Freestanding shelves

A few years ago, when I was living in Manhattan, I wanted strong book shelves to hold our large library of books on city planning. I didn’t want to mar the walls of our rental apartment. I knew of designs that made shelves free standing by means of a vertical pole in the front of the bookshelves so that gravity — the shelves “fall” against the wall — gave them stability. I found some at Shelf Shop on First Avenue (since closed), and they were very cool, but they were also very expensive. So, I came up with my own design for a bookcase that used materials I could get easily at my local lumber dealer and hardware store.

Freestanding wooden bookshelves using a pole shelving design
These shelves can be filled with heavy books and do not need to be physically attached to the wall, floor, or ceiling.

I used 2″x2″ wooden poles, cut to fit my 8′ ceilings. I tightened them in between my floor and ceiling using adjustable glide levelers.

Wooden shelf Pole for Pole shelving
A groove in the 2"x2" runs the length of the pole and is just deep enough to fit the metal standard so it is flush with the wall-facing side of the pole.

I had the folks at Wood-o-Rama (where I got all the lumber, standards, and brackets) cut a groove on one side of each pole into which I fit and screwed your basic 1-slot standards. (Wood-o-Rama has since moved from its 108th street location to New Jersey.) For the shelves, I used 9″ brackets and cheap 1″x12″ boards of knotty pine.

The result is perfect for a rental apartment and won’t break the bank: adjustable shelving for my office, with no drilling into the wall, floor, or ceiling. I made a set of 6′ by 12″ shelves for a total of $250.

About the adjustable glide levelers: Also known as leveling mounts, these are the round metal, plastic or rubber “feet” that you sometimes find on the bottom of cafe table legs; they screw up or down to keep the table level. You can get them at most hardware stores in sets of 4 for about 3 bucks. I got metal ones at the wonderful Grand Metro Hardware on 94th and Broadway. They come with plastic sleeves that fit into a 3/8″ hole. I recommend getting levelers with at least a 2-inch length to account for uneven floors and ceilings.

Metal shelf brackets are inserted into standards. The brackets should be shorter than the depth of the shelf.

To prevent the metal from making a mark on my ceilings, I covered the metal surface with a small circle of felt backed by adhesive — the cheap felt that you put on the bottom of furniture legs to protect wood floors. The “foot” of each pole was positioned on a square plastic furniture caster cup.

For my shelves, I drilled a short 1-inch deep hole in the top end of each pole using a 3/8-inch drill bit. I then tapped in the plastic sleeves and screwed in the levelers. When it was time to position the poles for my shelves, I just put each pole in place, then “unscrewed” the levelers until the pole was nice and tight between floor and ceiling. Once I put stuff on the shelves, I tightened them a bit more, since the weight bent the poles ever so slightly.

9 Best Books about New York City (nonfiction)

Here, for your interest, are my favorite 10 books about New York City, in no particular order:


City for Sale: Ed Koch and the Betrayal of New York by Jack Newfield and Wayne Barrett


Delirious New York by Rem Koolhaas


The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs


The Encyclopedia of New York City edited by Kenneth T. Jackson


The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert Caro


722 Miles: The Building of the Subways and How They Transformed New York by Clifton Hood


A Natural History of New York City by John Kieran


The WPA Guide to New York City


Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell