Constructing Built-In Shelves in Matt’s Office


Matt’s office was the first room I knew exactly how I wanted to design. It’s a space he shares with our second guest bed and it has a lot of potential to function more effectively. Believe it or not, built-in shelves weren’t the jumping off point either!

After building a custom bed frame for our primary bedroom I immediately began concepting a pull out day bed in my head as a way to open up more space in his office while the bed is not in use. To maximize the space further I thought it would be cool to build a full wall of bookshelves for all of his books and tchotchkes along a wall that is otherwise an odd, sort of, dead space. That would allow us to remove the free standing bookshelf that’s currently in the room and use that corner for something else, like a big, comfy chair.

Naturally this design in my head escalated to a Ralph Lauren-inspired, library-esque, sophisticated man cave that would also transition into a cozy guest room when needed. So, I whipped together a quick moodboard to visualize how this might come together.

The only challenge, of course, was that the wall I wanted to build built-ins on collided with the low angled ceiling. That wasn’t going to stop me, though. I began with sketching up a layout to figure out how many shelves I could fit, where the shelves would fall and how the shelves would wrap around the top of the closet door.

I took that sketch and applied it to scale on the wall using painters tape so I could get a more accurate feel of the size and spacing. I’m a visual person, so this really helps me understand how a build is going to work in the space and whether or not I should consider making any adjustments to avoid things like outlets or vents (which, I admittedly screwed up on and ended up having to pivot mid-build – I’ll share that later!) Someday, I’ll teach myself how to model in SketchUp, but for now this method works great.

With the scale and placement of everything solidified, the build began! First up was building cabinet bases to raise the height of the shelves to match the height of the existing baseboards. This would help make the shelves feel more integrated.

Next up was building the shelf boxes as individual units, then screwing in the shelves with pocket holes. I won’t bore you with the math of it all, but I will admit that the shelf that floats above the door and hit the angled ceiling took us ages to figure out. Something about the angles, imperfect walls and ceilings, and the fact that it was floating really stumped us. With lots of trial and error we managed to figure it out and I’m pretty sure Matt could do a pull up on it (but I’m not willing to test that theory, so you’ll just have to take my word!)

The last step before paint was adding face frame and baseboard, and I gotta say, this is where it really starts to come together. We used 1×2 pine as face frame, ¾” scrap birch plywood as baseboard (routed by Matt to match our existing baseboard profile) and cove molding to cover the gaps created by our wonky walls and ceilings (sadly, nothing is straight in this house, or any house for that matter!)

Now, for the fun part – drenching this room in color!


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