Double Parlor Home Library The Victorian House

Starting on the Library’s Built-in Bookshelves

We’re moving forward with the library plans! We’ve put a deposit down, materials are being ordered, and hopefully the installation will begin in a few weeks. There will be cabinets with doors flanking either side of the window, and a window seat between with a piano hinge and dummy doors to match the others. Above each cabinet will be shelves to the ceiling, and everything will be stained to match the home’s existing oak trim. Here is our contractor’s drawing.

Balch Bookcase (Contractor's Drawing)

This will be an investment in the house. Oak is not cheap, and skilled labor, even less so, and the project will come in at over $7000. (I’m including the cost here because it may be helpful information for those interested in doing something similar.) Rather than attempt to DIY this very big job in this very old house, we are having the shelves custom made by a carpenter who is familiar with the old houses of Oak Park. More importantly, he is familiar with our particular home! He is the person whom the previous owners worked with to replace the clapboard on the exterior, restore the front entryway, shore up and rebuild the front porch, and more. (This house has been lovingly taken care of!)

Home Library with Rolling Ladder
image: Houzz

We could have purchased two matching bookshelves for either side of the window and called it a day. The options I liked though, with a style and quality that would fit the house, would have still been expensive, and wouldn’t actually add to the value of the home.

Home Library
image: Sortradecor

The Atkins double bookshelf from Restoration Hardware would fit well, size-wise and stylistically, but two of them would have come in at over $5000 with tax and delivery. Going in a different direction, I really like the Copenhagen bookcase from West Elm. With its wide proportions and clean lines, a pair would look fantastic, but they would have cost almost as much as the RH bookshelves, and they’re about five inches too wide for our space anyway. The Hemnes series from IKEA was the only inexpensive option I liked, and in fact I did buy a couple of the bookshelves for use elsewhere in the house, but the scale and style would have been off in the front parlor. The room has ten foot high ceilings, original quarter-sawn oak trim, and is the first space you see after entering. Custom built-ins are going to do the house justice.

Home Library
image: Architectural Digest

I want to be mindful of not letting the house get too stuffy though! We’re in our thirties, with little kids. I like pink, and my husband is a big Star Wars nerd. The house should not (and will not!) be too formal.

But I should probably add a rolling library ladder, yes? (YES.)

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  • egallis
    February 19, 2014 at 10:07 am

    Stuffy? Nah. Cozy? Definitely! :) Can’t wait to see them finished. (I’ll bet you can’t, either!)

  • Bonnie Morscher
    February 19, 2014 at 10:14 am

    It will be beautiful and the rolling library ladder is definitely a must! Treat your home well and it will treat you well through the years.

  • Ali Burtt
    February 19, 2014 at 10:18 am

    Yes! Yes you do need a rolling library ladder. If only so the rest of us can live vicariously.

    • AnnMarie
      February 19, 2014 at 1:27 pm

      Amen to this. Please, please, a library ladder!

    • Marcee ... ILLINOIS
      February 21, 2014 at 6:12 pm

      Ditto! Just gotta. That’s how you’ll (all) roll! (love it)

  • Paige
    February 19, 2014 at 10:19 am

    Ladder…? YES! Sounds like an amazing project. Can’t wait to see it!

  • Leah
    February 19, 2014 at 10:23 am

    I dream of such a bookcase/library one day, sigh. I live in England and there are very few 10ft ceilings around (especially in our price range!), so the dream may remain a dream, double sigh. But yes, my, in this instance, vicarious living through you requires the rolling library ladder…

  • Laura @ Rather Square
    February 19, 2014 at 10:27 am

    Sounds like it’s going to turn out really beautifully. Please share progress photos as it’s being built/installed!

  • Megan
    February 19, 2014 at 10:28 am

    Yes to the ladder! Yes, yes, yes! The shelves will be beautiful! Great decision on the custom build.

    • Marcee ... ILLINOIS
      February 21, 2014 at 6:14 pm

      Wow. Everyone is a ladder fan! Haa. Cute.

