Kitchens never seem to have enough space, either on the counter or in the cupboards and cabinets. It also doesn’t help when the primary daily entrance to the house is through the kitchen. Over the course of several years the kitchen at Rurikia has had multiple storage improvements made – new cabinets, a large standalone cupboard, various shelves and racks, etc.. but the mixture of supplies, equipment, and general storage that occurs always seems to fill the available space and then need more.
Recently I was looking for ideas of what to do with some garden produce, and decided to go through the cookbook collection for some inspiration. As someone who has a fairly large library and who tends to read in multiple locations, this meant first trying to locate where all the cookbooks had migrated to. Some of fairly common usage had landed in the glass-paneled cupboard in the kitchen, some larger ones were mixed in with other oversized books on a tall shelf in the living room; in short they were all over the house. While looking for them I also realized that my library had grown well beyond the available bookshelf space and what had seemed easy access stacks of books I was in the process of reading were in reality simple overflow storage.
Suddenly it all became very clear – I needed more kitchen storage space, I needed to get the cookbooks all together, and I needed more bookshelf space… The idea of a kitchen bookshelf was launched.
I had been planning on making a narrow base cabinet to fill in the space between the wall and the stove and had a sheet of ¾ inch oak faced plywood sitting in the shop earmarked for that project, but I kept putting it off because it seemed a waste of a good piece of faced plywood to make a cabinet where the grain would be hidden from view. As I started to consider size and location for the kitchen bookshelf I remembered that I had that sheet available, and it seemed to be a perfect fit.
Having settled in on the idea of a bookshelf in the kitchen using that sheet of plywood, I started to work out my design considerations. I wanted it to be large enough to hold the complete cookbook collection and have some room for expansion, have additional space for storing some of the objects that didn’t fit well in other parts of the kitchen such as some odd-sized coffee cups with saucers, fit neatly within the existing kitchen arraignment, and make the most effective use of the materials I had on hand.
The first step was to find a space for it. Looking around the kitchen I noticed that the wheeled kitchen cart placed between the refrigerator and the wall wasn’t making the most effective use of the space, and that while there were other spaces it could be parked at it could still, if needed, be pushed up to a bookshelf behind it without sticking out too awkwardly. That would also put the bookshelf under the teacup rack I made earlier, and would work well to store the coffee cups on top of the bookshelf to make that area the tea- and coffeecup storage area. With that in mind, I was able to determine the rough width of the bookshelf to fit between the refrigerator and the wall. The rough height was determined by measuring the height from the floor to the bottom of the teacup shelf and subtracting the height of the tallest cup and saucer plus a couple of inches of space to keep the units visually separate.
The depth of the bookshelf would be determined by what was going to be stored in it, so the next stage of the project was to collect all the cookbooks and a sample of other items which might be stored on the shelves and find the widest of those. This turned out to be some oversized “coffee-table” cookbooks, so I took their width and added abut half an inch to determine a rough depth. While I was at it, I sorted the books into groups of roughly consistent heights so I could get an idea of what height to make the shelves and how many of each height group I had.
With this general size information in hand, I began to consider how best to cut the sheet of plywood. This is the area where design becomes a series of compromises. If the shelves were slightly less deep I could rip the sheet in a way to have a more usable piece of scrap left over. If it was made slightly more narrow than the available space I could get 4 shelves out of an 8 foot length instead of 3 shelves and a piece of scrap too small to be effectively used. If I put a shelf at a slightly less than optimum spacing from the shelf below it I could use a piece of scrap I had left from another project for the backing piece instead of needing to go get another sheet of thin plywood. Was the benefit of having a couple of floating shelves worth the extra steps of setting up a template to drill adjustable height stops? Did I want a face frame with rounded front edges or basic veneer strips to finish off the plywood edges on the front? As these considerations came and went the final plan gradually took shape.
Construction of the bookshelf was fairly straightforward as a basic fixed shelf open box with a squared back set into rabbited edges for stability. Four ¼-20 bolts in threaded inserts through the bookshelf bottom made adjustable leveling feet to account for the variations in the old wooden kitchen floor. Some thin strips of oak ripped from a piece of scrap made it possible to have enough of a facing on the edges to smoothly round over, and a basic sanded and stained finish was ready for books in only a couple of days. I opted not to use my standard walnut oil finish on this one as I wanted this bookshelf to visually stand out from the natural wood surface of the floor below and the teacup rack above.