We’ve been in this house over a year now. I still can’t quite believe our luck! We moved in at the end of November 2015, and quickly worked through a list of jobs. There was a further list of stuff to do when we got around to it. Over this summer break we steadily worked through it and I’m pleased to say got everything crossed off the list! Of course there’s always plenty more to do but it felt good to get some long term plans achieved.

First up was wall shelves for the living room. We’ve been planning this for a while, and I wanted to do this before we did any other big changes to the room. I kind of hate the wall colour, and I was feeling unhappy with our couches – we got them for free from my aunt and uncle and they are really good couches but very busy, and made the room feel dark and cluttered.

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Here’s a before of the room. Most of these are low quality iPhone photos, sorry. I also haven’t staged anything, as you can see by all the random items lying around. I hope you can get an idea at least. The wall colour is ok, but in low light (like, all of winter) it’s almost a light khaki and looks very dinghy. Not my thing, so I am planning to paint at some point. We have also been going through a bunch of different furniture configurations, most notably that the table moves around a lot, trying to find a good spot. The last owners had their dining area in the kitchen, but there’s only room for a very small table there, so we put ours in the (large) living room. It worked ok but there was always wasted and awkward space. But I didn’t want to do any big fixes until we had the planned wall shelves up, because I suspected it would change the way the room feels, in a big way. I was right!

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The plan was to install track shelving – the kind you use in wardrobes – for shelves across the whole wall. I wanted to mimic the general look and feel of Ladderax or String shelving – both of which were severely out of our budget. As an added bonus, doing the shelves our was was more space efficient and meant we could cram more books in, as well as going higher to emphasise the tall ceilings.

I did a bunch of googling to get ideas of what it would look like (and to talk S into it, he was hesitant at first mostly, I found, because he couldn’t really visualise it). I found almostmakesperfect the most useful, but it looks like the site is down at the moment. If you google ‘track shelving’ you can still find photos of their shelves. There are a couple of other links, and Daniel from Manhattan Nest has a sleeker, modern, minimalist version. I was pretty sure I wanted black struts, to fade into the background a bit and mimic the Midcentury feel of Ladderax, giving the whole room a more grounded feel. S was pretty sceptical about this and wanted white, saying that he thought it would be less obvious than black. While we were still discussing this, we put up a smaller set in my craft room, using white struts (which was what I wanted in there).

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The google images and seeing my white shelves convinced S that black was the way to go in the living room, as on a larger scale the black struts blend in better with the shadows of the shelves. Hooray! We started sketching out plans and doing maths. The longest struts we could get were just under 2m, so that was what we went with. We looked at sourcing timber from a bunch of different places. In the end, we just went with dressed pine from Bunnings, which was the only place that we could find timber the width we wanted – 30cm, to be able to accommodate bit books.

The timber was only available in certain lengths – I think it was something like 80cm, 180cm or 240cm. We wanted the shelves to be about 150cm long, so instead of buying lots of 180cm pieces and then cutting off 30cm, we bought 240cm and had the cut shop at Bunnings cut them down, so that we ended up with a bunch of 155cm pieces and a bunch of 90cm pieces (the boards were slightly longer than advertised). I then stained them – it’s Cabot’s waterbased stain and varnish, in ‘crabwood’. I used a microfibre roller to do them, and they took two coats each. I was glad I had practiced on the shelves in my room, these look much better and have fewer drips and splotches. I tried to have a very light hand and just barely have any stain on the roller, I found that made for a nice finish.

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Ready to go!

So once we had the lengths we were working with, we did the maths of where things would go. I can’t now find the sketches we did, so you’ll have to imagine pages and pages of scribbles :P. The wall closest to the window is narrower than the side closest to the tv. It also looks even smaller because of the air conditioning unit. The unit is close enough to the back wall that we needed to avoid it, so that dictated the placement on that side. Then we basically just put the other shelves the same distance from the heater, to make them balanced. There was much discussion of whether it would look like the gap between the shelves and the wall would look too big, but we have a lamp to go there so we decided it would be fine. We worked out how far apart the struts would need to be, and got drilling!

In fact we initially made an error, and ended up putting the end strut closer to the middle than we’d initially planned by something like 10cm. There was a bit of a freak out, and we decided to stop for lunch and come back after. Once we’d eaten, we decided that it was fine, the shelves would just stick out from the strut a bit further, and we’d have to make the third strut the same distance so that the smaller shelves were balanced. Now I really like it and I’m glad we made this mistake!

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The books chilling out, waiting for us to be done

I am glossing over this part but the first strut took something like an hour to put up. It was so painful. But we needed to be sure it was straight, the right distance from the floor and ceiling (which are not straight!) and in the right spot horizontally (whoops!). Once we had the first couple up, it was easier because we could measure off of that strut. We also got into the swing of things and got our technique down. Each shelf has six dynabolts in it – we wanted to be absolutely sure it was going to stay up! Putting the struts up took the better part of the day. It was exhausting.

