A blog about the restoration, remodel and renovation of a 1929 Chicago-style brick bungalow

Finishing the Bookcases

I fully intended to keep up with the blog this year but obviously that hasn’t happened. I even missed our 9th “House-iversary” in June— sigh. Now that summer is almost over, I’ll really try and catch up. I’d also like to change the site design from this generic one, since that’s (part of) what I do professionally. But first things first.

We haven’t done a ton of projects this year, which is kind of nice, because there just aren’t the multitude of must-do projects on my list anymore. There are certainly plenty of things I still want to do but these days I seem to let other things in life take precedence.

Enough of that though! Let’s start where I left off and catch you up on the fireplace remodel.

When I started to research how to approach this project, I first looked into buying ready-made bookcases and adding trim to make them look built-in around the fireplace. I definitely wasn’t going to do an IKEA hack with Billy bookcases or use laminate wood veneer. It had to be with REAL, SOLID wood.

Last fall I was buying some art books at a used book store in Evanston (which sadly, is no longer) and asked them about their bookcases. They told me about 57th Street Bookcase in Evanston (also in Chicago) so I immediately went there and talked to them about options. They were very helpful and have beautiful, sturdy bookcases at reasonable prices.

I did get some general pricing for buying their standard bookcases vs. custom to fit our space, and while still reasonable, after more research I decided it was something we could handle ourselves and save more money. They finish their bookcases with 3 coats of Danish oil and butcher’s wax, which is why I decided to do the same with ours.

We got all our wood from Skokie Millwork, a family-owned business that has been around since 1949. I happened to go to high school with one of the current owners. It’s the same place we got all our wood for the attic renovation, and I would highly recommend them for all your woodworking needs—they are good, honest people who know their stuff!

We essentially built 4 separate bookcases: 2 narrow ones to flank the fireplace and 2 wider, upper ones to sit on top of the mantel on either side of the enclosed chimney stack. As I did my research for bookcase construction, I discovered the Kreg Jig, which I hadn’t heard of before (where the heck have I been?!). It worked great in building a solid bookcase with tight joints.


Unfortunately I don’t have much in the way of photos as we were building them. In addition to blog writing I’ve been lax with blog photographing, and these are all from my iPhone (which I inadvertently had set to “video”, so I had to capture a frame from each 2-second video. D’oh!).


Anyway, we still had some leftover trim from the attic remodel, so we were able to use that to finish the bookcases, matching the window trim design. I applied the Danish oil and Butcher’s Wax, which was basically just wiping onto the surfaces and buffing with a soft cloth. Tedious, but not difficult.

The photo below, from February, shows almost all our books in place. Since then I’ve finished putting them all in place and rearranged them a bit.


The camera battery is charging right now, so in my next post I’ll take more photos and also do a before/after of the living room. It is QUITE the change!!


  1. Sharon@LaurelhurstCraftsman on August 26, 2016 at 12:43 pm

    It turned out beautifully!

    • denise on August 26, 2016 at 3:21 pm

      Thanks Sharon! In addition to not blogging, I also haven’t been reading any–I checked into your site earlier today and it looks like you’ve been busy too! I need to catch up! 🙂

  2. Chris Cole on August 26, 2016 at 1:43 pm

    The book cases look very good. It looks like you went with fixed shelves. Less flexibility but easier to construct and makes for a rigid structure.

    • denise on August 26, 2016 at 3:23 pm

      Thanks Chris! Yes, I went back and forth a bit on that. Ultimately because of the fixed mantel height in the middle, along with having to work around that air duct for the fireplace on the bottom shelf, there wasn’t going to be a lot of leeway in shelf adjustment so I decided it wasn’t worth doing.

  3. Jan Hunyady on August 26, 2016 at 5:42 pm

    That looks fabulous. Very cozy. The fireplace box now doesn’t appear to stick out as much as before.

    I bet you are looking forward to a cold winter day with a fire in the fireplace and a book in your hand.

    • denise on August 27, 2016 at 9:23 am

      Thanks Jan! Yes, we already used it quite a bit on cold late winter/early spring days this year. It makes me so happy!

  4. John Silvey on August 29, 2016 at 1:22 pm

    Look fantastic!

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