Ganging up Ikea shelves for a striking, cheapass wall-o-books

Eva combined $1056.95 worth of Ikea EXPEDIT shelves to build this awesome megashelf -- I'm such a sucker for the wall o'books.

Eva's zes kasten (via Apartment Therapy)


  1. I like a wall-o-books even better when it’s parked against an outside wall using the books for insulation … warming you TWICE!

  2. I’m quite conflicted on Ikea. On the one hand, I think they make a fair amount of affordable, not-awfully-ugly furniture. On the other hand, their stores are genuinely upsetting for me to visit and they are responsible for the most appallingly bad table-and-chairs design I have ever seen.

    ( I mean really, you end up sitting at the corners of the table, the corner chair things are uncomfortable, and the chairs fit together under the table, meaning there is no leg room if you want to share the table with anyone else. It’s terrible, it’s a piece of furniture designed entirely to look good when it it not being used.)

    I do love wall-to-wall book shelves, and this might be a good way to do it cheap, but I wonder how much it would cost to just do it yourself.

  3. you’d think so, but these days? A cheap table saw, that much decent lumber, hardware, multiple coats on that much surface area of finish… Unless you have space, a full shop and a line on wholesale material, who wants the bother? Only way cheaper might be finding old store fixtures.

  4. Just wish we had that much wall, we probably have almost as many books in six large cases in four small rooms.

  5. or for that matter, how could you make a ceiling bookcase that gripped the books but still released them for random access? (as opposed to parallel box beam type shelves that accessed from either side)

  6. i love book porn. i found a site a while back with the most amazing shots of libraries in places like the amsterdam rijksmuseum and trinity college, dublin.

  7. This IKEA orgy is relatively inexpensive compared to a custom bookshelf.

    This would be cheap.

    Milk crates would be cheapass.

  8. #1 — agreed, on both points.

    A $1000 = cheap? Wow! I wish I lived in your world Cory. A 1000 yen is cheap, but $1000, are you kidding?

    Still, very nice setup.

  9. That looks great, but I wish those cases has adjustable shelves. So much wasted space.

    Seven years as a bookseller left me with more books than shelf space, but I’ve grown to love my little rotating floor stacks.

  10. @ 10- That much shelf space by anyone other than Ikea would cost thousands more. Maybe value is a better word here.

  11. Really? What do you think 250 linear feet of lumber and cinderblocks sufficient to stack them would cost?

    This is about 10% of what it would cost to build these cases any other way. If that’s not cheapass, what is?

  12. $1056.95 is a lot of money for particleboard junk.

    I’d love to see what this wall-o-books looks like four years from now after all that weight has done havoc to it’s glue and sawdust makeup.

  13. in all fairness, particle board shelves can last if never disturbed. It’s moving house that kills them.

  14. I’m not one of those guys who likes to brag about how little he paid for something. I’ve got this many expidit shelves throughout my house. I paid in the neighborhood of $300, total. Craigslist FTW.

  15. @4, I love that table. It may not be the most comfortably-designed table, but in dining rooms that were were apparently designed for lilliputians like my old house, it fit perfectly, and allowed for 4 people to sit and eat.

    And that bookshelf is missing a nice rolly-ladder.

  16. CORY@13

    “This is about 10% of what it would cost to build these cases any other way. If that’s not cheapass, what is?”

    10%? Really? You think you would need to spend over $10,000 for that much lumber?

    Maybe if you are cutting down old growth forests …

    1. You think you would need to spend over $10,000 for that much lumber?

      Take a trip to Home Depot or whatever you have locally and price finish quality lumber. All those hurricanes that we’ve been having the last few years? They’ve sent lumber prices sky high. We’ve even had lumber (ply and OCB) rationing in the US in the last few years.

  17. That’s about 106′ worth of shelving. Sure you could probaby do that in bracket shelving with pine boards for $500, but it’d be not so nice looking. Ladder extra.

  18. #1 and #10: Eva got acres of good looking shelf space, strong enough to hold her books and other shelving for $1000. The only way you could go cheaper would be to DIY, but then you’d run into the problems that #5 posted. In this case, bookcase, $1057 is cheapass.

    #4: “it’s a piece of furniture designed entirely to look good when it it not being used”. True, but even in that aspect it fails.

    #9: The Trinity College Library is amazing. I never get sick of admiring it:

  19. I’ve built many cheap bookcases for hard covers and paperbacks. I don’t think I’d pay that much today for the board feet and backing panels, if I did all the cutting, routing, gluing, screw-driving and painting. That takes time, but the edge to doing it yourself is that you can use materials that will travel better. I’m not even sure I can make a bookshelf from scratch using particle board, that’s tricky stuff.

    The house I’m in today (Wash. State) has many bookcases that originate from a now closed used bookstore in Chicago, but I had to build a few paperback bookcases to get the paperbacks and other similarly-sized media off of the floor.

  20. If you were to buy professionally custom built cabinets, this would be $10,000 easily. My parent’s kitchen cabinets cost a multiple of that.

  21. Takuan has this right.. why are we thinking *wood* when there are many other materials we can use.. I can have Mennonites re-create this for close to double in hard woods, close to cost in soft..

    But just plain ole recycled particle board? Priceless….

    Oh, and the ladder is the risque artist thing going on.. that adds 20%..

  22. I hate all storebought bookshelves. None of them are sized for paperbacks, and I own over 800 of those. Their dimensions result in either phenominal wasted space, or stacking books in a manner that makes it hard to find them when you want them.

    Once I’m not living in a uni apt I’ll grab some wood and make ’em myself – for a fraction of the cost, and a bit more time.

  23. Hey Cory check this out-
    My father has been working on our upstairs living room for some time now. It’s still a work in progress. It actually has become known to my family as “the library”. These bookshelves are custom made and yes, those are rolling library ladders. You can see my father, Dante, sitting by the phone. What you can’t see is the second row of books behind the first. Sorry these aren’t good panoramas, I lack the good software and computer to make them better.

    Panaram 1

    Panaram 2

  24. @23 There is a recession going on at the moment and therefore about 200.000 homes are not being built this year and thats a lot of lumber that is not being used so for the 1st time in years the lumber price is actually dropping.

  25. The thing that gets me about this is that joining multiple units together means doubling the wall thicknesses everywhere. Granted, it’ll be stronger (and particle board does tend to sag), but it’s most likely complete overkill.

  26. The side pieces of these bookshelves are actually filled with rolled up paper. Not even cardboard. Just rolled up paper. That is why they are so cheap. I wasn’t aware of this, until I went to the scratch and dent section and saw one busted open.

  27. Cory asks “…If that’s not cheapass, what is?”

    Bricks and fence slats. Ugly, but cheapass.

    This may be a golden age for garage sales, so used bookshelves probably abound.
    But for a nice bookwall, without too much expense or the trouble of making it, unfinished furniture stores. You buy four or five units, sand them, then finish them. Not that much trouble. And black varnish? Beautiful!
    BTW- if the shelves are adjustable, you may need to turn them over now and then, due to sagging.

  28. Judging from the owner’s taste in products and methods, I’m confident in predicting there isn’t one title in that library I’d want to “borrow”.

    Beware the hidden costs of cheap, say, for instance, (ad nauseam) the demise of locally produced and superior goods. #16 has it right.

  29. How to make ultra cheap bookshelves with a hammer and a saw: 1. Get an old wooden door. 2. Nail planks around the edge to make a shallow box. 3. Cut, insert and nail planks to make the shelves. 4. Paint or varnish.

  30. Daemon: DVD cases are just about a centimeter taller than standard paperbacks- get a DVD shelf unit.

  31. Ha! That the last time Doctrow comes on here,Talkin
    his fancy Shelf Talk! HEEEeeee!!

    pile em up.

    let em lie.

