This tutorial for DIY Living Room Built-Ins will help you create your dream built-in bookshelves for your living room or family room space.
Last week I shared our Living Room Built-Ins Reveal, the design plan, quoted cost by carpenters, and how it ultimately led us to a decision to build them ourselves.
And today I am so excited to share with you the whole tutorial of how we built these bookcases for our living room.
If you would like to see a mini video tutorial, I recorded the process so that you can watch it for extra guidance.
This is a pretty long post, so since I already shared all of the fun details (including links to all of the shelf decor) in this reveal post, I figured that today we should probably go ahead and get right into the tutorial!
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*Note: All board measurements are common, NOT actual.
Base cabinet with shaker style doors and hardware
Cabinet Hardware (for cabinet doors)
Cabinet screws (3″ long)
Wood Shims, as needed
Extra Wood Pieces, as needed for anchoring to drywall (see photos below along with step 5 and step 11) these are various dimensions based on your space
Countertop for Base Cabinets (ours were 26″ x 2″ x 50-52″. You can make these like we did or find wood available locally. You can read more about this in step 6.)
1″x16″x8′ Boards, for shelves and shelf frames
1.25″ Screws, for shelves and countertop
Trim (crown molding for top, 1×4″ for the base, and 1×2″ for the face of shelves and sides as needed)
1.75″ Long Trim Nails, also called brad nails
Paintable Dry Wall Putty, as needed.
Trim Paint, semi glossy white.
2.5″ screws or longer for securing shelves to frame and frame to walls.
1. First, measure the space for the built in cabinets.
2. You will want the built in to be slightly less than your available space, especially if it is between two walls, like one of ours was.
Our space was around 50 inches wide, so we made our built-ins 48 inches wide so that the base cabinet had enough room to slide into the space between the two walls.
You can add trim around it later to hide any spaces.
3. Next, order or build your base cabinets.
We ordered two base cabinets online, both of ours are 48″ wide, 34.5″ tall, and 24″ deep.
We chose shaker style doors and a flush toe kick.
We opted for unfinished wood so that we could paint the base cabinets and shelves the same shade of white.
Plus it was significantly cheaper to purchase them unfinished.
4. After your base cabinets have arrived, build and install them according to their instructions.
5. Slide the base cabinets carefully into place and brace them against the walls.
You can do this by placing wood pieces on the drywall and drilling screws through them into the studs (see picture above) before moving your cabinets into place.
This gives you anchor points in order to secure the cabinets to the walls with cabinet screws.
*Also, be sure to shim the cabinet into place to make it level on all three dimensions before screwing into the anchor boards on the walls, both behind and on the side(s) of the cabinet.
6. Once the cabinet is securely screwed into the walls, create the top/countertop for the base cabinets.
To do this we cut 24″x1″ (common) boards to just less than the amount of space between the walls, or if no wall is present, then ~2″ beyond the side of the base cabinet on each side.
To create a thicker top (similar to ours) cut 2 pieces of 24″ by 1″ boards to the space dimensions then screw them together for added strength and thickness.
If you have access to a 26″ by 2″ board this would work better, but to save cost and due to 24″ boards being the largest we could find we used 24″ boards for our cabinet tops.
But we still wanted the counter to overhang the base cabinet.
To make this happen we added a 3″ board to the back to fill in the remaining countertop space (after the 24″ board is installed, along with the 3″ board there is a slight overhanging over the front doors of the cabinet with approximately 0.5-1″ of overhang over the cabinet doors).
7. Make sure the counter is level then drill screws (we used 1.25″ screws for this) up into the countertop through the cabinet from below.
By doing it this way, you won’t have any screw holes to fill in on the top and the holes will be better hidden within the cabinet.
*Again make sure your top is level and that the top sticks out the same distance from both the left and right side of the cabinet. Details like this really make a visual difference once everything is finished.
8. Next, start building the shelves and their frame to sit on the cabinets.
Before getting started we decided that we wanted three shelves on each built-in, so we needed to build 6 shelves total.
Side note: you will also want 2 additional 24″x1″ (common) boards for the top of your frame. If you plan on placing decor on the top of your built-ins you may want to double up the boards like you are for the shelves.
