Built-In Bookshelf DIY

Oh IKEA shelving. I love how you saved me a bunch of money, but I should have known there was going to be a catch.

The only paperwork included with each of our 10 brackets stated the following:

  • “Suitable for 11” deep shelves. Different wall materials require different types of fasteners. Use fasteners suitable for the walls in your home (not included). If you are uncertain about what type of mounting devices to use, please contact your local hardware store.”

In fact, this information can be found online under Product Information – Good to Know.” Charming IKEA. Thanks for the heads up on that one.

This conundrum left me standing at Home Depot with this cryptic text message shopping list from my parents:

  • 10 1 1/2 inch screws for shelf
    10 anchors and 10 screws which do not go through the bracket. Anchors should be 1 1/4 inch
  • 10 anchors but with longer screws that can go through bracket. That means 1 1/4 anchor plus screws of additional 1 inch length to 1 1/4 inch length.

Tell me that doesn’t scramble your brain! I was struggling, and (as usual) no one at Home Depot would listen to my entire explanation to understand why I truly needed their help.

Mom and Dad’s biggest concern was my wall construction. Were there studs? Was it only drywall? Luckily I found a product that would work in either situation: EZ Anchor Self Drilling Wall Anchor. For whatever reason this one anchor worked in drywall and studs. Phew! Sold. I picked up a 20 pack which would take care of all 20 necessary anchors.

Here’s the shopping list breakdown (for a little more clarity):

  • I needed 10 drywall anchors and screws exactly as packaged.
  • I needed 10 more drywall anchors (taken care of with the rest of my 20 pack purchase), BUT I needed longer screws so that the screw could go through the bracket and THEN into the anchor in the wall.
    • The package didn’t list any details about the size of the screw or thread necessary to cooperate with the anchor. (This took a LONG time to explain to a few employees before someone finally understood my dilemma).
    • The screws needed to be just like the ones included in the package…but longer. Making sense?!
  • I also needed 10 wood screws long enough to go through the bracket and into the wooden shelf (from underneath) to secure the shelves from lifting off or tipping…in case someone decides to climb them someday.

Let’s see if a picture helps at all:

IKEA instructions

With the help of a Home Depot Associate, I figured out the proper screw size and threading for anchoring the bottom of the bracket to the wall and grabbed 10 of the longest length screws available in that size and thread. My fingers and toes were crossed and I was mentally exhausted from problem-solving.  I wasn’t feeling overly confident at this point, but the Skittles I impulsively grabbed at the checkout were doing wonders for my mood.

I brought my goodies (less the Skittles) home to Mom and Dad, who had been working hard while I was out running errands, and thank goodness they worked!!

Installation could finally commence!

All of a sudden we were in a race to get finished before my hubby came home from work. We’d been working hard (though it was hard to tell) and getting those shelves up would feel like a tangible “tada” to welcome him home…and for us to sigh at while we relaxed for the rest of the evening.

So, how’d we do it?

We started with the lowest shelf. It needed to be high enough to clear the DIY rolling blue boxes and the cable and electrical outlets located near the base of the wall. (You can see the cable outlet in the corner through the glass of the door).


Let me just say that my Mom is a master of measuring, hanging, and leveling. She took charge, locating and marking the spots for each anchor to be installed. We took it one shelf at a time and made sure everything was level and properly installed before moving on.

The picture below shows the marks for the top edge of the bracket and the actual distance below to where the inset hanging hardware was located. This allowed the bracket to hang flush with the wall. We found that each bracket was a little different (thanks IKEA) so we needed to pay specific attention to each bracket (instead of using the same distance measurement for each).


It took a little fiddling (screw forward/screw back – you know the drill…that wasn’t on purpose, but it’s clever!) to get the bracket as snug with the wall as possible, but ultimately we still needed to install another screw into the wall once things looked level, so it wasn’t a big deal if it was a little wiggly.


The first shelf revealed IKEA’s inaccuracy of the brackets that I mentioned earlier, so we used a few shims to level this guy out properly. Once we measured exact distances for each individual bracket that was no longer necessary.


Did you notice that those shelves look a little different than when I purchased them? Besides kindly cutting each shelf down to 42 inches (to fit my custom nook needs), Dad took on yet another of my projects and gave each shelf a few coats of American Walnut stain and finished them off with varnish. Aren’t they lovely?! I’m pretty obsessed.

We chose to go from the bottom shelf to the top shelf, making sure I had the necessary height for the largest books and photo albums first, and then we planned to average out the distance in the middle for the appearance of even shelf spacing.


Mom took over her with her incredible measuring and marking talents and Dad and I sat back and waited for instructions. Mom said the long brackets would cause our spacing to be really tight for 5 shelves, so we installed them as closely as possible. We only left enough room to squeeze a board in between brackets – which actually provided extra stability and security. That was happy accident #1.


As we worked our way down, it became clear that we had more room than we originally thought.


I was being extremely helpful snapping photos of the beautiful new addition. I’m seriously tickled with these!!


All of a sudden, we only had one shelf left and a huge space to fill. (Don’t forget our brains were fried, and we were trying SO hard to complete the shelves before my husband came home from work! Notice the daylight fading and the lamp light that takes over in these last shots.)

We thought it over, and decided to place the final shelf tightly next to the top three. Having the fourth shelf floating in the middle would look pretty strange if it didn’t serve a specific purpose. Then Mom realized that the bottom shelf could eventually grow with the baby and become a little desk area by installing a deeper board onto the brackets when he’s older! Happy Accident #2!

If you’re having trouble envisioning our vision, see below:


Source: Remodelista

As night was falling, we got the final shelf installed and threw all organizational items we could find lying around up and out of the way…just as the man of the hour was walking in the door.


I’m not sure if he realized the extent of my excitement over moving in the desk/changing table, the chair, AND installing the shelves in just two short days. Maybe the fact that I chose to watch TV through the glass panel while seated in our new chair in our cozy little nursery that night and the next gave him a clue.

Even though it was far from finished, it felt like home.

The next day we added a little artwork (more on that later!), fixed the shelves to the brackets with the wood screws, and loaded those puppies up. The bookshelves still had a long way to go before they were perfect or entirely functional (all those bins are empty and waiting for baby items)…but I was thrilled with the progress!




They might have been a little more stunning when they were empty…but in NYC there’s no space for empty stylized bookshelves. Form along with function is ideal, but storage space trumps all.