Shelves with Stories Built In

My new bookshelves already filled with stories

Although inanimate objects don’t have souls, we sometimes think of unique furniture or houses that way. We say they have “character,” and what we mean is that those objects are full of stories that whisper happily to our imaginations. This bookshelf definitely comes with stories built in, including its own story, of which I’ll tell you in a little bit. It’s sad that sometimes due to lack of interest, and more likely due to lack of funds and time, furniture like this doesn’t get built much for the average person. They would get a kick out of designing something and see it brought to fruition.

First, let me tell you a little bit about where I live, because I never would have come up with this design if I didn’t live in this particular place at this particular time in my life. I live in both a lakehouse and a treehouse…and a tiny house. Well, a studio apartment above a garage, but I like to think of it as a tiny house. The builder made this place with his own two hands and out of his own imagination. His imagination told him that his apartment was steampunk, and so it has places where the vaulting brackets were left up, pilot-y knobs in the bathroom, and a floor that showcases its would-be flaws to perfection. This quiet place, overlooking the lake in a cold Minnesota spring is where I came up with my design. And let me tell you, I was pleasantly surprised to find I could design a set of bookshelves, for I’d never tried it before.

The second thing that happened was that I suddenly had a group that wanted to talk about books every week. Someone offered to build bookshelves as he likes doing that sort of thing, and I decided to take him up on it. Probably the builder didn’t expect it to be this much time and work, but we both really learned a lot during the process–and what a process!

To say that I don’t build anything, is an understatement–I never build anything! Stories are my thing and maybe some crafty things every once in awhile. And I’m not much of an artist, so design stuff? Ha. The first problem I came up against was that my builder actually wanted me to design what I wanted! Yikes. What did I want in bookshelves? Quickly, I realized I couldn’t just say, oh this high and this wide, and maybe this many shelves. Nope. Specifics were needed. So I dutifully bought a tape measure and began measuring and dreaming. My heart set on a secret drawer, but of course I was imaging something out of the National Treasure movies, not something actually, you know, buildable. Slowly, my mind turned to practicality, but also to steampunk. Steampunk is a difficult genre to describe. It’s sort of modernity mixed with rustic, Victorian era decor, and that usually manifests in things like a modern computer decked out in gears and clocks. And pipes. The pipes stuck with me and ended up being the fixtures holding up the top two shelves.

Secret drawer thrown aside, still my brain ran to the impractical. Long have I loved the Cambria quartz countertops and I thought that maybe that material could make the shelves. Not so, not so, for the sales clerk mournfully told me that first, the shelves would be insanely heavy, and secondly it would break my bank account. With a sigh, I threw that idea out, too. Here is my final design:

My design that almost has straight lines

It took me an embarrassingly long time to draw, but when it was done, excitement overtook me. Was it really possible that this bookshelf could actually become a reality? Fortunately, my very good friend, who is also a builder who likes building bookshelves, didn’t laugh in my face. He said he could build it and would I please pick out the wood that I wanted to use. Oh dear. I had no idea, really no idea, but, again, I dutifully went to the lumber store and looked at all the wood planks and they started to run together and I didn’t know what I wanted. More confusing was the possibility that whatever wood I chose, it could always be painted to any color. What colors did I want? Red, yellow, blue, green, why did God make so many amazing colors?

For some reason, I kept going back to the blue stain pine. But with misgivings, because it only seemed to come in thin boards, not wide, bookshelf-sized ones, but maybe online there were other options? My builder found out there were no other sizes. Oh, but my heart was set on it! He said he could make it work.

Weeks and weeks later, after a lot more time and effort and money than either of us were prepared to invest at first, the bookshelves were finished. And how wonderful and remarkable they are. Nowhere else can you find a bookshelf like this. The boards are all unique for they were made patiently and carefully by pegging and gluing blue stain pine boards together and sanding them down to become one board. Their very imperfections make them perfect for this steampunk, lakehouse, treehouse. The pipes at the top add an elegance and make the shelves look truly steampunk. I wouldn’t paint any part now, not a single part. I’m sorry to say it doesn’t come with the brick background, that’s a bit of staging from my friend who actually works on stages from time to time. Here they are in the space:

The shelves in the lakehouse treehouse – and isn’t the floor awesome?

Notice the crowded bookshelves nextdoor? That’s the likely future for this set, but it will mean they are loved, very loved.

As for the drawer knobs, what a job that was trying to decide. Do you know Hobby Lobby carries about a thousand cool drawer knobs? Seriously. But I ended up falling in love with the water diving guy and then it was an aquatic theme: 2,000 Leagues Under the Sea–er, in the trees–Steampunk. Steampunk with a capital S!

Aquatic Steampunk

Seeing the shelves finally finished and in place, I did tear up a little. I couldn’t believe that my design was actually reality. And I was awed that my builder had stuck with me all the way through, and I’d stuck with him, too, for there were surely a lot of moments that the bookshelf project seemed headed for disaster. Through this project, I learned a lot, like how important specific dimensions are. Like how the choice of materials can make something a lot more difficult. But I also learned that persistence, hard work, and giving each other grace are key, no matter what or whom you’re working with. It was a privilege to be a part of this project from start to finish, to be a part of all the excitement, the worries, the triumphs and pitfalls. And to do it all with a friend was a joy and something I will always remember.

I learned that designing something isn’t just about making a pretty something, the design needs to be actually buildable. What a greater respect I now have for builders, woodworkers, and carpenters, especially in working with custom designs and super rookie designers. But the biggest thing I learned, was that sometimes friends will nudge you in a direction in which you need to go. They’ll help you spread your wings and they’ll use your love of stories to do it. Horrible friends! No, no, awesome friends, and they get to learn from the experience, too. Sometimes this begins with a simple offer to build bookshelves. And those bookshelves will always have stories built right into their core, their soul.

No name for the shelves as a whole, but I’m thinking of naming the little diver guy Rusty or Teague. Rusty Teague? Captain Rusty Teague! Who owns a diving vessel with lots of pipes and steam. He’s a punk, he really is.

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