Partially open.

Secret Door Bookcase

I am told by Dr Nick that older Chicago homes used bookcases as doors. He said it was a space saving feature which surpised me. I had a preconceived notion, I assume from movies, of all older homes being huge. A door doing double duty fits the Not So Big House and it adds interest.


16" deep so they can carry other objects besides books.

Currently the bookcase is carring a load of about 300 pounds. Works fine. A bit harder to start than when empty. I think I could make some adjustments to improve that, but so far it hasn't been important enough.

The door has excellent egress and ingress clearances. In the design phase I was most concerned with blocking the hall, or not being able to move large objects between rooms. When open it protudes into the hall by 3 ¼" so still 34" remaining. The egress width is a manageable 24".

The height of the door between rooms is 72". I made this 3" taller than myself to get a cozy type feeling when using it. I must say that feeling has been more pleasing than I had initially thought to would be. It's a concept I had heard on a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West where he had a lower front door to make the inside space appear larger. Also, lowering ceilings to make areas more cozy is along the same line.

Located in the hallway to the living room this bookcase acts as the only doorway to the original living room which is only used for storage. The storage room also has an exterior door and our mail box. So we use the bookcase door nearly everyday to get the mail.


In the end this bookcase turned out very well. Even with about 300 lbs of books and such it's smooth, no sag. It closes with a confident cur-chunk. There is no clue to a hidden door even when I ask visitors to push and shake the bookcase to find the door's location. The latch is so slight people have difficulty finding it even when I show them where to look.

Part of the lengthy build was due to having to insulate and weather strip the back since the storage room is not insulated. The gasket I added helped with the feeling of precision when closing.


Total build time was about 8 weeks. There isn't anything that special in the build that would require 8 weeks of work beyond that it's custom and my first. A second could be done in a few days, once the materials are acquired. There's nothing complex about the build, layout is the challenge.


I realized this wasn't a project to wing it on design. A bit of planning was in order. For about the 20th time in my life I set out to find some software that could help me with mechanical design. I ended up using SketchUp 7.0 from Goggle for blocking out the basics. It was free and I've always liked Google's user interface concepts.

It took me a couple of tries to use SketchUp. I tried it on a previous project and just threw up my hands and unstalled it. Like all CAD type applications it is not intuitive. I don't want to spend a few months to learn an application for a few days of design.

On my second try with SketchUp I started to understand what it is and isn't. That helped, to have realistic expectations. It's right there in the name, SketchUp, for sketching. You see this in all the tutorials, big blocks, no detail. There are a lot of professionals using SketchUp so there are examples of impressively complicated, detailed drawings. But no word on how to produce, manage or what kind of time is needed to get to that level. This creates a kind of false image. You see these impressive drawings and think those will be your result. But you don't already have years of CAD experience, a company paying you to learn, or a client paying you to spend weeks on a drawing.

For occasional users SketchUp is not for creating detailed drawings or models. I found adding details very difficult to produce and, more importantly, manage. The smallest mistake could make a mess I couldn't recover from given limited patience. Anything more than simple blocks and I was struggling.

As soon as I stopped trying to add detail and stayed with just sketching in big blocks I was OK. It was a big help in figuring out basic layout and clearances. It could have saved me days of work if I had been able to model details too.


I used the Pythagorean theorem to compute clearances. Changing the location of the axle changes clearances, width of egress and how far the open bookcase protrudes into each room. I was on my own for clearances of all the trim pieces as that was more detail than I could manage in SketchUp.