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Small Room Solution: Use Vertical Space (16 Photos)

Updated on September 22, 2014
Maren Morgan M-T profile image

Maren is a one-person fixer of "TLC Needed" houses. She explains methods simply to homeowners who are not in the construction trades.

Make More Vertical Storage Space

DIY custom table to make space under a bookcase.
DIY custom table to make space under a bookcase. | Source

Small Spaces

Many people are coping with how to optimize a small living space. For some, the downsizing of the American economy and consequently, downsizing of their wages has instigated a move to a smaller residence. Others are intentionally choosing to simplify their lives through divesting some possessions and releasing themselves from the responsibilities of maintaining a large house and yard. Still others are starting out in their first apartment or house, a modest space which may or may not be their ultimate home. Whichever the reason, this article will explain one way to use space which is frequently forgotten.

Use the Gap between your Furniture and the Ceiling

I am no stranger to downsizing the square (and cubic) feet of my residence. I regard it as a game, a challenge, and one which I always intend to win. It helps that I do not feel particularly bound to imitate layouts in “house beautiful” sorts of magazines. This does not mean I aspire to ugliness, but I certainly will not be a slave to this year’s fashion as determined by an obscure editor somewhere.

As I planned what furniture could fit where in one of my moves, I could see that items I wanted in specific rooms would be competing for cabinet and drawer space. However, it did not take the proverbial rocket scientist to realize that there was great potential “above” my furniture. With this realization, I started building supplements to my free-standing shelves to exploit the gap from the ceiling to the furniture.

How to Expand a Bookcase Up

I expand a shelf unit or bookcase by building a custom-sized table beneath it. The good-looking bookcase remains in view, and the lower creation can be stuffed with books or photo albums (the old-school paper ones), or storage crates and boxes. Following is the step-by-step DIY way to do it.

Tools and Supplies for a Bookcase Lifting Table


Tape measure, pencil, straight edge yard or meter stick


Drill and varying sized bits

Screwdrivers and these wood screws: #6 x 1-3/4, #6 x 1-1/2, #6 x 1, and if your table top is not very thick these: #6 x 1/2

8 Angle Brackets (also called corner braces on some packages) 1-1/2”

4 pieces of 2” by 4“ lumber (length determined by you) for the legs

One flat piece of plywood or wood (dimensions determined by you) for the table top

Cardboard, such as an empty cereal box

Highly Recommended:

Stain, varnish, or paint and appropriate brushes

Extra wood (no thicker than 1 inch) to brace the sides or back – in my photos I had ornamental grids from an unused fancy laundry basket, which I re-purposed for this project.

Tools, Hardware, and Lumber

Remember a yard or meter stick.
Remember a yard or meter stick. | Source


Angle brackets. also known as corner braces, and wood screws.
Angle brackets. also known as corner braces, and wood screws. | Source

Corners are not Square and Floors are not Flat

If you have not discovered this yet, please just take my word for it. Perfectionism in carpentry or home decorating can go only so far. If one accepts that houses are not perfect and that they settle and develop little quirks of geometry, then fretting about building a perfectly squared or balanced table can be abandoned. Try for very good work while expecting that you will need to make adjustments and accommodations at the end.

Step By Step Building

Step 1. Measure the space where your bookcase will be including the height of the room there. Measure your bookcase. Think about the top horizontal surface: will you place items on it, and, if so, what height will they be? Decide how high you want your bookcase to be lifted.

Now, design your table. It should be at least 2 inches wider and 2 inches longer than the bookcase to allow margins of safety for placing it on top. Measure the thickness of the wood being used for the table top and subtract that from the final desired table height in order to determine the length of the 4 legs.

Step 2. Obtain and cut your lumber. Many “big box” home improvement stores will cut lumber for customers at a nominal cost. Go for it, especially if you do not own a table saw. Also, obtain the rest of your supplies.

Step 3. Examine your lumber to decide which leg pieces will be front legs or back ones. Decide which side of the table top rectangle will be facing up. Put the table top upside-down and use the pencil and straight edge stick to draw the dimensions of the bookcase on it. Mark what will be the front edge. Next, write the numbers 1 through 4 in the corners. On the end of each leg write the corresponding number – this is for matching up back legs and front legs.

