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Lessons Learned While Building my Bookcases

DIY, Lifestyle

It’s that time of year where we start thinking about what exciting projects we’re going to take on in 2017! I know that’s where I was a year ago, having just finished building a desk with my dad, and knowing that I wanted to tackle the bookcases in our living room next! I knew from the moment that we moved into our apartment that this was something I wanted to redo entirely. The bookcases used to be a dark vinyl wood unit, surrounding a brown stone fireplace. Needless to say, it was not the prettiest focal point. I wanted something bright and white, that made the space feel bigger! When we first started the project with my dad, I thought it would be fun to share a DIY post on the whole process, but it soon turned into more of a DIY warning as the project trudged along!

Building a bookcase or full built-in unit with a fireplace surround is a BIG project. Like HUGE. Like don’t even realize what you’ve taken on until you’re covered in sawdust and wood glue. Or your arm hurts from being twisted upside down while putting the umpteenth coat of stain or varnish on the underside corner of your shelves.

That being said, for me, it was SO worth it! My dad is a pretty talented carpenter, and I’ve definitely inherited that love for craft, a tendency for perfection, and an eye for design from him. I was so excited to take on this project with him! My mom also helped stain the bookcases! And now that the bookcases are done, it was pretty awesome getting to work together with both my parents and we all had so much fun doing it!

Lessons Learned Building Bookcases and a Fireplace Surround

As much as I would have loved to share a step-by-step process on how we built the bookcases, it’s just not possible. The amount of steps involved, weekends devoted, and tiny measurements and details that we had to take into account – it would be a 10+ part post! Instead, I figured I’d share the big lessons that I learned building these bookcases and fireplace surround! If you’re planning on taking on a big project like this, here are a few recommendations and tips!

1. Allot for extra time, then double that estimate

One day my dad had budgeted about 2-3 hours for us to do a task, and it ended up taking us over 8 hours. We laughed at the end of the day and I told him that we need to start doubling our original time estimate. Dad then told me that 2-3 hours was doubling his timeframe! After all the late nights, long days, and entire weekends spent working on every step, I learned this lesson over and over. Everything always takes three, four, five times the amount of time that you think it will, so plan your time accordingly!

Lessons Learned Building Bookcases and a Fireplace Surround

2. Measure twice, cut once

If my dad has a mantra, this is it! He always makes sure we have every little detail planned about a project. How are we joining various pieces together? How is this shelf going to be supported? What hinges are the doors going to be attached with? Is there going to be molding? What are the doors going to look like? The list goes on and on. There are countless little details to figure out, so make sure you have them figured out BEFORE you start. Don’t get stuck with a saw or drill in your hand and realizing you cut a piece wrong, or made a wrong hole. After so many hours invested, you don’t want to waste all that effort because of one silly mistake!

Lessons Learned Building Bookcases and a Fireplace Surround

3. Know your skill level

I would have NEVER been able to do this all by myself. There is just no way. My dad has years and years of experience in woodworking and building projects of this scale. Thankfully I was able to enlist his help! If you think maybe you can refinish a pair of stools and that’s your skill-level of DIY, maybe building an entire bookcase and fireplace surround is a little out of reach. And that’s okay! Either save your pennies so you can pay someone to build a unit, or make a compromise for a pre-built unit. Even small customizations like changing knobs on an IKEA bookcase and decorating your shelves can do wonders!

Lessons Learned Building Bookcases and a Fireplace Surround

Needless to say, I am so glad that these bookcases are finally done! I was so incredibly lucky to have had my parents’ help, and I can’t thank them enough! And I was finally finished styling them as well, so stay tuned for that blog post! The only thing still missing are the cabinet door handles, but those will be on soon… 😉

Lessons Learned Building Bookcases and a Fireplace Surround

Stay tuned for some tips on DIY tiling projects – that task was relatively simple compared to this entire project! I did manage to pick the trickiest tile pattern (a small marble herringbone), but it all came together! And if you’re planning on doing any demolition before your big DIY project, check out my fireplace demo tips!

Have you ever taken on a DIY project of this scale? What’s one tip you would share or a lesson that you learned in the process?