DIY Built In Bookshelves for the Living Room

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Closeup of our living room bookshelves next to our matching height ruler for the kids.

How to add DIY built in bookshelves for your living room to add storage space and visual appeal. This simple woodworking project is a great DIY project.

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Please read the whole post so you don’t miss any important information!

We built an enormous built-in entertainment center at our old house and when we moved, we knew we wanted to recreate the project at our new home. Now that we have more knowledge, however, we’ve adjusted our build and created something a little more custom. I am sooooo in love with the final results.

To begin, we put in storage cabinets for under the television. These hold items we want out of sight. They were easy to install and cheap, unfinished base cabinets. The counter top is pine wood.

We let the bookshelves part of the project wait as we completed other projects around the home, but finally we had some time to finish up the shelves. I was so excited to start unpacking books that we still had packed away.

Make sure to also check out the recessed bookshelves that we added next to the couch. They’re AWESOME.

DIY Built-In Living Room Bookshelves

Check out my post, Living Room Cabinets, to read about how we installed those. This post focuses exclusively on the bookshelves surrounding and above our TV.

The Supplies & Cost of Built-In Bookshelves

I’m typing this off my receipt here… hopefully it’s helpful information. The numbers don’t pull up on the Home Depot website, but I’m including them “just in case” they’re helpful. I will also try to link the products I find… some products I found, but the prices were different so I didn’t link them. It’s a really nice time saver to order online for in-store pickup.

Total Cost of Bookshelves: $238.40*

*This is the cost of the bookshelves alone, we also had to purchase the cabinets underneath. I had the stain/paint/poly leftover from those.

Process for Building the Bookshelves

Cutting the Wood and Building the Shelves

My husband did the building portion of this project. We take turns on project steps while the other person keeps an eye on the kids. And swap back and forth. While I enjoy the toddler at age 2, I’ll be excited to have time to work with my husband on projects again once he’s a bit older and not so dangerous.

All wood was cut to the desired length and the shelves were built in the garage on a level surface.

To figure out our measurements for wood:

  • Shelf sides: 1x10s cut to the height needed from the countertop to the ceiling.
  • Shelves for the exterior bookshelves: 1x10s cut to the width desired for the bookshelf (which was based on the width of our cabinets underneath the bookshelves)

I could give you our exact measurements, but this isn’t a great idea considering that ceiling heights differ from house to house, and you may have a different setup for your cabinets. You REALLY want to measure this all out for yourself before cutting your wood- measure twice (or ten times), cut once.

Each shelf was installed with pocket holes and a Kreg Jig.

NONE of the trim pieces were cut ahead of time- neither was the wood for the middle shelves. I stained/painted/poly FIRST and we cut trim/middle shelves after installing the two main shelves. As you can see below, this is the pile of items I finished all at once (there’s a few pieces behind the shelves that you can’t see).

Bookshelves made with pine wood, along with all of the trim pieces. Before finishing.

Stain, Dry Brushing Paint, & Poly

Once they were ready to install, I laid out the painting drop cloth, put everything out on the cloth in the garage, and used my Home Right Finish Max Sprayer to stain the shelves and wood. The piece of wood for the long middle shelf needed to be stain on both sides.

Laying out the wood to stain on top of a drop cloth.

I had a bit of a panicky moment when I realized that the stain hadn’t been mixed well originally so the last shelf was much darker. I ended up going back to the store for more stain and redoing the other shelf so they mostly match. One shelf is still a bit darker but it’s hard to tell under the white dry brushing.

Stained bookshelves and trim wood.

I let the stain dry, then dry brushed white paint over the stain. You can read more about that in my post about the cabinets.

The back of my shelves weren’t stained/dry brushed because they’ll be against the wall.

Stained bookshelves dry brushed with white. Trim pieces beside it.

Once the white paint dried, I added one layer of water-based polyurethane. I am trying the water-based out in hopes it’ll be easier cleanup, but to be honest I used a foam brush and tossed it after I was done. I prefer to toss a cheap brush rather than wash chemicals out in my sink/septic.