Step 4. Use drill, screws (probably the 1-inch ones), and screwdriver to attach 2 angle brackets to each leg as shown in photo.

Step 5. If you are going to stain or paint this piece of furniture, do it now BEFORE attaching the legs to the top. It is much easier this way and makes a neater appearance at the attachment points as well. Dry for at least 24 hours.

Stained Table Parts

Staining in the middle of the table building process works very well.
Staining in the middle of the table building process works very well. | Source

Step 6. Place the table top upside-down. One at a time, hold each leg’s bracketed end flush in the pencil-drawn corner of its number match. Use the pencil to outline the empty screw holes. Remove the leg and repeat for the other 3 legs. Drill starter holes in all the pencil circles.

Step 7. Also on the underside make a mark within each corner which is near the center of where the leg will be attached. With a small bit, drill a hole completely through. This will be for a 1-1/2 inch wood screw coming from the top surface down into the leg.

Many Attachments

Drilling the hole ahead of time in the table top for the longest wood screw going into the table leg.
Drilling the hole ahead of time in the table top for the longest wood screw going into the table leg. | Source

Step 8. Screw each leg’s pair of brackets into the corresponding numbered corner. Here is where I used ½ inch screws because my top was thin. If I could do it over, I would splurge for a little bit thicker and nicer wood for my table top.

Then, flip the table right-side up and insert a long, thin wood screw into the pre-drilled hole. Screw in firmly. On my table, I did not choose to hide the top of these four screws. If you do, you can countersink them and apply wood filler.

Step 9. Do what you would like to brace the side legs or back with extra wood – plain or ornamental. See pix.

Table Leg attached to Top with Angle Brackets

Underside of table showing leg attachment.
Underside of table showing leg attachment. | Source
Another view of table leg attached to underside of table.
Another view of table leg attached to underside of table. | Source
Screw ornamental wood to side of table.
Screw ornamental wood to side of table. | Source

Step 10. Place the lifting table in its location in the room. Use the level to determine if it is sitting horizontally even, or even enough. Then Turn the level to go from front to back. You want the table to lean slightly into the wall for safety reasons – to direct the weight of the bookcase slightly into the wall. If needed, cut small pieces of cardboard to wedge under any table legs which need to be propped to achieve this or which are not sitting stable. No wobbles can be tolerated. (Remember, this may be the floor’s “fault,” – not yours.)

Step 11. Then, carefully lift your bookcase onto the table and center it. Again, Arrange the bookcase so that it is not tempted to take a swan dive onto a passing person. If you want to get very safe, you can fasten the back of the bookcase onto a wall stud – but I am not addressing that here.

Step 12. Place your books, knick-knacks and objets d’art on the arrangement and underneath it. Accept all compliments with humility. J

Even though floors aren't always perfectly flat, even or level, you will want to use the level tool to prop and situate your bookcase lifter table.
Even though floors aren't always perfectly flat, even or level, you will want to use the level tool to prop and situate your bookcase lifter table. | Source

Apply this Concept Everywhere

Obviously, now that you have learned to look up, you will see storage potential in a myriad of spots. Go for it! Also, if you need a KITTEN to inspect your work, mine has very reasonable rates. (See where arrow is pointing in the photo below.)


Photos and text copyright 2012 Maren E. Morgan.


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    • Maren Morgan M-T profile image

      Maren Elizabeth Morgan 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thanks, amerben. The kitten is rather reasonable: food, water and good toys to chase plus someone to throw them.

      Melovy - if the kitten does not need to be in quarantine after he arrives, he will consider applying for his passport. I would not worry too much about blue remarks from the carpenter... but maybe it would make an amusing YouTube video? ;-)

    • Melovy profile image

      Yvonne Spence 5 years ago from UK

      Does the kitten come to Scotland?

      Seriously, this looks amazing. I am very impressed and we always need more space. My woodworking skills aren't great. Okay - they are non-existent, but my husband might manage this. (Though the air might be blue while he tries.) A very useful hub.

    • profile image

      amerben 5 years ago

      Didn't someone once say that "Necessity is the Motherof Invention"? Your creativity seems to be the epitome of this wise saying. I hope your kitten's rates are not too exhorbitant!