In a prior post I shared my love of books and how to use them in your décor. Today I’d like to tell you about my favorite do-it-yourself project: faux bookshelves. Why would anyone want or need faux bookshelves? you might ask. It’s a good question, and my answer is they work well to decorate a tight space … like a stairwell, especially if it’s not open on one side. That was my problem in a prior home. I tried to put up artwork, but the stairwell was too large and too closed in. I’ve seen many collages of smaller pictures, but I’m not a fan. They have to be so exact in spacing and shape to look good and that’s not easy to do, especially if it’s difficult to get to like a stairwell can be.
My idea was to create three large bookshelves along the largest wall. Logic told us we’d have to inset them into the wall so they wouldn’t protrude into the tight, narrow space but we didn’t want to cut into the drywall (wiring considerations). Solution: create faux bookshelves that gives the illusion of real ones.
We started with 1/4” plywood back cut to size; I believe they were 2’ x 4’, but the size can be varied, and as you can see from the photo, we did two horizontally and one vertically. Some fluted molding (about 3 1/2” wide), rosette blocks, and 1”x2”x8’ molding (that’s not actually 1”x2”x8’ but it worked well — I just don’t understand lumber measurements). A little glue, a lot of nails and we had our basic bookshelves. We filled along the edges, sanded, then painted. The wall we were going to hang these on was a dark olive-green. So I painted the edges and inside the shelves back to match the wall (to blend). The fluted molding and blocks were white to match the other trim in the house.
Now for the books; to look good, bookshelves must have books — lots and lots of books. We went to the local library book sale to find hardcover books. There are always outdated legal books to be found, and some of the sets are very nice, leather-like binding with gold lettering. If you wait until the end of the sale, they are very cheap, sometimes even free if you haul them away.
Of course, full books wouldn’t fit on our less than 2” shelving. That’s were a good saw comes in. You wouldn’t think it but books are very hard to cut; even more so than wood. But we managed with an old arm saw my dad had, cutting all the books to fit, varying the depth a little, so they would be just like real books of varying sizes.
It was great fun looking and finding various small things to fit on the shelves. Remember, you don’t just want rows of books — you want to vary it with other objects. But the narrow size did limit what could be put on the shelves. One thing I found that worked nicely was Christmas ornaments. I found one that was an old pair of binoculars that fit perfectly. Three little metal deer in differently colors worked well, too. We already had a whole collection of miniature ducks. I bought little boxes (the cardboard ones you see at craft stores) and cut them in two and painted, stacking them like there was a stack of decorative boxes on the shelf. Little vases with greenery, a narrow metal clock that was broken and an iron cross just behind. There’s no limit, just use your imagination.
Once I had collected everything I’d need, I started gluing the books in, varying the direction and lean of the books. I also left the places where we would need to mount the bookshelf onto the studs open, once on the wall I’d just slid the last books into place to hide the screws. There was no need to glue everything in place, some things just sat on the shelves.
When completed, it really did have the look of a real bookshelf and was the perfect solution for our stairs. This project ended up being one of my favorite things we ever built. Sadly, when we sold the house, we were specifically asked to leave them (it was my intention to take them with me … remember, I left access to the screws to remove). It was a great offer and I was assured we would make more.
I don’t have my faux shelves where I am now, but someday I may just get a whim …