That the bookshelf became a status symbol during the COVID-19 pandemic, featured in the backgrounds of Zoom calls all over the world, is something that may not have come as a surprise to design fanatics. Insider tip: Pictures of bookshelves on the Clever Instagram account always get more likes, from bright and cheerful to serious and scholarly. Perhaps you were tuning in during the rise and fall of the color-coded bookshelf, or maybe you’ve run the (sometimes astronomical) cost of custom open shelves or have attempted DIY bookshelf projects for years. There’s something that can’t be denied: Seeing all of your favorite books neatly arranged among carefully curated trinkets and treasured collectibles just makes you feel good. It reminds you that there’s some sort of order in the world.
The good news is that order doesn’t necessarily have to come with an outrageous price tag. We’ve been gathering inspo from Clever homeowners for years—Billys reimagined! Stylishly upgraded garage storage!—and have quite a few tricks up our sleeves when it comes to finding relatively cheap bookshelves that will spare your credit card, make your home look great, and (hopefully) give you a little satisfaction.
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A shelf full of books adds instant appeal to any room, whether in the form of bespoke joinery or stand alone shelves. We've gone through the House & Garden archive to find the most inspiring designs for bookshelves in the living room, bedroom or study. From modern designs, to mid-century classics and spy novel numbers which conceal hidden doors, there are bookshelves of every type in this gallery to inspire something as intriguing as the tomes that fill them.
1Choose a High-Impact Theme
To give a workspace or reading nook cohesion, upholster your floating shelves or cubbies in the same fabric as your seating. We love the contrast between the graphic houndstooth print and butterfly motif in this space designed by Studio Ashby. The stacked floating cubbies achieve great dimension, too.
2Stack 'Em Under the Stairs
Bookshelf storage is a great way to transform that awkward space under your stairs into something beautiful. Decorated by Regan Baker Design, this one is actually a secret passageway that opens up into a storage closet—bookcases are the perfect decoys for hidden rooms.
3Go Simply Stacked
Instead of splurging on a shelving unit, simply stack your books in neat pile against the wall. If you stack them close enough to your bed, you could use your books as a makeshift bedside table, too.
4Try an Artwork Overlay
A Peter Rogers portrait of Alex Hitz's close friend, the late Nan Kempner, hangs in the library of his Los Angeles house. "The room doesn't get a lot of light, so I decided to make it cozy and turned it into an English-style portrait room, which is ridiculous, but fun," he says.
This wraparound bookshelf by design duo Brockschmidt and Coleman becomes a work of art with its staggered height and shelves filled with colorful tomes.
Meet the easiest DIY bookshelf ever—this side chair is doubling as a bedside table and a bookshelf. The effortlessness has a charming appeal but it doesn't look sloppy in the slightest.
7Saturate It In Color
A custom peacock-blue lacquer by Fine Paints of Europe give depth and richness to the library of a Chicago townhouse. Designer Steven Gambrel dialed up color here and throughout the home to compensate for Chicago's long winters.
8Accent Floating Shelves
Have a blank wall and a few extra books with nowhere to go? Install a slim wall shelf to solve both problems in style.
9Leave It Empty
Orange paint (Pratt & Lambert's Orange Spice) sets off the Palladian details of the bookcase in the living room of an Atlanta house. "I wanted that saturated color, as deep as I could get it," designer Kay Douglass says. "It almost becomes an art piece and helps make the room, instead of being just a place to store things. One of the biggest design mistakes people make is cluttering their world with too many things."
10Opt for Easy Access
If you have a reading nook in your bedroom, keep your books within reach by setting up rows of floating shelves. They bring both color and structure to the space while also sprucing up a lackluster corner, as seen in this bedroom designed by Arent & Pyke.
11Go for Clever Displays
Compact and understated, this vertical shelving unit makes books looks like they're floating on the wall without actually having to pick up a hammer. Oh, and we love the mini chair on the top shelf for a subtle touch of whimsy.
12Give it Some Formal Flair
Put a large-scale piece of artwork in between two bookcases in a more formal sitting area, as Studio DB did here. It'll create a nice a sense of symmetry and set the tone for the color scheme.
13Try Facing Backwards
Get creative with the way you display your books. As seen in this minimalist space, the books are stacked in alternating compositions, one pile laying horizontally and the other vertically. They achieve consistency by facing the page-side outward, though.
14Go Glam with Mirrored Backs
In a California cottage designed by Stephen Shubel, mirrors installed along the back of the built-in shelving give the wall depth.
15Try Open-backed Cubes
This asymmetric open cubby situation designed by 2LG Studio brings some offbeat intrigue to an otherwise empty wall. Fill yours with plants and vases to break things up.
16Under the Bench
The only thing that can make a built-in reading nook dreamier is built-in book storage, as exemplified in this oasis designed by Studio DB.
17Choose Multipurpose Shelves
In Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber's Vermont cottage, a bookcase is designed with a mantel-like shelf "to make it hearth like, since we don't have a proper fireplace," Heekin says.
18Work in Disguised Shiplap
Take note from this space decorated by Arent & Pyke if you're looking for an understated way to add excitement to your bookshelves while also disguising materials. The shiplap walls are painted a lovely cool hue for a polished aesthetic.
19Fill Negative Space
If your bedside table is open, stack your books underneath it fill in the gaps. This low to the ground vibe is very Wabi Sabi.
20Frame a Door
Frame your door with floor-to-ceiling built-in shelving for a bookish border. Not only will it help you keep your collection organized, but it'll beautify the walls.
21Build a Makeshift Bar
An antique bookcase doubles as a bar in this Manhattan apartment decorated by Phoebe and Jim Howard. Glassware by William Yeoward Crystal.
22Wallpaper With a Story
A whimsical wallpaper is the perfect backdrop for your book collection. Choose one that tells a story to stay on-theme. Opt for an open storage unit as done here at Hasbrouck House so we can see the wallpaper in all its glory.
23Get Strategic with Your Furniture
Instead of taking up surface and wall space with a bulky bookshelf in a work area, opt for a large desk or console table with spacious shelves to display your reading material. For added impact, try color-coding them, or lay them horizontally like Leanne Ford did here.
Twigs' Pheasant wallpaper energizes the broad expanse of shelves in the wife's home office of a house in Houston, Texas. Roman shades are Jasper's Indian Flower. Designer Ann Wolf used the fabric's border to trim the chair.
25Add Graphic Detail
A herringbone pattern hand-painted by Christopher Rollinson gives the living room of Park Avenue apartment its "wow" factor. "In an important room like your living room, shelves should be a little more styled," designer Christina Murphy says.
Hadley MendelsohnSenior EditorHadley Mendelsohn is House Beautiful's senior editor, and when she's not busy obsessing over all things decor-related, you can find her scouring vintage stores, reading, or stumbling about because she probably lost her glasses again.
Sarah YangWeb EditorI’m a web editor at ELLEDECOR.com, Housebeautiful.com, and Veranda.com.
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