  32. Lumber and cinder blocks, reminds me of my first apartment in 1974, 90USD per month. The larger units were $125.

  33. Daemon, what Efnord said.

    Three years ago IKEA DVD shelves were $17 Canadian, so probably not much more than that now. Each has five shelves and holds about 60 paperbacks, 12 to a shelf. They’ll stack nicely, come with hardware to attach them to the wall if you so desire (handy in our earthquake zone), and since they’re only 8 inches deep, work well in confined areas. I’ve got ten lining one wall of a narrow hall, stacked in a pleasing seven-and-three pyramid.

    Couldn’t have built that myself — not finished, nor looking as good, for the under $200 (tax included), that I paid.

  34. anyway i just zoomed in and it’s like three hundred various editions of “atlas shrugged”.

  35. #48: truth-bullets. i furnished a flat in amsterdam entirely from stuff people threw away, and had quite an awesome library like that.

  36. #50: save one for bioshock research. the other 299? it’s one of those rare ‘dave matthews/cheaper than blank tape’ scenarios. expect a pic of “me reading ‘atlas shrugged'” from my “‘desk made of various unsold copies of ‘atlas shrugged'” on bOINGbOING soon….

  37. For those people who are talking about how this could be done for cheaper… Cinder blocks and 2x4s. My dad is a carpenter, and if I were to ask him for bookshelves to hold my books I would get cinder blocks and 2x4s.

    The cobblers children have no shoes.

  38. Handyman Father-in-law plus $70 worth of recycled house wood from a friend plus $50 worth of stain and varnish equals floor to ceiling full wall bookshelf porn in our computer room.

    Only wish it was ermm…bigger. Yeah, gotta build more shelves…it’s an addiction.

  39. @Antinious

    All those hurricanes that we’ve been having the last few years? They’ve sent lumber prices sky high.

    Um. Futures hit their peak in August of last year, at $260/1,000 board ft. Right now, they’re at $144. Actual lumber prices are down to their lowest rates in at least three years. Pine in the south is down 3% in Q4 ’08 compared to Q3 – not up, as your hurricane hypothesis would suggest. (Gustav and Ike didn’t hit Louisiana and Texas lumber very hard. If anything, they caused a bump up in demand regionally, but not much. Katrina and Rita were the same story.) Southern pine’s down 30% compared to Q4 ’07.

    Paper and housing demand have both plummeted. Logging operations are closing from Wisconsin to Louisiana and Texas, and have been on the downturn since August ’08.

    So where the hell’s your data coming from? The UK? Nope – prices are bottoming out there. China and Africa are seeing some success, but it isn’t reaching the export market, where there’s no buyers.

  40. This is unbelievable.

    Not to burst Cory’s bubble, but this is for you all:

    I made a loft bed entirely out of Home Depot’s lumber and screws. It fits a queen sized mattress, stands a bit more than 6 feet high, and comes with shelves for books and DVDs. I finally had my own shelving space for the awesome collection I have been carrying around in boxes (easily 200+ books). The whole effort cost me about a week of sporadic light-duty sanding ($30 sanding machine, from Home Depot), measuring, and drilling (another $30 machine from Home Depot). It took a mere few hours of teamwork (2 people) to lift it off ground and it withstood some raunchy nights.

    The result? Around $200. And I did this in February, regardless of lumber prices or whatnots. It is infinitely cheaper to DIY (unless the DIY you like doing is lugging boxes and boxes of that expedit set).

  41. How do you prevent them from falling? Are they attached to the wall in some way? I already have that many expedit shelves, but I don’t have them stacked.

  42. $200!? $200??!! Cor, what bleedin’ LUXURY! When I were a nipper, we had to make our bookcases out of screwed-up old chip wrappings! And damned glad of it too!

  43. I came here originally to spout something about how it shouldn’t cost $1000+, but I think Cory and Takuan squelched that in #3 and #5.

