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Friday, 18 December 2009


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Coincidentally, I had this identical problem only a month or two ago. I solved it by returning to IKEA (note for pedants: it's an acronym so should be capitalised) with a tape measure and proceeded to go through their entire range before I settled on one of their 'Expedit' range, which was only just deep enough to house my largest book.

It was probably a lot cheaper than going the custom route but then I bet yours didn't come with barely intelligible instructions, isn't held together with wooden pegs and strangely-shaped pieces of metal and wasn't assembled with much swearing, mashed thumbs or back-tracking due to misreading assembly instructions!

It will probably last an awful lot longer, too!

And may I be the 2096th person to offer you best wishes for Christmas and a happy New Year. ;^)

Ikea has some deeper bookshelves as well, I believe.

Oh, a colleague of mine who also accumulates books (you tend to do it in our profession) actually called Ikea and asked about glass shelves. He was a bit worried when he realized they were bending a bit undere the weight.

They said the glass shelves are spec:ed to be as strong as or stronger than the wooden shelves. In either case the first point of failure is the connection points to the vertical sides, not the shelving itself.

One more problem with books is that they are heavy. As somebody who had to move more than once, I can attest that with lots of personal experience. :) (As a side note, the last time I moved, my then girlfriend suggested I discard the books. Eeeewwwwww.)

When you buy a bookshelf, you have to take that into account. Problem with the commercially available shelving is that it's usually not strong, so the shelves acquire a drooping belly after a while, particularly if they are deep. Putting a support under the middle of the shelf might solve the problem.

Hi Mike,
just to wet your appetite, here is a link to a german company that builds libraries for private houses. www.paschen.de/e2/e232/e233/index_eng.html As you can see from their website everything is possible, and you can order their products here in Austria in every big furniture store without problems. They are not cheap though, definitely not Ikea material :-). Unfortunately as far as I can see from their home page they have no store partners in the US, even though they sell to so "exotic" countries like Russia or Korea. But there must be comparable companies also in the US, or is there really no market for this kind of Products in the US, and one has to go to a carpenter tho have something custom built...


The problem I have with freestanding bookshelves is amount of floor space they take up. In a previous home I did built-in shelves on 3 walls in my den, but all the furniture had to be against the remaining wall. I've switched to the do-it-yourself wall-hanging type starting about 4' from floor. I can now have furniture against all walls.

Not a plug: my entire home is furnished from Ikea, and I have a bookshelf that holds photo books.

I too, own a lot of books. My solution? Make my own bookshelves. I think after the first couple I made, the tools I had purchased were covered by the savings.

Of course that values my time at close to nought, but I do have some satisfaction in the construction.

The real trap is that after I assemble the shelves, and plonk a few books in place to check all is well, they rarely come off again -- so most of my shelves are not stained or painted.

For bookshelves, see Ikea

Can I come over to your house and just read for a while?

Gosh, and one more thing...
There's actually a really neat book on the subject of, well, bookshelves. It's Henry Petroski's The Book on the Bookshelf, a meandering exploration of the physical form of books and the various ways people have come to house and store them, from an engineering and social perspective. Petroski is sort of a curious polymath who has written previous books on the pencil (no, really; it's quite interesting), the toothpick, and design in general. He's sort of like Malcolm Gladwell, only with some humility. Fascinating stuff if you have too much time on your hands.

I share your thoughts on bookshelves in general. I have lots of books on art and artists, coffee-table books on cities, etc., etc.

The need for fitting bookcases has actually turned me into an avid amateur carpenter. I decided to make my own bookcases quite a while back and have continued the craft by making desks, work-spaces and other furnitures... I now really enjoy working in my "shed" designing the various components and making them. It has a similar "zen-ish" feeling to me as back in the days I use to develop and print my own films.

"the last time I moved, my then girlfriend suggested I discard the books"

I can see why she is your then-girlfriend and not your now-girlfriend!!



everything is now predicated on a "bookshelf" being just big enough to hold a Kindle or two. Paper is so 20th century. :)

It could be worse: I have eight 7'x3' teak bookcases filled with LPs, which now live in my (necessarily) air-conditioned garage. It's going on two decades now since I last listened to most of them, but I can't yet bring myself to part with any of them...

"I have eight 7'x3' teak bookcases filled with LPs"

I knew I liked you. [g]


Expedit, from IKEA. I love those suckers - perfect size for books and vinyl LPs!

I'm not sure how long ago, as much as twenty years, maybe more, Larry McMurtry started buying the town of Archer City, near Wichita Falls, Texas to house the book selling business he was moving from Washington D.C. http://www.bookedupac.com/index.html
I spent two days a number of years ago with a friend, wandering from building to building. We had no particular books we were looking for, and if we had I dont know how we would have found them anyway! If was an experience you should treat yourself to sometime.If nothing else it will make you feel VERY ORGANIZED about your own bookshelves

(my house is very dusty, and dust is very hard on books).

I hear the houses they make today are much less dusty! ;-)

When I first glanced at this piece I wondered how Mike got a snap of one of the shelves in my office! Yup, I've the same problem which I've resolved to remedy in 2010. I recently visited the home of a fairly distinguished photo book collector. Despite having countless volumes his home storage was pristinely neat and organized. It shamed me into taking control of my own collection.

I too have the same problem and what I discovered was the best bookcases where at the good office furniture stores. Not the Staples type store, but one that sells real office desks like the ones you find in law offices. They are well build and come in different finish and are fairly priced.

@ Geoff Wittig: ""Unfortunately, that was 15 years ago. Since then, I've managed to fill every last nook & cranny of the copious shelving"

This also happens with sheds. Ten years ago I built a motorcycle shed so I could get all the stuff out of the box room and turn it into a darkroom (see, I'm on topic!) Eight years went by while I had a full box room and a full shed, then I cleared enough stuff out of the room that I could make it into a darkroom.

