How-To: Custom Built-In Shelves in Our Living Room

If you know me or have been following along for awhile, you know I’m always tweaking and updating our space! I  believe our home isn’t stagnant but always evolving based on our needs and preferences. Our living room is immediately right when you walk into our house. You see the fireplace right away, plus a large, beautiful window facing our front yard.  On either side of the fireplace was sort of wasted space. The left side has a large window and the right side had a large indented area that was just…empty. It was perfect for our Christmas tree, but of course, that’s not a year-round thing! Usually we kept this peacock chair with tall plants in the corner to add some visual interest and height, but no one ever sat in it, so it wasn’t very practical.

Recently, I  had the idea to have Eric build custom built-in shelves with a bench and cabinets into the right side nook, and a bench area on the left side. I am so happy with how it turned out! The shelves add visual interest and height to offset the tall ceilings and fireplace, and the cabinets underneath (as well as the window seat on the other side) provide always-appreciated storage!

Below, I’m sharing a how-to for building custom built-in shelving and cabinets, as well as the tools and materials needed. Obviously, all of this is coming from my personal handyman, Eric, and not me. 🙂 He also built a little window bench under the window, which you can see in the ‘after’ photos.

Check out this blog post for photos and details about how we decorated this living room space and the new shelves!




Sander, wood saw, 12″ long drill bit (for floating shelves), oscillating saw, chaulk gun, brush/roller to paint, stud finder

Step 1

Prep. This took Andi a long time to figure out *where* she wanted the shelves, how deep/wide they would be, and the position and style of the cabinets. Andi’s home project style is to figure it out and iterate – but with custom built ins, it is one and done :). We marked the wall with tape, held up boards to picture the size of the shelves and finally landed on a basic plan.

Step 2

Install the floating shelf brackets. All our walls are super uneven, so I focused on getting the shelves at the right height, and level with the ground. I used the brackets to mark where to drill along the tape line, and mounted one bracket in fully, using a level to mark where on the wall I would need to drill the second bracket.

Step 3

Install the floating shelves. I cut the 2×10″ board to fit in between the two walls (3x for the 3 shelves!). Once cut, I laid the board on top of the installed brackets to mark where along the board I’d need to drill in the shelf for the board, and then used a bracket to pinpoint and mark where (vertically in the 2″) I’d need to drill. With a 12″ bit, I marked with a piece of blue tape the depth of the bracket and drilled straight down until I hit the tape so the hole would only be as deep as the bracket. This step is a measure twice, drill once step – so double check before drilling the hole!

Step 4

Slide the shelves onto the floating brackets. It was a tight fit, so I’d use a rubber mallet to gently tap the board where the brackets are to slowly work in all the way back to the wall where the brackets are covered!

Step 5

Onto the custom cabinet! I measured and cut a 2×4″ to go along the back and each of the side walls. Once cut, I screwed these 2×4″s into the studs of each of the walls using 3.5″ screws and a level to ensure they were both tight to the wall (and could support weight) and made 3 sides of a square.

Step 6

Measured and cut 2 identical 2×4″s for the front of the box. Use one to finish the top box – screwing it in (using 3.5″ screws) to the 2×4″s along the sides of the wall, and created a “square” at the height we wanted the top of the cabinet.

Step 7

Use an oscillating saw to cut the baseboard trim so you can mount the bottom board (and two vertical 2×4″s for support of the front of the top box). In the end, you want a level square of 2×4″s on top, and a square of 2×4″s on the front.

Step 8

Cut finished plywood to fit for the top of the box, and the newly created lower box (ours was 4″ off the floor). Put each in place, and use finishing nails to attach.

Step 9

Use 1×4″ finishing board and quarter round to clean up the front look and match to existing trim and create a middle section for the cabinet doors to close on. Sand everything down and prep to paint filling in any holes with chaulk.

Step 10

Paint and style!

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2 thoughts on “How-To: Custom Built-In Shelves in Our Living Room

  1. I love the simplicity of this. Thank you so much! This is exactly the tutorial I was looking for, as pre-made floating shelves are so expensive, especially for longer lengths.