Built-ins: A Commonly Overlooked Design Option
In the words of Robert Frost, "Something there is that doesn't love a wall..." — which may help to explain the popularity of built-ins. Don't like that wall? Cover it with a bookcase.
Books, in my opinion, are the ultimate wall treatment. An expanse of book spines are like natural wood floors — they go well with any color scheme, enriching any room. My house has bookcases in every room except the bathrooms. Even our kitchen has a bookcase — for cookbooks, of course, but also a handy space for a dictionary. The dictionary we often used as the kids were growing up to answer questions or settle arguments over dinner; it's a 1971 American Heritage Dictionary that I got from my grandparents as I headed off to high school.
As my house suggests, we can put a bookcase just about anywhere. A 1949 survey of a college library showed that 85% of all books will fit on an 8" deep shelf (the same survey indicated that only 10% of books require a shelf as deep as 10", and just 5% require a 12" or deeper shelf). A much less comprehensive survey (of my own collection, so the statistic may be skewed by the disproportionate number of Edgar Rice Burroughs paperbacks) indicates that about 50% of all books fit on a 6" deep shelf. You can fit a 6" deep shelf just about anywhere without intruding too much into valuable floor space and still accommodate a significant part of your library. A deeper shelf can often be installed out of the way—like over a doorway—to hold the outliers (like the "Historical Atlas of Massachusetts" which comes in at a whopping 16" deep).
If you really truly can't spare even 6" for a bookcase, consider painting faux book backs on a wall, to get the character of a bookcase without taking up the real estate. Faux painted book backs give you an opportunity to be particularly creative: Charles Dickens, for instance, had faux bookshelves installed in his study at Gads Hill Place, with fake book backs that included titles such as the series "The Wisdom of Our Ancestors," in seven volumes: I Ignorance, II Superstition, III The Block, IV The Stake, V The Rack, VI Dirt, and VII Disease. Next to this series was a very thin bookback entitled "The Virtues of Our Ancestors." Aldous Huxley, it is said, had fake book backs in his library with these titles: "Biography of Men Who Were Born Great"; "Biography of Men Who Achieved Greatness"; "Biography of Men Who Had Greatness Thrust Upon Them"; and "Biography of Men Who Were Never Great at All."
Some technical details to think about when you think about built-in bookcases:
Vertical divider details
Paint or natural finish?
Lastly, keep in mind the design of your home. Your new bookcase should look as if it was built with the original house. Planning and attention to details even as simple as the design of the surrounding trim is key to creating beautiful built-in casework for your home.
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