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Custom Built-in Bookcase with Credenza

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The photos below are an example of a custom built-in bookcase and credenza with marble top. This particular installation is in a high-rise condominium with contemporary architectural detailing.

Scope of Project

The challenge with this project was multifaceted. First, from an aesthetic perspective, we wanted the finished installation to look original to the condo - not like a ham-handed add-on. Several design concepts were developed and presented to the client as shown in the drawings below. We settled on a two-piece solution: an upper bookcase, and lower credenza topped with stone matching the countertops in the kitchen area. To enhance the "original to the condo" look, we decided to finish both cases in the same color as the adjacent walls, soffit-down the ceiling area above the bookcase, and trim out the sides of the cases with a contemporary reveal where it meets the existing wall surfaces.

The second challenge was to limit on-site painting and finishing work to an absolute minimum. As a result, the built-ins were designed to fit precisely into the alcove opening with a mere 1/4" gap around the sides, and both cases were spray finished with colored lacquer off-site and prior to installation. The 1/4" gaps surrounding the cases received narrow trims forming a delicate reveal that required minimum of on-site finishing. The resulting reveal can be seen in a few of the close-up photos below. We decided to finish the back panels of the upper bookcase in a contrasting grey to add character and further reinforce the contemporary nature of the design.

And the bookcase needed to be light in weight, but able to carry a significant weight of books once installed. Construction details of the resulting torsion-box technique used to lighten the overall weight of the bookcase can be seen in the photos, and consist of 3/4" Baltic Birch plywood frames covered on both sides with 6mm Baltic Birch skins. This is similar to construction methods used in the marine and aircraft industries to reduce weight.

To further complicate the project, it became clear that the partition wall that would ultimately hold the bookcase was fabricated from narrow-gage steel studs and could not carry the weight once the bookcase was fully loaded. So the installation required the removal of the rear wall surface and the installation of conventional framing inside the wall prior to hanging the bookcase.

Click on each image to view larger images and to see larger images that reveal more of the specifics about the bookcase and credenza construction.


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This is the original space - an alcove at the end of a long wall in the living room of the condo.


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The alcove area was not square since the adjacent exterior walls were slightly curved.


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This drawing explores a few alternative designs for the client to consider.


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The design details of the reveal that interface the cases to the adjacent walls can be seen in this drawing.


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Components of the bookcase carcass after milling. Construction is European Beach and Baltic Birch plywood.


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Torsion-box constructing can be seen in this image - a sandwich of thin hardwood skins on both sides of a frame.


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Bookcase torsion-box components after assembly - trimmed to final dimensions.


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Assembling the bookcase from the torsion-box components.


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All components of the bookcase are joined with Beach floating tenons - no screws or nails were employed in the joinery.


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Clamping the bookcase components during glue-up.


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Upper bookcase (upside down) prior to installation of the back.


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Upper bookcase unit (upside down) after shop finishing - note the contrasting color of the back panels.


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This is the lower credenza unit after construction.


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The credenza unit after shop finishing.


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The alcove area before installation.


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This is the completed installation.


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The final shelf components are twice the thickness of a typical "stock" bookcase, accentuating the contemporary design.


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A detail of the upper bookcase after installation.


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In this image, the delicate 1/4" reveal between the cases and the adjacent walls can be seen. After installation, only this reveal area required painting to blend to the adjacent walls.


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Appearance of the final built-in after installation. "Original to the unit" goal achieved.
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