In my hallway, we have a small area we didn't know what to do with. Originally, when the house was built, this was where the water heater was located. Around this was a cabinet that went into the hallway area. Shortly after we moved in, I ripped out the cabinet. I put in more flooring, removed the old water pipes that were still there, and patched up the ceiling that had an open hole in it for the ventilation of gas fumes.
That left us with a nice little cubby with little use. Eventually we bought a tall, narrow book shelf. And that worked for a while. But it didn't make full use of the space, dirt and dust collected under and behind it, etc.
So we decided to build into it a permanent bookshelf!
Step 1: Take Dimensions and Plan
The first thing to do was measure the available area. It was 24.75 inches wide, 18 inches deep, and of course, 8 feet high. I knew I would need something to support the shelves so I would need to line the 2 sides and the back with wood. We also wanted to have some nice moulding to give it a classic style.
The moulding we found was 3 inches wide. The best compromise of price and quality was 3/4" thick plywood. This was probably "mid grade" for plywood. The cheapest stuff is meant to be eventually concealed so the surfaces are not presentable, and the best cedar plywoods were just too expensive. We ended up getting 2 sheets of plywood for about $20 each.
With this information I could figure out the dimensions of everything. Because the moulding would be against the wall on the left side, this would mean 3" taken away from the total width. On the other side would be 3/4" inch taken up by the plywood side. That leaves us with exactly 21 inch wide shelves.
Since we didn't want the shelves to be 18 inches deep, we went with 16 inch deep instead. The end result is about a 2 inch empty area on the left side and behind. Vertically, we would do a 3 inch rise on the bottom for the moulding, and since the sides would be 8 feet tall, whatever gap remained on the top would be covered by the top moulding. This gap was pretty small given the top of the shelf is mounted on top of the sides, whereas the shelves all fit in between the sides.
Step 2: Gather Materials
2 sheets of mid-grade plywood
3 pieces of 3" moulding
Circular saw or table saw. You could use a hand saw, but, it would be hard to get a nice straight edge.
Saw horses or workbench
Miter box and saw
Step 3: Cut All the Wood
Lay out your planned cuts on the wood and be sure to allow for the thickness of your saw blade (around 1/8"). I recommend just doing all the cutting at once. I wasn't sure how many shelves we'd end up putting in so I cut more than I eventually used.
On each of the shelf pieces, round the leading edges and the surfaces so they aren't so rough/sharp.
Step 4: Assemble
Assembly is pretty straight forward. You may need some help from a friend to hold the side pieces as you screw in the bottom and top pieces. The top piece, because this shelf goes right up to the ceiling, is mounted on top of the sides. This required putting the screws in from below at an angle.
All the shelves are mounted with screws from the outside of the side panels. I used a square and some clamps to ensure the shelves were level.
All screws should have pilot holes drilled first, or you will split the wood.
Step 5: Moulding
The moulding is cut with a miter tool at a 45 degree angle for the top. On the bottom, because the whole thing is a bit taller than 8 feet, I had to simply go straight across with the moulding.
Attach the moulding with finishing nails. Use another nail after they are mostly hammered in, to push them just below the wood. Use some wood filler to fill the holes.
Step 6: Paint and Seal
Use a stain in your favorite color. We used Ebony to match other items in our home. One coat was sufficient and after this, you could barely tell this was "just" plywood. After letting that thoroughly dry, I put on two coats of a polyurethane sealer. Don't skip this step, you don't want that stain getting on your books!
Step 7: Enjoy
Put your books and or other items on your new shelf and enjoy!
A good reading nook also requires a nice comfy chair. And fresh minds to enjoy and consume all that literature.