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Freshome’s Bookcase Buying Guide

Couch and bookshelf in cozy living room
Westend61/ Getty Images
Couch and bookshelf in cozy living room

Westend61/ Getty Images

Bookcases are among the most useful pieces of furniture you’ll ever own. They not only organize your collection of novels, but also serve as a place to display art and accent pieces.

By adding a few bins or baskets, they also make the perfect spot to neatly stash odds and ends. Choose correctly, and you’ll own your bookcase for years (or even decades) to come. Here are some tips for finding the best bookcase for your home.

Bookcase Buying Guide

Modern Family room with modern bookshelves and Stainless steel fan.

Michael Robinson/ Getty Images


Whether you’d like just a few shelves to showcase decor or you’re looking to house a small library, when it comes to choosing the style of your bookcase, you’ll find yourself faced with dozens of options. Some of the most common styles include:

    • Standard. Standard bookcases are the workhorses of shelving units. They’re typically made of wood or MDF, and designed with evenly spaced or adjustable shelves and a closed-back frame.
    • Étagère. An étagère is more delicate than a standard bookcase, featuring an open back and shelves that are often made from glass. If a standard bookcase is designed for function, an étagère is all about form.
    • Ladder or leaning. Ladder-style bookcases are designed to lean against the wall, often with “stepped” shelves that gradually decrease in size from the ground up.
    • Corner. Corner bookcases are built at a right angle, making them the ideal shape for wedging into tight nooks.
    • Scaffold. These bookcases get their name from their look: They’re fashioned from shelving suspended between two ladder-like supports.
    • Cube. Cube bookcases are divided both horizontally and vertically to create cubby-like sections that are perfect for housing both books and storage baskets.
    • Built-in. If you want to create a wall (or room) of floor-to-ceiling shelves, built-in bookcases are the way to go. This style will require more than just a trip to your favorite furniture store, however; you’ll need to work with a contractor to create a custom plan for your space.


Interior decor photographs of stylish luxury bohemian style home

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Size is perhaps the most important factor to consider when shopping for a bookcase, since it will determine how the shelves both look and function within your space. Here’s what to consider:

    • Height. Most bookcases range from three to eight feet tall. Consider both aesthetic and practical concerns when choosing height. Tall bookcases that fill up most of a wall typically look more expensive and formal; however, shorter ones offer the added functionality of a usable surface area on the top. This allows it to double as a media cabinet, buffet or workspace, for example.
    • Width. The width of your bookcase should be considered relative to the height. If you choose a tall bookcase, purchasing multiple narrow units instead of a single large one will offer more flexibility to add or subtract storage space as needed. If you opt for a shorter unit, choosing something wide will make the piece feel more substantial.
    • Depth. Most shelves are at least 12 inches deep to allow ample room for storage, but some bookcases, especially ladder or leaning styles, have narrower shelving. Consider what you’ll be storing on your bookcase before making a purchase.
    • The space between shelves. If the shelves on your bookcase are fixed, make sure to measure the space between them to ensure that your books and accent pieces will fit. Adjustable-height shelves offer more flexibility.


Living room with Eero Aarnio hanging bubble chair and vintage brown armchair

Andreas von Einsiedel/ Getty Images

Depending on how you plan to use your bookcase, you may want to look for the following options:

    • Adjustable-height shelves. For the greatest versatility, choose a bookcase with movable shelves. These shelves are typically suspended on pegs that can be inserted into a series of holes in order to adjust their position.
    • Wheels. If you plan to use your shelves as a room divider, or if you like to redecorate often, consider a shelf on wheels. This will allow easy movement from room to room.
    • Room dividers. In an open-concept home or a large room, a bookshelf can double as a room divider. If this is your plan, be sure to purchase a shelf that is specifically designed to stand on its own. Many bookshelves need to be secured to a wall and aren’t suitable for use as room dividers.


Southern style clapboard new build with verandah near Atlanta, Georgia

Andreas von Einsiedel/ Getty Images

Bookshelves are made from a variety of materials. These are the most common:

    • Wood. Wooden bookcases offer a traditional look and a solid, long-lasting frame. Wood is ideal for standard bookcases, since it can withstand substantial weight.
    • Particle board. If you’re on a budget, look for shelving made from particle board or MDF, which offers the look of real wood at a much lower price.  Note that particle board isn’t as sturdy as the real thing, so be sure to consider weight restrictions before loading up your shelves.
    • Metal. Metal shelves can offer sturdy storage with a lot less bulk than wood or particle board. This makes it an ideal material for those who prefer a streamlined, contemporary look.

Buying Tips

Armchairs and bookcases in living room

Mint Images/ Getty Images

The price of your bookcase will depend on size, material and manufacturer. A floor-to-ceiling solid-wood bookcase from a high-end furniture retailer can cost thousands of dollars, while the price of a three-shelf unit made of MDF can be as little as $50.

To choose the best bookcase for your space, start by determining how you’ll use it. From there, it will be much easier to figure out what size, material and style will ultimately work best in your home. Consider the following:

    • Your space. Keeping in mind the space where you plan to put your bookshelf can help you narrow down your options. Measure the width, depth and height of the area, and use that as a guide when shopping.
    • How you will use it. Before you shop, have a clear idea of how you plan to use your bookcase. If you’re an avid reader, you’ll want sturdier shelving that can withstand the weight of your hardcover collection. A bookshelf that will function more as a display case, on the other hand, can be more decorative.
    • Your budget. Because a bookcase is something you’ll use for years, think of it as an investment and purchase the highest-quality item you can afford. If you yearn for a built-in bookcase but the price puts it out of reach, consider a series of tall, high-quality bookcases placed side by side. This can have a similar effect for a much smaller investment.

Freshome’s Picks

West Elm Modern Cabinet Bookcase, $1,099

West Elm Scaffold Bookshelf, $699

CB2 Stairway Wall Mounted Bookcase, $399

Pier 1 Imports Takat Bookcase, $450

Threshold Carson 5-Shelf Bookcase, $120-$130

David Francis Furniture Chinese Chippendale Étagère, $2,280

One Kings Lane Dover Kids Bookcase, $1,425

Better Homes & Gardens 8-Cube Organizer, $88

West Elm Mid-Century Bookcase, $698

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