  • jenn aka the picky girl
    February 19, 2014 at 10:30 am

    I have built-in shelves! I added them, but I knew I was painting so I was able to use inexpensive lumber, and though I have yet to add crown at the top, they came in at less than $1,000, labor included. My previous apartment had built ins so when I bought my house, I had books stashed literally everywhere – under beds, in closets, in stacks, cabinets…

    My shelves are probably my favorite thing I’ve done to my home. I might stare at them from time to time. :)

    Cannot WAIT to see yours. And yes, a ladder, yes.

    • Making it Lovely
      February 19, 2014 at 11:58 am

      That’s a fantastic price! All that wood makes a huge difference, but it’s the right thing to do here.

  • alisa
    February 19, 2014 at 10:46 am

    love them… I agree that going ahead with a professional is the way to go. Some people might balk at the price tag, but to put it in perspective, a friend of mine is hiring someone to level out their backyard and put in some more pavers, and that is the same price. Both are solid investments in your home.

    I’m making a point to comment on all posts I read, telling the author “hey! I’m still here!”… working so far :)

  • Heidi
    February 19, 2014 at 11:03 am

    I am so giddy with excitement to see how this turns out! And I agree with others – definitely get a ladder!

  • Julie
    February 19, 2014 at 11:04 am

    We’re not collectors except for books, so your plan is the stuff of dreams for me. My house has beautiful cabinet built-ins in the living/dining room but I still want more! Trying to make the case for DIY built-in shelves in the office but for now, since we’re renting and don’t want to over-invest, we’re sticking with a simple row of Billy bookcases. Can’t wait to see your finished product!

    • Making it Lovely
      February 19, 2014 at 12:13 pm

      Billy looks great too, though! We loved ours in the last house.

  • Jessica
    February 19, 2014 at 11:08 am

    I see nothing about this being stuffy. It’s all about decorating. You’ll style it in a manner that is fresh and inviting.

    And in my opinion, you will be doing that beautiful house a great disservice if you do not add a rolling library ladder. Just saying.

    • Making it Lovely
      February 19, 2014 at 12:16 pm

      I have to do it. For the house.

      • Marcee ... ILLINOIS
        February 21, 2014 at 6:18 pm

        For sure. AND your lovely kiddos! They will grow up with this wonderful addition. Spend lots of hours doing research, homework, etc. Totally worth it.

  • Jane
    February 19, 2014 at 11:13 am

    Love it!! It is going to look amazing and with your personal touches it will look amazingly not stuffy ;)!! I say any time you can add an additional layer to any room…DO IT, DO IT!! I say ladder all the way! Good luck!

  • Bee
    February 19, 2014 at 11:35 am

    Can’t wait to see the finished product, Nicole! I dream of having my own little library and will vicariously live it through your blog. And, yes, yes, yes on the ladder! This is coming from a short person, of course. But what library would be complete without a rolling ladder. ;)

  • merlin513
    February 19, 2014 at 11:55 am

    My brother built his bookshelves for the upstairs library all by himself. Floor to ceiling white oak, cut, trimmed and finished all by his lonesome. Their house has an open to the ceiling 2 story formal living room and the library is a mezzanine all the way around the upper level. I remember it took him most of the spring and summer, with all the windows open during the summer to let the fumes from the varnish escape. They look FABULOUS!!!

    We’re all BIG book readers and they were afraid they were never going to get them filled. Once they moved in and started unpacking I think there were maybe 6 shelves that were bare…that’s a LOT of books! :D

    • Making it Lovely
      February 19, 2014 at 12:18 pm

      That sounds amazing. What a perfect space for a library!

  • Jo
    February 19, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    They are going to look great.

    As they’ll be there FOREVER, the investment makes sense.

    • Making it Lovely
      February 19, 2014 at 12:51 pm

      And we are building them to look like they’ve always been there.

