How to Turn a Closet Into a Bookshelf


You love your paper books, and the library is a source of pleasure in your home. But the sheer number of volumes threatens to overwhelm your limited space. One solution is a hidden library, stashed in the closet. A spare walk-in is a luxury, but a more typical modest closet is fairly simple to renovate so your towering piles of Dickens and J.D. Robb have their own home.

Things You'll Need

  • Cleaning rags
  • Vacuum (optional)
  • Plaster and putty knife (optional)
  • Screwdriver
  • Wall paint and brush
  • Wallpaper and paste (optional)
  • Tape measure
  • Pencil
  • 1-inch boards (optional)
  • Sandpaper, stain, lacquer (optional)
  • Paint and paintbrush (optional)
  • Premade shelves (optional)
  • Shelf brackets and hardware
  • Stud finder
  • Carpenter's level
  • Drill
  • Closet lamp
  • Step stool (optional)
  • Clear everything out of the closet, and clean it thoroughly. Remove the hanging bar and any closet hardware. Patch all holes in the walls and door.

  • Paint or otherwise decorate the walls -- wallpaper in a stripe or a small repetitive pattern won't appear too chaotic, but, as a rule, simpler is better.

  • Measure the space for shelves; calculate where to put them, how many you need and their dimensions. A good width for shelves that will support hardback and oversize books is around 11 inches.

  • Cut 1-inch lumber, and then sand, stain and lacquer it -- or prime and paint it. Save time by purchasing premade and finished shelves in the correct dimensions. Buy shelf brackets and any related hardware.

  • Locate the wall studs in the closet. You have to secure the shelf brackets at the wall studs so they support the weight of the books. Measure and mark where each shelf bracket will go, using a carpenter's level to keep everything straight.

  • Drill holes for the brackets and install them with the screws provided. Place a shelf on each set of shelf brackets, double-checking at each step to see that every shelf is level.

  • Add a light -- stick-on, battery-operated closet lighting is the simplest. A more durable choice is wiring run from a power source into the closet for a ceiling light or an adjustable lamp that attaches to a shelf. If the closet has wiring for a ceiling light, use a compact white cover over it to maximize illumination while protecting the bulb. LED lamps are bright but emit little heat in an enclosed space.

  • Arrange your books on the shelves -- tuck a step stool under the bottom shelf if the closet is tall. With the door closed, your custom library is a hidden storehouse of reading and research materials.

Tips & Warnings

  • Eggshell paint is easier to wipe down when book jackets leave marks on the walls.
  • Close-grained lumber with no knot-holes bows less than pine under the weight of books, and there are no knots to bleed through the paint.
  • For an exceptionally long closet, use more than two shelf brackets to support each shelf.
  • A bracket strip allows you to adjust the heights of the shelves to accommodate a growing library. Always attach strips or brackets at the studs.
  • Wear protective glasses and a dust mask when painting and drilling in the enclosed space of a closet.
  • Consider non-VOC paint for the closet walls. It does not emit toxins in the unventilated area, and it typically doesn't have a strong paint odor to settle on your books.
  • If there are young children in the home, keep the closet door closed to discourage climbing or other risky behavior that could pull down books or shelves.

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  • Photo Credit Malekas85/iStock/Getty Images
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