Consider built-in bookcases

Design Line

December 02, 2007|By Rita St. Clair | Rita St. Clair,Tribune Media Services

We're partitioning the end of our family room nearest the kitchen in order to create a small, quiet reading area. Hundreds of books are to be stored in this new space, so we need some sturdy bookcases. What kind would you suggest? And can you advise us on how to light the shelves?

I hope you'll consider having bookcases built on the spot by the carpenters who will be constructing the family-room partition. Custom-made units can take maximum advantage of available space while fully integrating the look of the bookcases with the nearby woodwork. Painting or staining bookcases also will result in a more organized, finished look, and cause a space to appear larger.

But you first must decide whether the units should have fixed or adjustable shelves. If you prefer the convenience and flexibility of movable shelves, make sure they're thick enough to support your heaviest books. One inch should suffice in most standard length shelving.

One important factor with bookshelf lighting is to ensure that the spines of the books are evenly illuminated. Fixtures designed specifically for this task can be installed in the ceiling or suspended from it.

Alternately, lighting fixtures can be installed directly on the shelving, although this is a pricier option and a shield in the form of a molding must often be placed in front of the lighting.

Rita St. Clair is a Baltimore-based interior designer. Readers with general interior design questions can e-mail her at

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