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Solid wood shelves for alcoves

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Many houses are left with a relic from the past: once the heart of the home, now a redundant chimney stack eats into the room, leaving non-standard sized alcoves on either side. One way to claim back the wasted space is to build in shelves and units.

This post goes into how to handle such a project: things to bear in mind, how much it would cost (and what wood to use), what fixings to use, and some pointers as to how actually to put the shelves up.

Alcove size

There is no standard size for an alcove. Fireplaces have grown and shrunk in size over the years. There are also many other reasons you could have an alcove in your house. Be sure measure the length of the alcove at the front of the chimney stack, and at the back, it is not uncommon for chimney stacks to widen, or for drywalling to not be 100% level. Remember the length of any shelves possibly needs to factor in the thickness of the shelf bracket too.

Shelf brackets

Be sure to checkout alcove shelf brackets. Basically a right angled piece of metal which the shelf can either sit into, or on top of. The pictures above use these brackets from Etsy, but similar ones can be found on eBay or Amazon. Note: rarely are these brackets sold as a pair, so the price might be per bracket.

This type of bracket is preferable as it shares the weight of the shelf across two walls (useful if your back wall is only drywalled). It also can help the shelf handle the variances if the walls are not completely straight, which is often the case in older houses with fireplaces. The one bracket can have two different ‘looks’, choosing to expose more or less of the bracket depending on the style.

~£13 per pair/shelf on Etsy

Shelf depth

The depth of your shelf is more about the depth of your books (and other objects) than it is about the available depth of the alcove. A shelf the entire depth of the alcove could give the effect of crowding the space somewhat, and could end up with a lot of wasted space at the back. A generous depth for a shelf is around 300mm.

You might also want to consider the depth of the alcove shelf bracket that you are using, if the shelf was to extend beyond the bracket, or not quite reach it, it could look a little odd.

Shelf height

If you are fixing multiple shelves into an alcove it’s important to give some thought as to how much space should be in between them. A good idea is to measure your biggest books and add a healthy margin. Remember not all shelves have to be equidistant from each other, but a seemingly random distance between each shelf could look quite odd.

How much do solid wood alcove shelves cost

Quantity and size

A big factor on how much your shelving project will cost is how many shelves you want to use, the length of your alcove and depth of your books/objects.

It’s important to make the most of the space available and to accommodate the books you have, but crowding the top of the room could have the opposite effect you are reaching for. If you are not the most visual of thinkers, maybe try to create a mockup of your alcove with the tools you have available, the most simple being to print a picture of the space and draw on the shelves.

Oak / pine / walnut

The second factor on how much the project will cost is what wood you choose to work with. Our post: ‘How to choose the right solid wood for your desk’ discusses the main properties of the woods we regularly work with including oak, pine, walnut and asian hardwood.

How visible the shelf will be could be a big factor on which wood to choose. There is little point paying a premium for walnut if the grain can’t be seen, a stained pine shelf might provide the same effect at a more economical price point.

If the shelf is to accompany a desk, or other visible wood, it might be important to either compliment or contrast with the existing furniture.

One factor that is not overly important for most shelves is strength. All solid wood would perform very well at the sizes typically associated with shelving.

Considerations when putting up solid wood alcove shelves

Wall type

Consider if the shelf bracket is being attached to solid brick or plaster board. The strongest wood and the toughest metal bracket will not keep a shelf up if the screws are easy to pull out! If the wall is brick, use screws with good quality rawlplugs. If the wall is plaster board, use plasterboard specific fixings, and be aware of the weight limits. You might also be able to use longer screws to drill through the plasterboard and into the brick behind.

Measuring and levelling

Remember to include the thickness of the shelf itself into your calculations. Depending on the layout measure from either the top or bottom, and using a pencil mark where each shelf should go.

Do not simply measure the same distance on the other side of the alcove! Use one side as a guide, then mark the other side using a spirit level. Again, walls in old houses are rarely straight, using measurements only could result in some wonky shelves!

Making monitor stands from solid wood shelves

Many of our customers purchase a shelf to make monitor raisers from. Our standard design uses matching wood to elevate a platform for your devices/monitors. It is very simple to screw feet from other retailers into them to create any number of interesting designs.

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