Built-in bookshelves, with their architectural weight, scale and guts, are the ultimate luxury.

February 5, 2018

They can give a room the dimensions it doesn’t actually have. However, they can often be wickedly expensive to build. (And then there’s the matter of deciding where they should go… how to detail them, what height, and so on…) So why not hack built-ins instead? A few design tricks can turn simple floating shelves or chainstore bookcases into grand furniture suitable for the best collections. Plus, if you have to move, you can dismantle them in a snap. Here are some of our favorite ideas:

Add moulding to a simple bookcase

Leading designers often upgrade IKEA’s Billy bookshelves with a decorative base skirting and crown mouldings to give the furniture’s basic profile instant gravitas. It’s a simple trick that works wonders.

Build shelves around a pre-existing architectural detail

Some rooms include a window or doorway in the middle of the wall where you’d like to have storage. Use it to your advantage and construct shelves that go up and around the feature – framing it.

Install picture lighting above your bookcase

Picture lights atop bookshelves instantly make you think of grand old libraries. Use them to give simple furniture a sense of importance, confidence and elegance.

Pair shelves with a bigger piece

Have an empty nook that you’re unsure how to use? Introduce a floating console and top it with a few minimalist floating shelves. Wedged between two walls, the shelves will have the appearance of inevitability – as though it is impossible to imagine anything else in the space.

Match the shelves’ finish to the walls

Use the same colours as walls for shelves to create a sense of flow and make everything look as though it’s been custom built. You can use cheap floor-to-ceiling shelving such as the world’s most popular bookshelf, Ikea’s Expedit – loved for it’s practical square shelves. Then match the shelves’ finish to the walls and that old dead space become the room’s star turn.

Photo by Simon Upton.

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