Building a built-in floor-to-ceiling bookshelf in a room in the basement (~7'10" tall). I've read a lot of differing opinions on whether to build the bookshelf first or put the carpet in first. Anyone have any convincing arguments for one or the other?

I may be building the shelving to be on 3 walls, and not just the one. Does that make a difference?

  • 1
    Building on carpet will compress the carpet and will need to be cut to remove carpet later on. Building first will need to cut carpet to fit well or use some kind of base to hide bottom of bookshelf.
    – crip659
    Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 18:57
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    Bookshelf first unless you plan to hate the bookshelf shortly after finishing and will remove it.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 19:04
  • Any possibility of damp or flooding in the basement? If so, carpet mey not be a good idea, and ceiling to floor bookcases also. In any case, bookshelves which start off the ground are another option. Leaving space under for carpet, and stools, etc.
    – Tim
    Commented Feb 17, 2021 at 12:10
  • I'd never say "no possibility", but I've done all the tests to ensure no dampness...etc. Will certainly build the bottom of the shelf with treated lumber.
    – Dave
    Commented Feb 17, 2021 at 15:45

2 Answers 2


Before. I have done both and you can certainly do it either way but it is easier (and cheaper) more sturdy to fasten and shim the bottom to the floor without carpet in the way and because of the carpet you may need to shim more.

The only argument for doing it after is "I may hate these bookshelves in a few years and when I tear them down I don't want to have a flooring issue". To add to the "pro-carpet" argument. I have torn down many a bookshelf next to a fireplace. The carpet has compression marks but this goes away after a few weeks and this carpet is basically brand-new. Which means it probably looks out of place next to worn carpet if the area was used a lot.

  • So it sounds like either way, I'd have flooring issues if I decide to tear them down. I hate to think I'm going to be tearing them down... otherwise I wouldn't build them. But I guess we all change our minds. In your experience, is there a common reason for why people tear down bookshelves? Just change of mind or...?
    – Dave
    Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 19:31
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    Main reason for tearing them down... they look really bad or were made from really poor materials that are starting to get worn out. We don't tear down quality wooden bookshelves. We tear down MDF crap and thin plywood (late 60s trend) shelves. If they are made well but are starting to wear we repair and paint them. Sometimes there might be old "flowery" trim that we take down and replace. Haven't ever demo'ed a quality wooden shelf unless we needed the space for something else - so never near a fireplace.
    – DMoore
    Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 19:34
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    @Dave - Not at all. Fireplace plus built-ins is a huge selling point and feature of a lot of houses I sell. You have to do it right though. Whatever you put in has to be considered a "feature" not a "what's that". This is also about the area and value of the house. You could build some nice shelves plus fireplace - great value on a 300k home. But on a 800k home, that same set of nice shelves is a "what's that".
    – DMoore
    Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 19:43
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    There are a lot of guys on here that can help you with the right materials and how to construct the shelves so they look "expensive". You can certainly make nice shelves on each side of fireplace for $700-1000. Maybe cheaper if you use some salvage items. For instance I usually start off with kitchen base cabinets on my built ins. Sometimes I redo the doors to make them look more like shelf cabinets. There are just a lot of ways to do it and look nice.
    – DMoore
    Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 19:49
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    Agree with this answer, but for a different reason: Carpet, no matter how expensive or how high quality, will need to be replaced. If your bookshelves are sitting on top of the carpet, you've made the replacement job a nightmare whether you're doing it yourself or hiring it out. If the carpet butts up against the bookshelves, it's no more difficult than replacing the carpet where it butts ups against the rest of the walls.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Feb 17, 2021 at 13:02

Either will work fine. On the grounds that full-on, high quality floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall shelves are unlikely to change, I'd probably put them in before the carpet (or cut the carpet out to fit them, if it's already been laid). For some elaborate "Ikea" shelves that will probably come out or change in a few years, I'd put them over the carpet.

Shelving before carpets:

You can do all the messy work of getting your shelving into place without worrying about your carpet. Your carpet won't cause issues with the fitting either (as you'll be fitting with a solid floor beneath the shelves).

If your floors are square/level you may need some wedges under the shelves to get them level before you secure them to the walls. These will all be hidden nicely by the carpet when that gets laid in front of the shelves.

You'll need to think about how to "terminate" the carpet against the bottom of the shelves. You may use one of those metal grippers, but that's extra expense and probably won't look that great. You may choose to put a sort of "skirt" around the bottom of the shelves so that it overhangs the carpet a little bit, and so hides the rough edge. You can also sort of fold the carpet over at the edge to make it straight - although it typically needs some nails through it to hold it down. Obviously, if you take the shelves out you'll need a new carpet (or something to fill the gaps).

Carpet before shelves:

If the floors are slightly uneven or not level/square then the carpet will compress more or less under the shelves to hide this problem. Since the shelves will be secured to the walls, it won't matter structurally, but it'll look nice at the bottom. Since the carpet disappears under the bottom of the shelves, you will have a "clean" edge between carpet and shelves too.

You'll put a bit of extra carpet in place that you don't really need. You may have issues with the carpet not being solid, and if your floors really aren't level you may need some wedges or something under the shelves (which won't look nice). You obviously can't change the carpet without removing the shelves first. If you take the shelves out, there will be compression marks on the carpet - it depends on the type of carpet if these will really go away or not, plus the carpet will probably be a different colour to the rest (which may or may not be alleviated by cleaning).

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