We used 16″ deep shelves, but you could make them 12″ if you want narrower shelves.
Then we cut the shelves to our dimensions and screwed two of the boards together in order to have approximately 1.5″ thick shelves.
To form the frame/sides of the shelves we used just one of the 16″x1″ boards on each side.
We only made one variation to this for the right side of the right built-ins.
Because this built-in didn’t have a wall on the right we added an additional 16″x1″ board for support and overall balance of appearance.
9. Measure the available height you want to make the shelving and divide this by the number of shelves you want for your built-ins.
We had 60″ to work with above the height of the countertop which was at 36″ with the total height being approximately 8.25 ft.
Therefore we created spaces between the shelves at 14″ for the three shelves above the top of the countertop.
I would not recommend any shelving space smaller than this, and if you decided to only do 2 shelves I think it would still look beautiful, especially as there would be additional space between the shelves to display taller decor.
*Make sure you account for the thickness of the shelves themselves when measuring and marking the shelf locations on the frame.
10. Next, form the frame and drill screws into the shelves and frame one at a time and one side at a time.
Be sure to use at least 3 screws that are 2.5-3 inches long when drilling each side of each shelf (so at least 6 screws per shelf).
Also, be sure to sink the heads of these screws into the wood so that any end panel will be flush later on if needed.
To ensure that the shelves would be level we laid out 4 of the 16″x1″ boards and meticulously measured where each shelf should sit.
We then drew a line on the 16″x1″ board where the board would sit, a second line where the top of the shelf would be, and then measured 14 inches up to the next shelf.
We continued this process on four of the 16″x1″ boards so that we would know where to screw in the shelves on each board.
To assemble them I held the shelf in place along the lines and Roger drilled screws through the 16″x1″ board and into the shelf.
You can see a better visual of how we did this by watching this video of us building our living room built-ins.
11. Once the shelves are assembled, screw-in anchor wood pieces, like we did for the bottom cabinets, into the wall studs which you will then use to secure the shelves to the wall as well.
12. Carefully lift the shelves into place with a minimum of 2 people, these are heavy!
13. Next, screw the shelf frame into the wall on the inside of the frame and make sure to sink the screw heads into the wood.
If needed you can make a small pilot hole, slightly larger than the screw head but very shallow ~0.25″, into the surface before drilling the screw into place.
That way once the shelves are done and the screw holes are caulked/puttied the screws won’t be visible.
*Again make sure the frame with the shelves are as level as possible at all 3 dimensions before screwing them in place.
*Also, be sure to drill screws up through the base cabinet/wood counter into the frame to add extra security.
14. Next, trim out the cabinets.
Cut the crown molding to the correct dimensions of the top of your shelf frame and install them with a finish nail gun.
This is usually used with an air compressor, we used 1.75 inch trim nails.
We used squared trim pieces (4″x1″ tall pieces), cut to length, around the base of the cabinets.
We also used 2″x1″ trim pieces on the sides of the framed shelves to hide the seams/small gap.
Simply cut small trim pieces to fill any gaps around or on the sides of your built-ins for any gap larger than 0.25″.
The smaller holes or gaps can be caulked later on.
Note: You can also add additional wood shim pieces as needed for stability in small gaps or to address discrepancies in floor height or drywall variances.
15. Sand any sharp or rough edges.
16. Now for the extensive caulking and putting.
Pretty much just fill all gaps, spaces, and holes (from wood defects to screw holes) and make sure the surface is smooth.
Sand as needed.
Then dust everything off before painting.
17. Paint the shelves themselves with a good primer (I used this one) since they will get more use and wear than other areas of the built-ins.
Then paint the entire built-in as one unit with a semi-glossy trim paint.
Paint a second coat as needed allowing for plenty of drying time between paint coats.
I took the doors off of the cabinets and painted them separately.
18. Measure and drill small handle holes and install handles in the base cabinet doors.
19. Once everything has dried thoroughly (I waited a few days), decorate and enjoy your hard work!
I hope this DIY tutorial helps you as you update and decorate your home!
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Where do you plan to build your built-ins in your home?
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With love, Giusti
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.
1 John 3:16