  • Emily
    February 19, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    I’ll echo the others that the ladder is a must! I’ve never actually been in a library that had one, so I think it would be so romantic.

    I have one interesting built-in bookshelf in my house. Sometime back, previous owners added a room off the back of the house. The window that no longer looked outside was given a back and shelves, and became a nice built-in. Thought it was a clever idea instead of getting the wall patched!

  • Nicole
    February 19, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    I had a custom bookcase made and delivered to my house (not built in) a couple of years ago, 7’w x10’h and 26″deep (my husband gave the guy the measurements– way too deep!) it cost us approx $3000 so I completely understand the cost. We thought it would be in our home for a long time too, but with a downturn in my husband’s job we have been trying to sell it for 18 months. Once the bank agreed to short sale it, my husband decided to bite the bullet and transport it to our rental (it’s a beast!). So happy to have it with us. This is so funny, I LOVE the idea of a ladder, BUT with 4 boys (ages 2,4,6, and 10) and a 12 year old girl, I just see children climbing up and down the ladder and doing dangerous stuff. I guess people with less kids have a little less chaos to deal with! We used to have an irish wolfhound who was always trying to climb ladders too! Good luck!

    • Making it Lovely
      February 19, 2014 at 2:56 pm

      A ladder-climbing dog, wow! Yeah, I have some concerns about the kids with the ladder, but they’re pretty good about respecting boundaries. If they aren’t, we can always remove it while they’re little.

  • Nataliya
    February 19, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    Ikea has its place and time, but you are so right in investing into this home. Many blogs are all about doing things on a dime, and there’s a time and place for that. But some things require professional work and $$$. I personally can’t wait to see how it all turns out. It will be gorgeous and so worth every penny!

    • Amy
      February 19, 2014 at 11:38 pm

      I completely agree. This house sounds like it is going to be your home for a long time. Definitely invest in things that will let it age with grace and integrity. You get what you pay for…these built ins will look incredible and probably like they are original to the house. Never apologize for making these decisions. I ordered really expensive wallpaper for my dining room which I LOVE but I made the mistake of hiring an inexpensive installer. He totally botched the job. Most people wouldn’t notice all the mistakes, but I cringe everytime I look at them. I would have preferred to spend 3x the amount to have it installed correctly. My new motto is “do it right the first time”. Can’t wait to see the finished product.

  • Giulia
    February 19, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    Ahhh, how I miss my bookcases. Once we moved to our 1950s split I couldn’t find a space for extensive bookcases. I have 8 and 10 feet windows in our living and dining room, the living room is too narrow to move the sofa forward and have books behind, we no longer have a landing with wall space and the playroom/office is dedicated to toys and office storage. Right now I have bookcases in the basement and I don’t see them all the time, which is sad.
    Yours is going to be great!

  • Brittany
    February 19, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    YES to the ladder!! I might even be a little mad if you don’t get one? haha Can’t wait to see how they turn out!!

  • carrie @ brick city love
    February 19, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    YES, of course you need a library ladder. No question!!

  • Alicia Parsons @ Atypical Type A
    February 19, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    These are going to look amazing. I love that you’ve gone with something designed to look original.

    By the way, as I am packing up our dusty books to move house, I am so tempted to get some glass-fronted shelving for the new house like your previous library.

  • Jessy F.
    February 19, 2014 at 2:45 pm

    Yes to the ladder! The plan looks great.

  • Brianna
    February 19, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    $7000 and you’re NOT getting a sliding ladder thing?! Get it! Get it! Omg, Nicole! I need it FOR you!

  • judy
    February 19, 2014 at 7:23 pm

    We just put another 9500.(for a new HVAC system woke up to a very cold house and really no choice) in a rancher that cost less than 2 hundred thousand in 2004. We will never get back what we have put into this house but it is our home and therefore, to me, it doesn’t matter……… although I almost feel a physical pain when making out another check. fleeting but still ouch!

