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The Shelving Project

July 17, 2010

Ahhh, finally a weekend with nothing that needs to get done. Nothing I am doing or putting off doing. Just a weekend to do whatever I feel like. It hasn’t been this way for quite a while, and thats mostly because the big projects are mostly done. 

I bought this apartment a little over two years ago and storage was always an issue. I really should have had closets built into the place, but I didn’t. With nearly 1400 square feet or about 130 square meters, I have plenty of room for storage, especially since I live alone. And yet most of my stuff has been in the boxes I used when moving. My first storage space project is mostly done: a wall of shelves and cabinets. And what a project that turned into. 

I started planning it almost as soon as I moved in. I have one long wall that goes from the from to the back of the apartment. Towards the front there was the chimney, a fake fireplace (it had been blocked up years ago), and a mantel. I really didnt like it and wanted shelves to go in its place. When I described this to others, most thought that would be a bad idea, but I couldn’t get it out of my head. So I started pulling it out. I thought it would be an easy project, maybe taking a weekend. But the mantel was very well built…too well built. Removing it all ended up taking a good 4 or 5 weekends.

Then I was able to start building shelves. I had looked at Ikea for shelves, but nothing seemed right. I talked to neighbors who had shelves made for them, but the prices were high. It seemed that for what I wanted I would be paying 4000-6000 Euros. But they would be done in a month or two. I figured I could do it myself instead. Before I could start building, I needed to buy tools and then wood. Oh, and review all of my recordings of the New Yankee Workshop. Along with the books on cabinet and furniture making I had, Norm was able to give me ideas on how to do all that I needed. I ended up with a nice collection of tools including and circular saw, jigsaw, router, sander, drill, shopvac, and table which could mount the circular saw and jigsaw upside down giving me a table saw and other configuration. 

Now I had to come up with a design. One of the main inspirations was the Greek Revival Bookcase episode. I liked the thick shelves but the prices of wood here in the Netherlands made it a bit scary. I ended up making each shelf, and in fact most of the bookcases, from two 1.7cm thick pieces of plywood sandwiched together. A rough design was drawn up in Google SketchUp over a few weeks and eventually I went over to Praxis (the closest thing to a Home Depot here in Europe…Just try to imagine a Home Depot with a quarter of the selection and understaffed, mostly with people who don’t want to be there). 

One of the challenges I faced was building shelves that would eventually be nearly 3 meters tall using wood that I would be bringing back from Praxis on my own in my Volkswagen Golf. Oh, and then I would have to carry all of that wood by myself up 4 flights of very narrow stairs. 

The whole project would involve using about 8-10 sheets of 1.2 meter by 2.4 meter (which is the same size in the US as a 4ft by 8ft sheet), by 1.7cm plywood. By the fourth flight of stairs, these are very heavy. I actually had them cut down to size at Praxis but the wood is still heavy. 

At this point I have to remind you that I don’t have a normal 9-5 office desk job. I spend a lot of time out on the road. Between the first cut and the last, I ended up seeing Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Johannesburg, Buenos Aires, Uruguay, USA, France, UK, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Dubai, Hong Kong, Macau, and more. This was over a time period of about 18 months. Looking back, 5000 Euros and two months seems like a pretty good deal.

But the shelves are mine. I made them. They aren’t perfect, and actually they aren’t quite done, but I have a very strong connection to them and I love them. My estimates for the project were blown by orders of magnitude, but I learned a lot and now have plans for a few other projects around the apartment. Coming up are a few extensions to the shelves, a linen closet upstairs, a more appropriate desk area in my home office, and more. 

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