pieces of 1″x 2″ board to go in the front of the shelves to make them look more substantial like we did on this project.
5. Reattach the room molding
Here you can see where we reattached the ceiling molding.
The base molding was also added to the base of the bookcase.
This helps create the impression that the built-ins have always been here.
Here’s a close-up view of the finished shelves before I styled them.
Here’s the shiplap behind the shelves and on the wall.
Here’s the room after the bookcases, before I decorated it.
I know it’s such a simple thing.
But this was a room that has always made me happy.
I’m so full of joy that I got to give it a little happiness right back.
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