While several layers might have been better, the finish looked good with one layer and I didn’t feel the extra poly was necessary for this project.

Bookshelves pre-trim being added on top of our cabinets and next to the tv.

Installing the Shelves

Each shelf was attached to the wall using an L bracket. The screw attached to a stud- this is important. He only used one bracket per shelf and it was located above the top shelf where it wouldn’t be seen.

L bracket to hold the bookshelves in place.

The shelves were centered above the two outside lower cabinets.

Installing the Trim to the Shelves

Once the shelves were on, we added the trim.

First we started by cutting 1×6’s with an angled end.

Adding trim pieces to the top of each bookshelf. Two short pieces of wood are cut at an angle then a longer piece fits on top from the front, angles meeting.

These meet up at the front with a longer piece for the top.

Front piece being added over the two side trim pieces.

Adding the Middle Shelf

My husband made the pocket holes for the middle shelves in the garage. He made sure the pocket holes were in different places that the ones on the outer shelves.

A couple of clamps held the shelves in place so my husband could screw them in.

Middle shelf being added to the bookshelves. Two shelves will go over the TV. They're held in place with clamps while my husband screws them in via pocket holes.
Picture of the underneath of the middle shelves. As you can see the pocket holes/screws are in different spots for the outer bookshelves and the middle shelf.

After this, he added trim to the front of the shelves and the sides using our nail gun.

The trim makes a big difference in the finished look to the bookshelves!

Final photo of the built-in bookshelves with trim added. Love the distressed finish.
Close up of the shelf. You can see the trim pieces a bit better here... these's a slight overlap on each edge. This will allow us to place lighting later that is hidden behind those lips.
Built-in entertainment center with bookshelves. Shot is facing the window. There's a matching height ruler for the kids next to it.

If you notice the minor issue, yeah… we should probably fix that. At the inner top of the cabinets, there’s some raw wood showing. But we’re trying to decide if we should just pop some scraps in there or what.

We have some additional trim/moulding pieces that we may add later, but I am not sure I want to fix perfection. I really like how it looks as is. Eventually we’ll also install DIY under cabinet lighting like we did at the last house.

Photo of the bookshelves and cabinets from the front. The finish matches well with the flooring and ceiling fan.

Make sure to check out my tutorial for the matching distressed growth ruler. It’s perfect for the space beside the built-ins!

Please share and pin this post! If you make this project, share it in our Stuff Mama Makes Facebook Group in order to enter to win our monthly giveaway. You can also tag me on Instagram @doityourselfdanielle; I love seeing everything you make!

Another angle of the bookshelves. Love these built-ins. They add so much storage space and character to our living room.
diy built in bookshelves
Yield: 1 Built In

DIY Built In Bookshelves for the Living Room

Add beautiful built in bookshelves to your home with this simple woodworking project.

Materials

  • 1×2 6′ Select Pine Board 6
  • 1×6 6′ Select Pine Board 2
  • 1×2 8′ Select Pine Board 
  • 1×4 6′ Select Pine Board 2
  • 1×10 8′ Select Pine Board 8
  • Stain, Paint
  • Screws
  • Stain / Paint / Polyurethane

Tools

  • Kreg Pocket Hole System

Instructions

  1. Shelf sides: 1x10s cut to the height needed from the countertop to the ceiling.
  2. Shelves for the exterior bookshelves: 1x10s cut to the width desired for the bookshelf.
  3. Install the shelves with pocket holes and a Kreg Jig.
  4. Stain/paint/poly FIRST.
  5. Cut trim/middle shelves after installing the two main shelves. 
  6. Lay out a painting drop cloth and use Paint Sprayer to stain the shelves and wood.
  7. Once the white paint is dry, add one layer of water-based polyurethane.
  8. Attach to the wall using an L bracket.
  9. Center the shelves above the two outside lower cabinets.
  10. Once the shelves are on, add the trim.
  11. Start by cutting 1×6’s with an angled end.
  12. Make the pocket holes for the middle and outer shelves.
  13. Add a couple of clamps to hold the shelves in place so you can screw them in.
  14. Add trim to the front of the shelves and the sides using a nail gun.

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