built in

IMG_0589Living DiningIMG_3490IMG_3491

so the previous homeowner, ray, fancied himself a bit of a woodworker, which meant that, when we bought this house, we also bought a number of his projects (and tools and all the wood he had stored away for a rainy day). so far nothing we have seen has led us to believe he had any skill with a mitre saw, but that he was, instead, a handyman of a certain generation. he seemed to make-do with whatever was lying around — duct tape and 4″ nails and whatever wood was stowed away beneath the porch along with the jugs of kerosene (true) — and the result has, so far, never been something we want to live with.

we’d already undone all of the “carpentry” he performed on the baseboards and casings in the living and dining rooms and bedrooms and, having all this woodwork returned to its original glory really highlighted the scrappiness of the built-in bookshelf that separated our living room from our dining room. we really liked the functionality of the bookshelf; its existence led me to sell our modular teak shelving unit before we moved from toronto to victoria. it provided the perfect amount of separation between our living and dining rooms, was very well proportioned and gave us just the right amount of storage for the four boxes of books that we brought with us. but, even if the feature had been, the structure certainly wasn’t original to the house and we decided to tear it out and have our carpenters rebuild it as something more true to the style of the house as well as update some of the window casings in the living and dining rooms and redo the all the woodwork around the fireplace.


over a few weeks, they drew up a simple design for us that echoed the mouldings they’d installed in the house earlier in the summer: so, a clean header with a simple bullnosed parting strip to divide the columns from the header; oak shelves to match our floors; mock panels on the columns as a nod to the shaker panelling on our original doors (we have two!) and 10″ baseboards to wrap around the columns. it took them a full week to tear out and rebuild and then the rest was up to us!


pierre used a power sander, a mouse sander, the sanding block and 180 grit sandpaper to sand down all the mdf. he used a shop-vac to vacuum the whole thing afterwards.


i used methyl hydrate and a microfibre cloth to wipe down all the faces, making sure there was not a speck of dirt or dust anywhere before i started priming.


over the course of several weeks months i primed and painted the whole unit. the white trim was installed paint-ready, but the bare mdf was primed with zinsser cover stain, an oil-based primer.


following that, i applied two topcoats of a sherwin williams colour called restful, which was also used on frankie’s dresser. it’s very similar to the wall colour in our living room, which is another sherwin williams colour called reclining green. i did that on purpose as a nod to our stained glass windows, which contain multiple shades of green and yellow, but none of them are very different from one another.

i then painted all the trim extra white and prepped the oak shelves for pierre to varnish.


pierre sponged on one coat of minwax wood conditioner and then three coats of the minwax satin verathane varnish. he hauled the dehumidifier upstairs to make sure the shelves dried really well between coats. this took the last two days of his most recent visit home as we had to allow eight hours between coats.


last step was to prime and paint the faces that face the shelves and then paint that trim, careful to protect the varnished shelves and the painted faces. then, i unpacked our books and broke down the last of our moving boxes! these shelves contain all our novels and non-fiction, while the built-ins in the background (separating the dining room from the kitchen) hold the design/photography books and frankie’s picture books. what a huge difference from where we were seven years ago when we moved into our first house, laden down with twenty boxes of books and our two bowing billy bookcases from ikea. there’s a little bit of room to grow here, either by adding more books (maybe a plant?) to these shelves, or by moving the design and children’s books over to this unit, freeing up shelving space behind the glass cabinet doors in the dining room.


with the built-in complete, both the living and dining room are really coming together. in the living room, the front windows need to be replaced and recased, our wood-burning fireplace is being converted to gas in a few weeks and then we’ll mount the television above the mantle. i’m also ruminating on our front door, planning to paint it and change out the hardware and screen. in our dining room, we’re waiting on our window covering and thinking of giving our victrola a make-over. but first — our hot water tank is threatening to blow and we’re getting our roof reshingled before “the rains” hit later this fall.

6 thoughts on “built in

    1. It was just slow going! I have a toddler, am back to work part-time and my husband is only home half the year. This could’ve all been done in one weekend, but it took us two months… that’s okay; we plan to be here a long time to enjoy the finished product. 🙂

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