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DIY Upholstery-Backed Divider

Photo Bookshelf Desk DIY Upholstery-Backed Divider

An easy way to define an open space.

An easy way to define an open space.

This project offers a clever way of turning an existing bookshelf into a room divider, giving the shelf two functions. We added attractive upholstered panelling to the back of the shelf, creating a divider that would suit an office, or could even act as a headboard.

To make the unit, we attached two inexpensive bookcases together, then capped them with crown moulding to give them a custom-built look. The back side was then “upholstered” with plywood panels covered in linen-look fabric and embellished with brass nailhead trim.

Materials and Tools

Photo Upholstery-Backed Divider Tools

For 2 bookcases/3 panels:

  • 2 standard bookshelves (with joiner hardware)
  • 1”-thick foam, 22” x 110” slab
  • 2-1/5 yards foam batting (62” wide)
  • 16 poplar shims (1/4” thick, 2” wide, 48” long)
  • 4’ x 8’ sheet, 1/2”-thick poplar plywood
  • 4’ x 4’ sheet, 1/2”-thick poplar plywood
  • Fabric (4-1/2 yards)
  • Brass nailhead trim (track) (5-1/2 yards per panel)
  • Brass nailhead tacks (120 for 3 panels)
  • Screws
  • Wood glue
  • Staple gun with 1/2” staples
  • Scissors
  • Hammer
  • Drill

What it Cost

Brass nailhead trim $45
Brass nailhead upholstery tacks $10
Foam $105
Foam batting $13
Poplar shims $31
Poplar plywood $42
Fabric $157
TOTAL $403

Step 1: To determine what size the panels should be, put the bookshelves side by side and measure the unit’s width and height. Subtract 1/2” from the height to allow for clearance along the floor.

Step 2: Divide the width of the bookshelf unit into three even measurements.

Step 3: Cut three 1/2”-thick plywood panels and three 1”-thick foam panels to these measurements.

Step 4: Add 2” on each edge to these height and width measurements and cut pieces of fabric and foam batting to this slightly larger measurement. The extra 2” allows for extra material to wrap around the plywood.

Step 5: Place the fabric on a flat surface, right-side down. Lay the batting, then foam and then plywood on top, keeping the layers centred on each other.

Step 6: Wrap the fabric around onto the back of the plywood and staple in place.

Photo Upholstery-Backed Divider Hammer

Step 7: Lay the track of brass nailhead trim 1/2” in from each edge (for all three panels). To keep the nailhead trim in place, hammer a single brass tack into each hole along the track (see photo above). Continue until you have edged the entire panel. (Nailhead trim is on a continuous track that can be cut to your desired length. There are predrilled holes in every fifth nailhead, where the tacks are inserted.)

Step 8: Install joiner hardware at at least two points between the bookcases to hold them together.

Photo Upholstery-Backed Divider Tools Measuring Tape

Step 9: To ensure the panels are properly supported, you’ll have to apply wood shims, which will create a track to screw the panels into. Using wood glue, adhere a row of shims, cut to the length of a panel, on both sides of the back of the joined bookshelves. Reinforce with a staple gun (see photo above). Then put two more rows spaced evenly from the centre so that the four shim tracks are evenly spaced, dividing the back of the bookshelves into three. Then glue a second set of shims on top of these so that the shim tracks are 1/2” thick.

Photo Upholstery-Backed Divider Tools Back Bookshelf

Step 10: From the inside of the bookcases, begin screwing on the panels, making sure to screw through the shims. Place the panels at a height that leaves 1/2” clearance from the floor. The two middle shim tracks will be shared by the outer and centre panels, so situate the panels so that there is enough room on the shim for you to screw both panels on side by side (see photo above). Use four screws per panel, placed at the top and bottom corners. Use screws that are similar in colour to the bookshelf so that they are not too visible.

For more room dividers and ways to delineate open spaces, see the Spotlight feature in our September 2010 issue.

Crown moulding cap for bookshelf, built by Michael Simardone; leather club chair, round pedestal table, South Hill Home; white vase, white tray, small white bowls (in bookshelf), purple vase (on table), Waterford-Wedgwood; white “raindrop” vase, In Theory; fabric (for pillow), Waverly; cowhide rug, macFAB; fabric for throw, Schumacher; butterfly prints, Maison; floor lamp, Stacaro; foam batting, upholstery tacks, tracks, macFAB; fabric (on panels), Waverly; table lamp, director’s chair, desk, Stacaro; trays (on desk), In Theory; dessert glasses, Maison; mirror, South Hill Home.

Photographer: 

Mark Olson

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