  • Jeen-Marie
    February 20, 2014 at 2:48 am

    From a former bookseller- total jealousy!
    Most of my books are still in boxes, waiting patiently for a beautiful bookcase such as yours!
    And really, it’s a question… A ladder is a must!

  • Shelley
    February 20, 2014 at 10:03 am

    Yay for real wood!! Can’t wait to see how it turns out! Ladder? Definitely yes!

  • Molly
    February 20, 2014 at 11:49 am

    I think the answer to a rolling library ladder isn’t yes. It’s OH HELL YES! So excited to see how this turns out! And feel free to tell Brandon that our 10 year old Subaru Forrester is named Aunt Baru. As a Star Wars enthusiast, he should appreciate that. :)

  • lovingthehurst
    February 20, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    The rolling ladder is a must! We live in an 1886 home nearby in Elmhurst and had wall to wall bookcases built with a ladder – it oozes charm in this old house. Good luck with your project – love the updates!

  • Alaina
    February 20, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    Can’t wait to see it all done, WITH ladder! I am sure it will look like it’s always been there – it sounds meant to be.

  • Kellie
    February 20, 2014 at 6:27 pm

    Can’t wait to see photos of this awesome new project!! Having a floor to ceiling library is my dream!!

  • Charity
    February 21, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    Love the bookcase idea and yes you must get the ladder for the house! Do you mind if I ask who you’re using? I am in Chicago and I am thinking of having something built similar in our extra bedroom but a bit smaller scale. So I would be interested in knowing who you’re working with. Thanks!

  • Stacey
    February 21, 2014 at 6:13 pm

    Definitely yes to the rolling library ladder!

  • Stacey
    February 26, 2014 at 3:45 pm

    this is perfect timing! we are in the process of designing floor to ceiling bookshelves to wrap a corner (so two walls) of our 1876 parlor (soon to be library!) With 11′ or 12′ ceilings, a ladder is a must–but whoa nelly are they expensive! have you started researching the actual ladder/rail/hardware? Can’t wait to see what you end up doing as far as that goes…I’ve found a few DIY versions for the hardware (using car parts for the wheels, etc..) but i need to do a lot more research.

    Also, I can’t quite tell from your sketch…is the top of the bookshelf going to butt up against the ceiling? from you photos, it doesn’t look like you have crown molding in this room (but maybe you do…) I go back and forth on this…all the way to the very top of the ceiling looks more “built-in” like it’s always been there…but i can’t bear to cover my crown. Are you’re going all the way up and how did you decide this?

    • Making it Lovely
      February 26, 2014 at 4:16 pm

      The room does not have crown, so we’re taking it up to the ceiling (and adding a piece along the top of the bookshelves to finish it off). Can you carefully remove your crown, build the shelves, and then reattach it along the top?

      And yes, those ladders are expensive! The hardware, really. I did some research, but all of the options were in the same ballpark.

      • Stacey
        February 27, 2014 at 8:11 am

        ah, okay. that will look great! very good idea–but we can’t take the crown down. it’s an intense 12″+ plaster molded deal that’s more a part of the ceiling itself than it is an “add-on” if that makes sense.

        yeah, it’s crazy–it’s like a rail and two wheels, maybe a few bolts or whatnot! all yours for 2k! ha. I’m interested in something that’s more of a secured hook rather than on wheels(although wheels sound way faster and more fun–but the point *isn’t* an indoor rollercoaster, after all), so hoping our local ironsmith can maybe make some custom hardware for a wooden ladder we build ourselves–if it works out, i’ll let you know!

      • Making it Lovely
        February 27, 2014 at 9:02 am

        Ah, you have the really special kind of crown! I would hate to cover that up, too. How tall are the tops of your windows? Maybe to 10′, and then leave a gap at the top?

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  • Michelle
    April 14, 2018 at 9:09 pm

    I’m in love with your built-in bookcases. We just moved to OP and want to do something similar – make it look like it’s original to our old craftsman home. Would you be willing to share the name of your carpenter?