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.

And this?

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).

bookcases into built-ins

And then?

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.


And yet?


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?

bookcase into a built in after


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.

bookcase into a built in

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.

bookcases into built-ins project

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.

bookcases into built-ins

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.

shiplap and bookcases into built-ins

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.

And now?

I’m so full of joy that I got to give it a little happiness right back.

bookcases into built-ins




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  1. Image for Marlene Stephenson Marlene Stephenson

    You and your husband did a great job, they really look nice. So many memories and added love in this house.

  2. Image for Richella Parham Richella Parham

    KariAnne, this is very clever and so well done. . . but best of all is your contagious joy in making this special space just right for this new chapter of your life. Way to go, girl! And thanks for the step-by-step. :)

  3. Image for Teddee Grace Teddee Grace

    These look great! Looks like a lot of work, though. And that second photo? The one with all the decorating going on? And the yellow? My favorite! Give me my eye candy!

  4. Image for Elizabeth sandoval Elizabeth sandoval

    I just love the built ins ! I wonder if you would share the brand and shade of your white paint? I’m going to paint my whole house white and need some help paring down my choices , thank you! Elizabeth

    1. Image for Rita Christensen Rita Christensen

      I found your information yesterday when I received an email from Sherwin Williams. You presented a lot of projects similar to my own. Before I tackle the concrete patio with the useful info I gleaned from your site, I want to paint the interior of the house the same white as you have used in your home. It is soooo pretty! Also, can you tell me the best way to paint the walls at a stippled ceiling to keep the line between the wall (gray) and the ceiling (white) straight? I appreciate your help and look forward to hearing from you.

  5. Image for Lynn W Lynn W

    Looks like a nice spot to read a book :). The bookcases look like they’ve always been there 👍. Excellent tutorial!

  6. Image for Shelia P Shelia P

    Hi Karianne! The bookcases turned out beautifully! I may have to use your idea in my living room! I really need some shelves to decorate. Hope you’re having a great summer! 😊

  7. Image for Jenn Jenn

    We did this in our home too! It made such a difference, we did a wall with bookshelves we got from an old Border's Bookstore closing. The molding makes all the difference! Look at you with the step-by-step and pictures to document once again! You are amazing;)

  8. Image for Michele M. Michele M.

    LOVE this project! And I absolutely ADORE that little room - it would be my favorite place too - just lounge around and read there all day and night if I had the time! Well done - you are so danged clever.

  9. Image for PJ PJ

    What a lovely space, KariAnne! I would love to curl up on that sofa with a good book and a cup of tea. Have an amazing day!

  10. Image for Sue Sue

    I think you must have ESP. I have two tall, plain, brown book cases that I have moved all over my house, but they always seemed awkward and didn't look right anywhere. Yesterday I was actually thinking of taking them out to the curb! Then comes Karianne with an amazing idea. I have an empty "landing" at the top of my stairs. with white walls and a window. The bookcases are going to go live there, painted white with some molding added, ASAP. Then I can decorate more with my blue and white accessories, books and my ivy wire hanger topiary, lol. Thank you, thank you!!!

  11. Image for Linda andry Linda andry

    Love the look but especially an interested in where you got your white & chrome side chair, appears to be a Barcelona chair of similar style. Exactly what I've been looking for, would you share your source on this piece pkease?

  12. Image for Becky Becky

    SO pretty! We have SO MANY bookcases... (all full of books, fancy that! 😁), you've got me thinking... I mean, why not do some building-in?!? It's such a "clean" look... and "clean" I can use more of! 😊

  13. Image for Susan Susan

    Amazing as usual! Your design savvy and Denton's building expertise rocked it! I love it and wish I had a sitting room like yours! Enjoy it! Susan

  14. Image for Pamela Pamela

    Girl! You did it again! You have solved another problem that I had! This one has to do with the bookshelves that I got from the restore six years ago!!! You know, it's one of those things that looks alright, and people say it looks attractive, but you know, it's just not right. I have two shelving units on each side of our fireplace in the original dark wood but have been debating on whether or not to paint them and the fire place, put wall paper or wood behind the shelving, or to create a middle bridge unit that is higher than the sides. Because of THIS article I now know how to solve my problem in the living room. THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!!!!

  15. Image for Gretchen Gretchen

    These are wonderful. I have an alcove at the top is my stairs where I am doing a similar installation. For the past ten years my husband has used the alcove for his piano, but now it is my turn to have it and I’m turning it into a reading nook with bookcases along each side. Thanks for sharing your DIY

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