I’ve heard this nasty rumor going around that there are actually stores into which one can enter, select a piece of furniture, leave with said piece of furniture, maybe perform some light, jaunty assembly work at home, and begin using it immediately. It’s the sort of thing I imagine most intelligent people might take advantage of, or perhaps those with a vested interest in their own happiness.
I never fucking learn though. I convince myself that building projects will be easy and simple, that what I really want isn’t something that IKEA can readily provide, and that there’s no reason for me to shy away from a little DIY. Then I end up covered in plaster dust and ruing the day I ever turned my nose up at a perfectly good BILLY bookcase. This is the short story of my life, perpetually retold here for your edification and enjoyment.
When Max moved in, he didn’t bring that much stuff. This was a good thing, both because I am an evil dictator and because I already have a lot of stuff. But if you are planning to move in with Maxwell Tielman, know this: 1) I will cut you, get your filthy whore-paws off my man. 2) He comes with books, and lots of them.
For a couple weeks, there were basically books EVERYWHERE in the apartment—on two mini folding bookcases Max brought with as temporary measures, the horrible free milk crate monstrosity I cobbled together, and little piles all over the place. It became eminently clear that my little pipe and ply shelves of yore, which served me well in Manhattan, just weren’t going to cut it here. I’m a Brooklynite now; I read stuff.
But I had new things on the mind, anyway—or, rather, things fed to me by the industrious, ever-stylish, and regrettably blog-less Maya, who DIY’d up some amazing wall-to-wall shelves using standard steel L-brackets and nice chunky pieces of lumber at her digs:
Amazing, right? Unfortunately, I don’t have any walls in my apartment that are really ideal for some true wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling shelving, but I figured it could work for a smaller amount of space and still look pretty great. So I did it.
Yes, they’re big. They’re bold. These books ain’t messin’.
There are some downsides to living in a fifth floor walk-up, like wheezing for breath by the time we get to our apartment door. But this also means we’re on the top floor, which means full, unrestricted roof access (you know, until I’m told otherwise. I don’t ask a lot of questions). Which means I finally have a place to build things and not turn our apartment into a total hellhole in the process.
Instead of using thicker pieces of timber, we opted for 1″x12″ pine boards, cut down to about seven foot lengths by the gentle, grumpy hands of Home Depot employees. The brackets are 12″ L-brackets, which I opted to spray paint Rustoleum matte black. After sanding everything down, I stained all the wood with a mix of Minwax’s Walnut and English Chestnut, which is basically the same as my favorite Jacobean stain that I think they stopped making. Boo.
Oh, and a word to the wise: ALWAYS keep your scraps, even if you don’t think you’ll need them. It’s nice to have a few pieces of leftover wood to test out your staining technique on, figure out how long you want to let your stain soak into the wood, etc. etc.
I’m hesitant to even show this picture of how they’re attached to the walls. Those of you who know anything about attaching very heavy things to walls are going to scream in anger about why I didn’t just screw directly into studs, and the answer is embarrassing. I couldn’t find them! I have an electronic stud-sensor, but it’s basically useless for old plaster walls since the plaster is on top of lathe, and the lathe is on top of studs, and this building was built in 1890 and your best guess as to where the studs are is as good as mine. I test-drilled and test-drilled and test-drilled for forever before giving up and just going with Plan B: toggle anchors. These babies are big and strong and require HUGE pilot holes in the walls (barely covered up by the brackets themselves), which I know full well are going to necessitate some exciting repair work for the brave soul who takes these shelves down. Hopefully that person is not me.
Drilling all those big holes is messy, messy, messy. I should really stop using my vacuum as a ShopVac, I think the identity crisis is slowly killing it.
Once all of the brackets were up and the shelves were screwed in (using 1/2″ wood screws), I decided to paint all the screw heads with Rustoleum matte-black enamel, an oil-based paint that matches the spray paint I’d already done on the brackets. I just went along, row-by-row, and touched up all the heads with a little foam brush. Twice. All 128 of them.
Because Max isn’t really one to stain wood or operate power tools or worry about painting screw heads, his major contribution during all of this was to design and print some custom little bookplates to go inside all of our books. You can read way more about that over on his blog, but I think they turned out to be the super-cutest pragmatic insurance policy ever. This way, if his eye lingers, I will know exactly which of these many books to bring to the roof, set aflame, and piss all over the ashes. No, I don’t repeat these threats several times a day, how dare you?!
Back to the books. So many books. The shelves are spaced so the bottom shelf is nicely size for larger-format texts (like design books, etc.), and the upper shelves are well-sized for more standard sized books.
Now I just need to pretty-up that region between the bottom shelf and my desk. And get over the fact that I now think I should have hung the whole thing about 4 inches lower. And my ever-sneaking suspicion that our vintage teak nightstand shelves make the whole room a little too shelfy. Here I go. Shutting up now.