A resident of the Optima towers in Skokie contacted House Specialties to perform some work in his 10th floor condo. His name is Jose and he has a corner desk in his large bedroom. He wanted 3 L-shaped shelves over his desk.

Shelving comes in many different varieties. Inexpensive ready-made white laminated particle board from the home center can be mounted on nondescript white steel brackets to create shelving. This kind of shelving is great in garages and laundry rooms. As the homeowner described what he wanted, it became clear he was looking for thick shelves made of beautiful wood that he would be proud to have in his bedroom. He wanted to use these shelves to display some decor and memorabilia. The shelves needed to be an exact length because there is a door on one side of the shelves. As Jose talked with Lightning about what he imaged, it became clear this was a custom carpentry project, not just a quick installation of ready-made parts from the big box store. 

Additionally, Jose wanted to have color-changing LED lights under each shelf. He was concerned, however, that the lights would be in his eyes while he worked at the desk. After taking measurements and having a great conversation, Jose and Lightning each went to work. Jose needed to find the shelf brackets he wanted installed, and Lightning had to design the shelving.

Jose found his brackets on Amazon, and sent the link to Lightning. Lightning designed custom L-shaped shelving with a groove cut in the bottom to mount the LED light strips in. The groove—which carpenters call a dado—could be cut at an angle so the LEDs are pointing away from someone sitting at the desk. This would keep the light out of the eyes of the user. 

After finalizing the details, Jose approved the quote and paid the deposit so work on his shelves could begin. Jose’s family was out of the country for a few weeks and Jose wanted to surprise them with the new shelving when they returned. Typically, House Specialties would build custom shelving at the client’s home so that it fits perfectly. However, there is no space to work in Jose’s 10th floor condo. With limited space at the customers home, Lightning proposed to build the shelves at the House Specialties shop, and then take them to the Optima towers ready to install. The shelving would be fabricated as 6 pieces, and assembled on-site into 3 L-shaped shelves. All the supplies were ordered and Jose choose a stain color to match his hardwood floors. 

Lightning relies on Owl Lumber in Des Plaines for custom projects like this. “There aren’t many places you can walk into and personally select your own pieces of beautiful hardwood.” Lightning explains. “Jose’s project needed a high level of craftsmenship and attention to detail. I wanted to pick the lumber myself”

Lightning wanted to use 5/4” thick poplar for Jose’s shelves. After rummaging through every piece of poplar on the rack, Lightning chose three pieces that were approximately 10” wide and 9-11 feet long. “I picked these three pieces because of the similar grain and coloring of the wood. Poplar is a light wood, these will stain up real pretty.”

After driving the lumber back to the shop, the work began. House Specialties team member Alex followed Lightning’s designs. The raw lumber had to first have a straight edge cut on it. Then each long piece was cut in half to make 6 blanks; each blank was cut to approximate size. Alex then selected the best side of each board and decided if it was going to face up or down. Alex explains, “The good side of a shelf above eye level should be the bottom, and the good side of a low shelf should be the top. The side you will see most should be the good side, and that depends on how high the shelf is mounted.” After Alex determined which boards would be the top shelves, middle shelves and low shelves, he cut the corner miters. These had to be just right so the shelves would meet up in the corner with no gap. Lightning had purchased just enough wood, but there wasn’t any extra in case of a shop mistake.

Next, Alex and Lightning cut the dados on the table saw with a tilted blade. They had to take extra care to ensure the groove was pointed away from the front of the shelf. Then each shelf was cut to it’s final dimensions. In the diagonal cut (which is where each pair of shelves is joined in the corner) slots were cut for biscuits. Woodworkers use small wooden discs called biscuits to align two pieces of wood during assembly. 

Next each shelf was thoroughly sanded. 

Then stain was applied to each shelf. Jose had selected a golden color to match his hardwood floors. 

Each shelf received 2 coats of polyurethane with a light sanding in between.

Finally the shelves were complete.

These 6 shelves were blanked wrapped and packed with all the necessary installation supplies. Working in an enormous high-rise requires a lot of advance planning and logistics. On the day of installation, the House Specialties team was Jason, Bill and Lightning. 

Bill and Lightning worked on mounting the shelf brackets. Irregularly spaced wall studs made this a challenging installation. With persistence, all the shelves were mounted. 

Then the LED light tape was installed and wired to a control box under the desk. Jose requested that the LEDs on the two top shelves function independently from the bottom shelf. This took a little extra work, but Lightning was able to do it.


By the end of the installation, Jose was very pleased. His desk corner of the bedroom had been transformed, just as he had imagined.