    I do have a full shop, and I can make my own floor-to-ceiling shelves for next to nothing. But it’s probably a safe bet that Eva (and most other people) aren’t similarly equipped. As far as retail goes, I’d agree; that’s a good deal and her shelves look nice.

    Takuan @21:
    Off-gassing gets a lot of attention, but its real-world effects are minimal at best. It’s like those people who swear they’re allergic to radio waves; they claim it’s true, but it just smacks of BS to me. Pretty much every house built since the late 80’s (or earlier, I don’t remember) has used OSD or CDX in the underfloor layer and occasionally in the walls, ceiling and roof layers. If off-gassing was a major issue, I think we’d know it by now.

    Not saying there aren’t a tiny few people legitimately allergic to OSD and such. But it’s really a non-issue for those of us who… you know… open windows occasionally. Or who use our HVAC systems and circulate the air in the house.

  44. @62
    Those are lovely and at a good price, too. I think the deal breaker with some people would be that they’re too austere for certain rooms. But with the furniture and the lighting you have in that photo, it looks great to me. Nicely done.

  45. re: out-gassing; perhaps some people are genuinely sensitive/allergic, but natural wood witt safe finishes should always be choice anyway, if only for quality and durability. Heard the latest? Now Chinese made drywall/gypsum board is being accused of being contaminated (sulphur compounds?) as well as formaldehyde laced clothing (including lingerie)

  46. Cory, there’s no way the photographed shelves total 250 linear feet of shelving. By my count, it’s about 130 feet. That’s $7.90/foot. (That’s pretending that the TV units was a regular unit. For the actual shelves pictured, it’s even fewer linear feet.)

    Seven Ikea Billy shelving units, with height extenders, would take up about the same amount of horizontal space, offer 140 feet of linear shelf space, and cost only $553, or $3.95/foot. And you could adjust the height of most of the shelves. Wouldn’t look as cool, though.

  47. @64
    This is the first I’ve heard of that about the drywall, but it isn’t really surprising. Chinese tools are mostly okay, but their end products are crummy.

    Formaldehyde on clothing? What?

    “SPRAY DOWN THOSE KNICKERS SO THEY’LL KEEP.” Usually rotten underwear isn’t an issue until after they’ve met a person’s backside.

  48. @ Takuan and others;

    You really are not familiar with book physics, not physics books. First, there are specific reasons you would not want to hang books from a ceiling or stick them in the floor. Most people would not want to lose vertical height in their living space. Besides that fluids/dirt like to hit the floor and would kill books or that people would feel uncomfortable sitting under that much weight let alone the structural stresses. Let alone accessibility in both cases.

    Also particle board is a very inferior product for bookshelves. Nowadays bookshelves are sold with a weight limit to prevent their bowing which means only a few books with most of the shelf empty. But even the “heavy duty” bookshelves I have are bowing. Yes you can flip them around and they just bow down the other way.

    In my book anybody with 200 or less books is a “book pansy”.

  49. Media shelves are the right size for paperbacks, but many of the cheaper DVD bookshelves are not designed with the strength to hold books (though they can be easily reinforced). DVD cases are mainly air.

    In our last condo we put a wall of bookshelves in the home office, by using wall brackets and lengths of hardwood board cut to our specifications by the lumber yard. It was neither hard work nor a lot of money. We used shelves in two widths – 8″ and 6″ – to intrude as little into the room space as possible yet still be (just) deep enough for our books. Pricing: a 4×8 sheet of nice 3/4″ birch plywood might cost around $60, you can rip 56′ of shelving out of that (mix of 6″ and 8″ widths) with nominal charge for cuts, so maybe $300 for the lumber for the wall in this article.

    Incidentally, when we sold that condo our real estate agent tried to talk us into storing the books and removing the shelves and brackets. She said that prospective buyers would be turned off by all the books. We couldn’t bring ourselves to do it, and don’t know if her advice might have brought us a higher price.

