The Best Place for a Built-in Display Shelf

Switching up the Layout in Each Room

By Erik J. Martin.

People may be reading less nowadays, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need shelf space for books, decor, knickknacks, and other accessories they like to store and display. And that’s where a custom built-in bookcase or open cabinet can help: It can serve the practical purpose of organizing and exhibiting your hardcover and softcovers tomes, adornments, collectibles, and curios – plus it provides a handsome focal point for any room.

Bookcases are used for a lot more than just books these days. They provide space to showcase your most treasured collections of things. They also function as another form of decorative woodwork, like crown molding or wainscoting. Nice woodwork is a sign of a well-built home, and a decorative wooden bookcase can increase your home’s resale value.

A custom bookcase or open-faced cabinet built into or onto a wall has plenty of advantages over freestanding shelving units.

They can be designed to complement any decor or architectural style and size, material, and configuration and can be added to the home exactly where storage is needed – without compromising convenience. Also, they’re durable and secure, unlike flimsy, tip-prone portable shelving, and they can be subtle or statement-making if you desire.

“Built-in” is the operative concept here: It means something lasting and anchored that you can’t remove from the house without creating damage.

Sometimes built-ins are actually recessed within the wall, but oftentimes they stick out from the wall if necessary.

Nearly any room in the house can benefit from a handsome bookcase built from scratch.

In family rooms, homeowners use built-ins to showcase art, treasures picked up during travels, family heirlooms, or fun collections of pottery or sculpture. In kids’ bedrooms, children will often display toys, games, school art projects, and stuffed animals. And basement bookshelves often house more adult-oriented items like glass collections, sports memorabilia, and liquor bottles.

The downside of building a custom bookcase is that it may be difficult to modify it (unless you implement adaptable shelving) or remove it entirely later on.

Before you commit to this project, a bookcase should make sense for the space you intend to place it in. The nice thing about doing a custom build is that you can size it to fit perfectly in your available space versus purchasing something prebuilt online or in a store, which may have inflexible dimensions.

Homeowners are recommended to choose the same wood species they may already have in the room selected for the bookcase. Maintaining a consistent look and proportions contributes to the feeling of an enveloping, intentional design.

Likewise, if you have stained woodwork/trim in the room, it’s best to stain your built-in bookcase the same color and sheen; if your woodwork is painted, choose the same paint hue for your cabinet/bookcase.

Or you can choose to paint the built-in a contrasting color to make it visually pop. For an even more unique look, consider wallpapering the back of the built-in shelves.

Crafting a built-in bookcase won’t be cheap; expect to pay from $500-$1,500 for a DIY project to a few thousand dollars and up if you hire a pro and opt for lots of fine detail.

Since your space will dictate a custom piece, the price can range vastly based on the size and materials you go with. For example, a bookcase or cabinet that takes up an entire wall would be a lot more expensive than one that occupies a small corner – which would be more affordable.