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Custom Bookcases

Book case

Custom Raised Panel Bookcase

Adding custom bookcases to a room can be part of the original room construction finish carpentry plan or done later as a remodel or add on.  Not only do custom bookcases look great and add a focal point to a room they can also optimize your space.

Custom Bookcase Design

Many folks come up with their bookcase ideas from pictures in magazines, websites or they see it at someone’s  home.  Once the idea is born it is best to make a drawing to picture how the new bookcase will fit and look in the room.

When designing your custom bookcases you want to be sure that your project will meet both your functional needs as well as your stylistic requirements, looking to fulfill that perfect look, feel and function for your home.

Bookcase Function

Ask yourself how you plan to use your new bookcases.

Bookcase Style

Many times people want the bookcase to look as if it was “always there.”  To do this you need to look at and incorporate the style and trim details currently in the home or make the room fit the bookcase by adding style and trim / crown molding to it.

Many times the decision to utilize raised panels in cabinet doors or bookcase raised, side panels comes from the desire to match existing door raised panels or wainscoting in the home.

Bookcase Layout

In addition to location of your custom bookcases you will want to determine the number and width of shelves.  Here are some details to consider:

Bookcase Details

This is where you consider the details that create your bookcase style.  Considerations should be given to creating new or matching existing trim moldings, column styles, crown molding,  shelf nosing size/ style, door styles, carvings, lighting, and hardware.

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Choosing Materials

Choosing the materials and hardware for your custom bookcases will depend on your finished look.

Stain grade bookcases require mostly natural wood and matching, specialized plywood to look proper.  Paint grade cabinets can be done with birch or maple plywood and pine or poplar face frames or doors.

Constructing The Bookcases

Mostly everything can be built modular and in the shop.  Cabinets, counters and bookcases can be pre-built and then assembled and fastened together on site.  This allows for less disruption in the home and a better quality product since shop tools and precision can be utilized.

We make our bookcase carcase frames with a tongue and dado construction for strength.   Anywhere that there is an exposed edge receives a poplar edging [face frame or baseboard]  or as in the case of the shelves a nosing.

For the door frames we use a cope and stick frame construction and 3/8 inch thick flat panels or 3/4-inch thick raised panels. [floating panel construction]

Face Frame Construction

Face frames are attached to the bookcase carcase with hidden screws and glue and provide strength and rigidity to the bookcase.

For paint grade bookcases face nails can be utilized and filled.  Stain grade however is a different animal and it is best to use hidden screws or “pocket screws.”   Hidden screws are exceptionally strong and leave no trace.

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Most custom bookcases have adjustable shelves but it is not a hard and fast a rule.  Adjustable shelving gives the user more storage and display options.  Fixed shelves give a bookcase more strength.


I prefer to evenly space the shelves approximately 12-inched apart.   We use shelf pins on our shelves and then drill an additional hole an inch up and down for a total of three pin holes.  This gives each shelf and inch up and down in height adjustment.    Installing the shelves this way ensures that I do not have a slew or shelf pin holes visible which I feel detracts from the aesthetics of the bookcase.

Shelf Deflection

When thinking about shelf width keep in mind shelf sagging or deflection.  Shelf sagging is measured in deflection, or the maximum distance in which the middle of the shelf bends as a result of weight [books] placed on the shelf.

The longer the shelf the more it will deflect, the shorter the shelf the stiffer it will be. Deflection of 1/4″ or less is a good goal when designing shelving.

The fronts of the bookcase shelves are typically reinforced with ¾” thick solid wood that can be milled with a profile or left square for a beefier look.  Nosing can add a nice accent to the bookshelf edge.

Wider bookshelves  or shelves that will receive a heavier load should have a wider nosing for additional support.   Hardwood shelf nosing applied to shelves can help resist and prevent deflection.

Another solution for longer shelves or in this case a window seat is to consider using torsion box technology.


Bookcases typically mount to wall studs  in the back and other locations where screws can be installed and hidden.  Depending on the height of your bookcase it may be mounted to the floor and wall only or connected to the ceiling by crown molding.

On permanently installed units the room baseboard molding is incorporated around the bookcases.   The room crown molding [if applicable] also wraps abound the custom bookcase and continues throughout the room.

What To Do About Exiting Carpeting?

Existing carpeting in a room can be handles in a few ways:

  1. The carpet can be cut to the profile of the new bookcase which would be installed on the sub-floor.  Re-streching of the carpet and new tack strips would be required.
  2. Alternatively slots can be cut in the carpet and then strips installed to the sub-floor.  These strips are then used to mount the cabinet to.
  3. Lastly, the bookcase can sit directly on the carpet.  this is usually a good option when the bookcase is more like a piece of furniture and not connected to the ceiling with crown molding.

In all three cases I prefer to fasten the bookcase top and back panel to a wall stud to prevent tip over / crush hazard from small children climbing the shelves.

Photos:  this pair of custom bookcases flank an opening from a living room into a kitchen.   They were installed inside a condo. Their height was pre-determined by building codes. Fire suppression sprinklers are located in the sofit above.


Fireplace Mantles and Bookcases – design

Custom Bookcase with window seats and recessed floor radiators


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