  50. I love the Trinity College Library photos, but whenever I see that awful rope preventing the great unwashed from touching the information, a little part of me dies :(

  51. @15, @17
    I have 6 of the full-sized Billy bookshelves I bought well over 10 years ago that are holding up OK completely full, only the one with my oversized books is bowing at all, and structural stability hasn’t been affected by 4 moves – though I did completely disassemble the shelves & flat pack them for each move. The more recent Billy shelves I got seem to be even more solidly constructed than the older ones.

    @ 35 – gorgeous, simply gorgeous. Put some louvered glass fronts on those and I’m going to die of jealousy.

    FWIW most of the people I know with really nice antique shelving (used book stores, mostly) picked them up from fixture auctions at closing churches, seminaries, and rural libraries. A bookshelf about the size of a full-sized billy will run you about 2 grand in a regular antique store in my neck of the woods, but I know people that have picked up the same at these fixture auctions for under a hundred bucks each.

  52. I’m thinking it’s “cheaper than getting someone to build it for your” but still, at over £1000 it’s hardly pocket change.

    That said, of course it looks nice, it’s a wall of books.

  53. This has been my problem with Ikea from the start. I was so excited thinking I could find much cheaper ways to get things like this… but really it isn’t cheaper than making it yourself at all. You also give up a lot in quality.

    We built some shelves like that in our old house. We used pine and it wasn’t anywhere near $1000.00, probably half that.

    That being said we already had the space and equipment to build shelves. Also, we did not bevel the edges nicely. The time was still significant, especially considering that we had to prime and paint them too. It was pretty challenging to get them secure against the wall.

    On the whole though, I think it was nicer not having the heavy and weak particle board to deal with. Not that you could really tell that much beneath the paint. Tit for tat I guess.

  54. I did the same in my house with cheaper Billy bookcases. It appears they’ve redone the widths since I did mine, but I had to combine two narrow ones and three wide ones to get to the right total width for a wall in my house. Came to around $300 IIRC. Holding up great, though not loaded 100% with books, mostly collectibles and baubles. Never moved ’em though.

  55. If economic forces ever allow me to purchase a house of my own I look forward to building custom shelves for my ever-growing library, but in the meantime I’m happy Ikea was able to help me organize my one-bedroom apartment. Before the “Billy” bookcase most of my stuff was on those industrial wire shelves. Ugh.

  56. The problem I have with this solution is that the default shelf size is huge – roughly twice as high as a paperback and probably three times deeper.

    If you’re like me, with an effectively unbounded need for book storage, it’s going to be much more efficient to use shelves that are paperback height (+ epsilon). I think it looks a lot better too, to be honest.

    This also saves you on lumbar costs, because if the shelves are 3 x shallower, you only need a third as much wood.

    In my last place, we basically did the “floorboards supported on wall brackets” thing. But because those shelves were *solid* with books, you really didn’t notice the shelving, just the books. That worked out as something like 150 linear feet for $200 dollars. They didn’t sag, either.

  57. @Gloria: “Cinderblocks? Do you people hate your eyes?”

    Gloria, a coat of pretty paint does wonders.
    One recommedation- set the cinder blocks at an angle (what’s the opposite of pigeon-toed?), or the whole stack could get bumped over.

  58. Ikea includes hardware and instructions for attaching shelving units to the wall with every unit they sell. This will only fall over and kill you if you didn’t use the hardware, something for which they would bear no responsibility whatsoever.

  59. I love this. How creative and resourceful! Where did you get the ladder? Did you fasten all the shelves to the wall?

  60. I love the IKEA Shelving! I heard some negative comments about the particle board shelving units. We have had our IKEA shelving for almost 25 years and in three countries. They look beautiful and have lived in many rooms of our home. These shelves have outlived many other similar manufactures of shelving. As a librarian these have been some of the best shelving for the price I have ever used.

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