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But by late afternoon, it looked like this! So so thrilling. Having all the bits ready to go made such a difference. We had to order the supports in because we needed so many – I think we used 40 all up! We also split up the buying over a few months. I say this is a budget friendly way to do shelves, and it is, but it still wasn’t cheap! The struts were something like $15 each for a total of $90 (ish… I can’t recall exactly). The supports were $5 each so that’s $200 all up. The boards were $45 each and we got eight so that’s $360, and the stain was $50. So that’s a total of $700(ish), plus the cost of the dyabolts. Not nothing. Still, what piece of furniture can you even buy for that? If we went to IKEA and bought the cheapest Billy bookcases, we might just be able to cover the same area for the price, but we wouldn’t have the look we wanted.

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Once we had them up, we spent some time putting the shelves up and moving them around. We knew we wanted the top one and the bottom two to be solid shelves. I also wanted them to be unbalanced within each shelf but mirroring each other – I am not sure how to make that make sense. S kept asking, didn’t I want the gaps to go ‘left, right, left, right’ so it was balanced, but I wanted them to go ‘right, left, left, right’. I have no idea if that’s making even an iota of sense, I’ll just have to hope for the best! Once we started putting them up he saw what I meant and agreed. We did end up moving the small shelves so they were closer to each other, because it looked better. The only thing is that you can’t put the support in the slots just above the bolt, but you can put it over the bolt or just under it.

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By the time it was getting dark, they were done! I set about putting the books back. First I sorted them – big books to go down the bottom, fiction and non fiction separated. We put the fiction by series (we have a LOT of series) and any non-series fiction went alphabetically by author. The non fiction went higher up – we don’t need to access it as often – and by colour.

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Slowly getting there

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Books are heavy, so I had to stop for the evening because I was pooped. But the next day I put the rest up, and we rearranged furniture. The room feels so much more balanced now – the tall shelves emphasise the height without making it feel looming, because they’re open. And the couches seem less busy because they’re not the focus. I even like the fan more! It’s shaped like leaves and very visually heavy and I hated it when we moved in but now I’m kind of into it (except that it’s not very efficient as a fan!). It used to make the ceiling seem lower but now the shelves balance it out.

Still to be done to the room is to move the TV – when G moves out S is taking over his room as a den, and the tv will go in there. Over the next year we’ll also consider if we do want to paint and, if so, what colour. The advantage of the current colour is its carried through most of the house, except the bedrooms, so it makes everything seem light and contiguous. I don’t really want to repaint the whole house, but we’ll see how i feel about it over winter. Once we decide about painting, we’ll decide whether to replace the IKEA curtains with something more interesting.

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A few days later we hung up some of the artwork that’s been languishing in a cupboard, waiting for us to be ready. And the room was done!

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I’m on the hunt for some nice baskets etc for the stuff living under the shelves.
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I’m still debating adding small prints to the spaces in between the shelves, but for now I’m enjoying the extra space. Part of the benefit of this setup is if we get tired of the shelving arrangement, we can move them around.
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The purple painting was bought at the Queen Victoria Markets while I was in Melbourne for my cousin’s wedding. The photo is by one of my good friends and I’ve been hoarding it waiting for the right wall. The frame is just a Ribba frame from IKEA.
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We have to be careful not to let this area become a dumping ground – we have had modest success so far. It needs a bit of a tidy up. The painting on the wall was commisioned for me by my cousin. It’s me as a Hufflepuff (v. sweet. I am definitely not nice enough to be a Hufflepuff, but it was a lovely compliment!) The side table thing is actually a treadle sewing machine that I’m hoarding in case of apocalypse.
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Prints on the back wall (one of which is slipping in the frame,whoops! Must fix that) are from Fancy Lady Industries. Near the curtain is a cross stich my best friend did for me – it says ‘True but Harsh but Fair’, my unofficial motto! And under it is a print of Spock that some delightful friends gave me for my 30th. All Ribba frames again. That side table is an IKEA laptop table, we’re planning to put wood on top and stain it the same colour as the shelves. Mirror is from an op shop years ago, shelving unit with the cookbooks in it is from S’ parent’s house, the crock pot the snake plants are in used to keep flour in my parent’s house until the lid got dropped.
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The painting was bought at the same time as the purple one. Once the TVs one, the painting will go in the middle of the wall there, and I’ve got another square frame with a Margaret Preston print to go where the painting is. WE’re debating adding smaller pieces of art around them but it’s also nice to have a slightly emptier wall. I am on the lookout for a lamp I like more than the IKEA job in the corner, but good lamps are hard to find! (And not cheap, neither).

So there we go! Shelves, and a re-arranged room. And suddenly it feels like I actually did some interior decorating! Everything in the room – art, plants, furniture – we already had, and most of it was in here already. But now it seems intentional. I love it.

If anyone is planning to do something like this, I would say, do not underestimate the planning time. It took probably three months to hammer out the plan, measuring everything, etc. Having that in place, and having talked about what bits we liked and what we didn’t mind compromising on, meant we could be flexible when something went wrong or wasn’t working.

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4 thoughts on “Shelving the living room

    1. They are! Everything from Bunnings. We did have to special order more of the brackets because we wanted so many and black apparently isn’t as popular as white. I do still love it, a whole lot! I was just saying to S yesterday how pleased I am with it. I also love that it’s versatile so we can move shelves around in future if we need to, but I love how it’s set up now so I can’t see us doing that any time soon.

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