Now I have a shed that is approaching critical mass; it is nearly at the point where it would be easier to lock the door and walk away, to start again with a new shed.

The Ikea Billy bookcases are good. Sturdy and easy to build. You need to measure your books and then the Billy carefully; Like many companies' flat pack bookcases, the middle shelf is fixed for strength. It is easy to end up with a shelf you can't fit anything into.

Wait for it....
it's coming...
it may already be happening somewhere:

A photographer selling mini-portfolios of their work
embedded in one of those electronic digital frames.....

no more messy book piles or sagging shelves !!

What about the old standby college dorm style shelves? 1x12's and cinder blocks? You could stack those anywhere! My current girlfriend would never put up with them though, so I will have to build real ones. Good project to draw up today - We are being blasted by a blizzard here in Maryland Mike! 20" so far and looking like a White Christmas for sure! Ed

I am using the Ikea Bruder system. It can be configured as required and can handle large loads. You do have to be into the industrial look though.

When I was in college, I discovered a great used bookstore and then found out I wasn't spending any less on books, but I was on the cusp of blowing up my budget on bookshelves. Eventually I settled on bargaining for wood wine crates from wine stores, which are free to cheap, and fit almost anything height-wise. Depth is another story.

I keep meaning to purchase some real bookcases.

People in the Chicago area should check out 57th St Bookcases. They're actually located on the Northside and in Evanston. They'll make you any size you want. And if you're on 57th St, if you go south on Kimbark some into the alley, you might see a carpenter working in a garage full of bookcases. He's friendly, and he'll talk about your needs with you.

I got around the bookshelves problem by buying 'garage shelving' from Kmart. 20" deep and (unlike most 'bookshelves') solid enough to actually hold books without bending. Unfortunately, Kmart seem to have stopped selling these now, but I learned a valuable lesson: It's worth looking at other shelving units instead of just those that describe themselves as bookshelves.

A big problem with my situation is the dusty house. I've never lived in a house with dust before this one, and I don't know where it originates from (I suspect it's from loose insulation in the walls), but open bookshelves are a problem. The nice thing about shelving from unfinished furniture stores is that it can be ordered the way you need it, with solid doors or glass doors, doors just on the bottom, the whole unit the same depth or more depth in the bottom section, on and on. It's not custom-made, exactly, but you can specify it quite well within the given parameters you have to choose from.

At any rate I'll rest easier when I know my best books are protected from the dust. Dust is really bad for books. Some used bookstores that have dust problems hang plastic sheeting over each shelf, tacked to the shelf above it, but even though I'm not picky about decor I can't quite bring myself to do that.


I've been using black, open wire shelving units (35x16x72"), commonly seen in commercial kitchen/pantry/walk-in-cooler environments, in my photography workroom-office. To cover the wire shelves I've cut 8" wide, tongue-and-groove, 1/4" pre-finished flooring to the inside length, and glued two pieces together to fit the 16" depth. Less than $100/finished shelf unit from the big hardware stores. A little reconfiguration gets you a string of 3-foot high shelving to run under windows and display walls.

Two solutions I've come up with:

Custom built (not cheap, but darned nice): http://www.flickr.com/photos/davepolaschek/3259073162/

And then there's Home Depot, which sells metal and wood shelves, 18 or 24 inches deep, by 4 feet wide, by 6 feet high for about 50 bucks. Ugly as sin, but they're designed to hold tools and car-parts, so they're plenty sturdy.

I solved my bookspace problem by buying a Lundia bookcase. Lovely thing it is.
I settled on Lundia because the old student library I used to help run had Lundia bookcases.
It was fairly expensive but worth it.

Swedish Pine with cherry finish, 12' wide by 4' high, 20" deep. In short I love the thing.
And when I run out of shelving I can just buy extra bits to make it larger. I am sure it'll cover the living room one day.
Also it is completely customisable, all the shelves are easily moved without tools. So even my big books fit neatly.

There is only one problem ... price.
Completely worth it, but slightly pricy.
(Mine (with rail, ladder, doors, things) had a list price of 3299 euros)

Mike, you might want to consider a professional micro dust analysis to determine the source of the dust.

I have no idea what this might cost, but you could weigh this against the cost of damaged items and against the cost of dust prevention measures, which are numerous (a quick Google search revealed at least a dozen). Some of these causes may even be bad for your health, not just your books.

I also build my own shelves. You can get a lumber yard to cut the plywood or mdf to size, then it's relatively easy to screw together. You can get as fancy as you want with the trim, or leave it quite simple. The advantage is that you get a shelf exactly the size you want.

Re Dust.

I once noticed a bookcase in a Victorian era print illustrating a solicitor's office. (Probably a scene from Dickens.) What caught my eye was a little curtain, bridging the gap between the top of the row of books and the underside if the shelf above. No more than 2-3" in drop. Designed to keep the dust off the top of the books no doubt. Victorian London was notoriously dusty and dirty what with all the coal fires they burned.

Oh, I now see you were serious. I assumed it a short commentary on housekeeping. I might call an HVAC service and see what is happening in those ducts.

Window and door seals are a source of course and steam clean fabric furniture and carpeting.

My cleaning lady always mentions our dogs as great sources of dust and dirt.

Hope you figure it out.

I've never had a girlfriend who was unfriendly to books. Most of them, in fact, have wanted to write, or are actually writing. The one I married (27 years in a few days now) has published 6 books so far. So I don't get much push-back on books. On the other hand, our book problem is fairly severe.

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