carlyn yandle/for metro vancouver


Above: A series of wall-mounted Ikea shelves installed along the space above this closet yields the same number of books as one tall Ikea “Billy” bookcase.

Inset: A close-up view of the wall-mounted shelves.

Last week in this space I took on the problem of the ‘spare’ room that inevitably has no room to spare when it’s obliged to take on all comers — overnight guests, collections, sports gear, work clothes, toys, among others.

I suggested installing a wall bed as a starting point for transforming the household dumping ground into a truly multi-functional room. It’s often a better choice than a convertible sofa or futon for small condos, where there’s likely less floor space than wall space, but a wall bed takes up valuable bookcase space. And we all need our books (and magazines, photos and mementoes … ).

To me, any featured home in a décor magazine that doesn’t feature at least a few shelves’ worth of reading material isn’t a real home. So when there’s simply nowhere to place a tall bookshelf, it’s time to look up — waaaay up, to the space between the tops of windows or doors and the ceiling.

A continuous line of wall-mounted shelves running across the extent of one wall can hold a surprising number of books. A full perimeter of wall-mounted shelving could carry the equivalent of four bookcases. But beyond the practical, high perimeter shelving creates the effect of different ceiling heights, so essential in ingenious Frank Lloyd Wright-style interior architecture. Suddenly a room that is little more than a box has the look of dropped soffits, which help create a cozy, intimate retreat room, while retaining the full ceiling height in the centre to ensure against that closed-in feeling.

Wall-mounted shelves are simply planks of wood, wood composite, metal or tempered glass, with hidden or exposed brackets. Ikea is the obvious source for a wide variety of both shelving and brackets. I prefer using real wood; it’s sturdy, a more fitting material for books and can be stained or painted to suit other wood or walls.

Installing the shelving is simply a matter of measuring the wall length and purchasing enough shelving to fit, trimming a board where necessary so it runs flush to the end walls. It’s best to affix the brackets into the wall studs; otherwise use strong wall anchors — books weigh a lot. Make sure to install the shelving at the exact same level.

For a more built-in, seamless look, use longer lengths of finished wood planks, available at a wood supplier, or hire a handy­person to do it all to ensure a professional result.

Carlyn Yandle is a Vancouver journalist with her own room-planning business, Home Reworks ( She dwells on urban-home issues every Thursday in Metro.

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