In Design

Design Your Built-In Bookshelf Reading Nook

built-in bookshelf with built-in window bench reading nook

Everything You Need to Know About Built-In Bookshelves

Creating a cozy, built-in bookshelf and reading nook in your home is the perfect way to combine functionality with a touch of personal style. This built-in bookshelf with built-in window bench creates a reading nook that offers a serene retreat tailored to your wants and desires. In this post, I’ll walk you through the process of designing your own custom-built reading nook. Everything from the practicalities of choosing the ideal location and dimension recommendations, to the creative designing and decorating of your nook. Whether you’re looking to enhance your living room or carve out a peaceful hideaway in your bedroom, this project promises to transform your space. Let’s get started!

Gather Bookshelf Inspiration

Bookshelves, both built-in and freestanding, have been featured in homes for generations. Books, once only kept in libraries and homes of the wealthy, have become a feature point in our homes today. A challenge that occurs is where and how to house those books while maintaining aesthetic appeal. As an old home lover, I often look to old house plan books for inspiration such as this floorplan from the Radford American Homes catalog or, for this built-in bookshelf window nook, 1927 Builders’ Woodwork design book.

build-in bookshelf with window seat vintage inspiration reading nook

Choose the Perfect Wall

Bookshelf Wall

After gathering your inspiration, identify a wall for your built-in bookshelves. A wall that’s about twelve feet wide and has a centered window is a fantastic choice. This will ensure ample room for your books and enough visual space create a balanced look. If you do not have a window, no need to worry! You can still create a built-in bookshelves with bench seating. Consider placing a large piece of art as the focal point, similar to where a window would be, and center your shelving around it.

Side Wall Clearance

Ensure that your bookshelf wall is supported by side walls that have plenty of clearance to receive the depth of a built-in. There should be at least 3 feet available before a door, window, or column.

built-in bookshelf reading nook picking the right wall

Take Note of Existing Elements

Before diving into construction, take note of any air registers, outlets, can lights, and switches. Remove or relocate anything you can. But if that is not possible, you will need to integrate these into your new bookshelf. That can be as easy as cutting a hole in the back of the bookshelf to accommodate an outlet. Or pick a decorative grate for an air register that will blend with your overall design.

Plan Bookshelf Proportions

Divide your wall into fifths and design your bookshelf units within that framework. For example, an 11′-6″ wall would give you bookshelf units that are 27-1/2″ wide.

Plan for your open bookshelves to be at least 12 inches deep. A good range is between 12 to 15 inches. This will give books plenty of space so there is no overhang. The extra room will also help accommodate décor items like family keepsakes or potted plants.

Incorporate a Built-in Window Seat

If your window is at least 32 inches above the floor, consider adding a built-in window seat between your built-in bookshelves. The ideal height dimensions for a window seat are 15 – 17 inches with a depth at least 18 inches. These dimensions are equal to my suggested dimensions in my post about built-in banquette seating.

If your window is not at least 32 inches above the floor, don’t worry, adding cozy armchair or small sofa in place of a built-in bench work just as well! Choose something comfortable and in a color that makes you happy.

built-in bookshelf with built-in window bench reading nook

Lighting is Key

Reading nooks need great lighting. If your build-in bookshelf is centered on a window, daylight will provide beautiful lighting. But for evenings light fixtures will be needed. Think of lighting in layers to accommodate all moods and reading needs by incorporate wall sconces, overhead lights, and floor lamps. Aim for bulbs with a 2700K rating for a warm and comfortable environment that is easy on your eyes.

Style Your Books

  • Customization: Consider painting or wallpapering the back of your built-in bookshelf to enhance it as a focal point for another layer of customization. Peeks of color or pattern behind books and keepsakes will add a charming touch of depth to the bookshelves.
  • Negative Space: Use a combination of simple bookends and decorative bookends to keep your books in place so they aren’t pressed in across every shelf. Creating space between books on some of the shelves creates visual appeal and avoids overwhelming the bookshelf.
  • Create book stacks: For a different way of arraigning books, consider stacking some. Again, the idea is to create visual interest across the built-in bookshelves as a whole.
  • Offset Balance: Arrange similarly styled shelves at an angle from each other for further visual variety.
built-in bookshelf decorating and styling

Final Touches with Décor

Complete your reading nook with a cozy rug and some art. Incorporate lots of pillows for comfort and style and a large ottoman to put your feet up. A small side table is a good addition to place a warm mug of tea or glass of water. These types of finishing elements will make your nook inviting and perfect for hours of reading.

finished built-in bookshelf and window nook

Enjoy Your Built-in Cozy Reading Nook!

Now you are able to design and plan a built-in window bench reading nook that perfectly fits your home and style! Remember, the beauty of a custom-built project is that it can be tailored exactly to your liking, so feel free to take my recommended dimensions and make them work for you and your space. Please, avoid the common mistake of “winging it” by planning your measurements carefully before you start, and you’ll save both time and resources. With creativity and a little effort, you can transform any window into a cozy sanctuary for reading and relaxation.

Want Help?

Do you still feel unsure where to start to make your reading nook vision come to life? My experience and professional perspective can help create a customized solution. Check out my interior design services! My digital Design Mini might be right for you. Get a 10 page custom presentation that is great for DIYers or those just needing a place to start. I’ll help you see how your ideas can become a reality.

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