Design & Style
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Storage Ideas: Clever Bookshelf Ideas

By Fran Sigurdsson
Published: October 7, 2011
HANDY SHELVES – Cabin Life readers Sean & Chrissy Bradley share a photo of their island shelves. Located in the working part of their kitchen, the shelves keep cookbooks handy for quick reference. Plus, “We’re able to store fruits at an easy-to-reach location for our young children,” says Sean.
Photo by Floor to Ceiling Interior Design Showroom,
Do you crave adventure at the cabin? In the mood for romance?  Or maybe you just need a recipe for your cabin-community potluck. Whatever your taste in reading, books are essential cabin companions.
    If your retreat has been in the family for a generation or more, it probably boasts a well-thumbed collection already. Add the bestseller your spouse packs to read over the weekend, the kayaking guide you pick up at the general store, and, well, you get the idea. Somehow, every visit to the cabin seems to result in more books.
    Which is fine – until the stack starts wobbling. So channel your inner Sherlock Holmes. Sleuth out the recesses of your inner sanctum. Could that unused corner carry part of the storage load? Would built-in shelves make that sloping wall functional and appealing? The clues to solving your own cozy mystery are in this second installment of Cabin Life’s series on storage solutions.
READING SPOT – A lot of natural light and a comfy chair make this corner the perfect spot to curl up with a good book. Eight-inch-wide oak timbers frame the large-book-capacity shelving under a cathedral ceiling. “Having the room proportional is crucial,” notes Johnny Miller of OakBridge Timber Framing in Ohio. In this case, “If it doesn’t feel right, you’re not going to sit there and read.”
Photo by OakBridge Timber Framing
The Writing’s on the Wall
How does your cabin stack up when it comes to books? Freestanding bookcases are a quick fix for teetering piles. But like all freestanding furniture, they take up floor space. If your cabin is compact, a better option might be built-in shelving.
    “Built-ins blur the line between architecture and décor, and make a small cabin feel large,” says Seattle architect
Ross Chapin. “They also make it homey. Imagine walking into a cabin with a niche for a boat bell. Then farther in you see a wall of bookshelves next to a stone fire- place. You look at the photos of boats on the lake decades ago and the books they were reading back then. Step into this place, and you’re creating an experience that’s memorable and shared with others.”
    If that’s the cabin experience your heart desires, continue on, gentle reader.
    Great rooms, lofts, bedrooms, hallways, stairway landings, even kitchens – all can accommodate books in an orderly and attractive fashion. Depending on the size of your collection, books can line an entire wall in a room, frame a doorway, bookend a fireplace, or perch by your bed.
    Bookshelves around a window are especially enticing, as the photo opposite, above shows. This library/loft addition came about because the homeowner, an avid reader, wanted lots of light and white walls. So she expressed this wish to her builder, Johnny Miller of OakBridge Timber Framing in Ohio.
    To arrive at the room’s pleasing proportions, Miller consulted one of his favorite books: A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander. The author gives proportions for different spaces around the house that create a sense of well-being. Miller felt the library/loft space was a retreat, comparable to an outside courtyard. “Alexander mentions that for an outside courtyard, similar to this, the width should be twice the height to feel right,” says Miller.
Mending Bookshelves
Remember the Frost poem “Mending Wall” about fences making good neighbors? Well, bookcases make good room dividers, says architect Louis Mackall of Woodbridge, Conn. In one project, Mackall added a bookshelf to the side of a kitchen island facing a fireside sitting area, effectively separating the two spaces. What better place to pore over a cookbook?
    In another waterside home, a headboard with built-in night tables and bookshelf cocoons a bed. The back of the headboard features a built-in dresser, and sets off a separate dressing area.

A Happy Ending
We hope this article helps you crack the case of “From the Dead Zone to the Read Zone.” If so, please send us the evidence: before and after snapshots of your built-in project!

What’s on the bookshelf at Fran Sigurdsson’s Adirondack lakehome? Cabin Fever: A Suburban Father’s Search for the Wild by Tom Montgomery Fate.

Photo by Ross Chapin Architects
Architect Ross Chapin recalls his grandma reciting the following poem when he was a boy at the family cabin on Eagle Lake, Wis. Perhaps the verse inspired his design for this “halfway” window seat and bookshelves.

Halfway Down the Stairs
Halfway down the stairs
is a stair where I sit.
There isn’t any other stair quite like it.
I’m not at the bottom,
I’m not at the top;
so this is the stair where I always stop.
Halfway up the stairs
isn’t up, and isn’t down.
It isn’t in the nursery, it isn’t in the town.
And all sorts of funny thoughts
run round my head:
It isn’t really anywhere!
It’s somewhere else instead!
– A. A. Milne
Expert DIY Tips from a Master Carpenter on How to Build a Bookshelf
Expert carpenter Gary Katz demonstrates techniques at trade shows and lumberyards across the country and writes how-to articles. Follow his tips for building a bookcase, and you’ll have an heirloom that your family can enjoy at the cabin for years to come.


What’s on your cabin bookshelf; what do you like to read/reread at the cabin? Go to our Forums today to nominate your favorite cabin classic!

 (A note from Cabin Life editor Mark Johnson: “From experience, I recommend that you do not read either of the following at the cabin on a dark, quiet night: Stephen King’s The Shining or Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs.)

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