Modern life and design in our historical American Foursquare home

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The built-in bookcase: Cut-out customization

By on September 9, 2013

When we first viewed our house, we were really excited by the big built-in bookcase in the living room. Like the rest of the house, it had great bones and potential, and we had some good ideas about how to customize it to fit our specific needs.

Built-in Bookcase | Rather Square

So after our closing, we quickly got started on the first phase of this project: customizing the construction of the built-in. Here’s what we started with: four standard columns of assorted removable shelving with a set of five drawers on the bottom left.

Living Room Before

Incidentally, this bookcase isn’t original to the house. After moving in, we discovered several clues that there used to be a fireplace in this spot, along with a couple of windows. For instance, there are remnants of bracing in the basement under the built-in that would have supported the weight of a fireplace. We also noticed a filler piece of hardwood in the floor where the edge of a hearth would have been. And then when I was caulking our stucco exterior this summer, I noticed two square shaped cracks where I realized windows had been stuccoed over.

We think this area of the living room probably originally looked something like this.

Built-in Bookcase | Rather Square

Other American Foursquare houses in our area with the same layout still have the fireplace and windows intact. But we actually don’t mind that ours are gone. In addition to being practical and functional, the bookcase is pretty well built (whenever that happened) and it feels like a natural part of the living room. A fireplace would have been nice there too, but we probably wouldn’t have used it much (or at all), so it wouldn’t have served any purpose other than an aesthetic one. And we are form-follows-function people.

We had been wondering where in the living room we could place our flat-screen TV. I was uneasy about mounting to the lath-and-plaster walls. And we did not want to have it on a freestanding piece of furniture, which would visually compete with the built-in and just take up more space. Then I realized there were power outlets in the back of the built-in, and we could actually mount our TV in the center. So I took some measurements and made some sketches of how this could be done.

Built-in Bookcase | Rather Square

The first thing I did was figure out how to cut the center support of the built-in to fit the TV without compromising the integrity of the structure. Luckily the vertical supports are made of strong thick chipboard and are 18 inches deep. Since we have a fairly thin TV (5 inches including the bracket) I did not have to cut the center support all the way through, just make a notch. I made sure to leave a comfortable amount of extra room at the top and bottom to allow for easy installation and adjustment of the TV. I used tape to visualize the cut first, since there would be no turning back once I started cutting with the saw. Luckily, the notch came out perfectly.

Built-In Bookcase | Rather Square

Next, I installed permanent solid white pine shelves that would surround the top and bottom of the TV, with another notch cut to go around the vertical support that I had left in place.

Built-In Bookcase | Rather Square

Built-In Bookcase | Rather Square

Utilizing some old two-by-fours I found in the basement, I installed vertical supports for mounting the TV. Additionally, with about 8 inches of horizontal space behind the TV, I was able to make some small shelves from scrap wood for our internet and WiFi routers, tucking them nicely out of view behind the TV once it was mounted.

Built-in Bookcase | Rather Square

I then added some trim pieces to the front to match the existing trim and finished off the shelves. And with that, the build-out phase of our built-in project was complete!

Living Room Progress | Rather Square

It’s a good start, but we’re not done yet. In the next few weeks we’ll be sharing phases two and three of our built-in project, where we tackled repainting the entire thing. It’s a prominent feature of the living room and we wanted it to look its best, so it required a lot of work on our part to get it there. And we hit a few interesting challenges along the way. More to come!

UPDATE: See how we painted the built-in case and also how we took out the shelves and drawers to paint them as well!

(This post is also on Remodelaholic and Miss Mustard Seed)

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September 9, 2013

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