Bookcase Design & Style Guide

Tara Dickinson
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A Round Up Of Bookcase Shapes And Decor Styles

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.”―Stephen King

Sharing ideas, crafting worlds of fantasy, inspiring movements, delighting, and educating, books are powerful and meaningful components of our lives. And in almost every home across the country, you find a collection of curated favorites. But you don’t have to be a book collector or book lover to enjoy the merits of a quality bookcase design and style. And if you are into home decor, a style guide dedicated to all the different shapes, sizes, and types of bookcases is a little collection of decorating gold. So let’s dive in!


Thoughts Before A Bookcase Purchase

  1. SIZE: Keep in mind the size of your collection, and if you have additional items or collectibles you’re going to display on those shelves as well.
  2. SPACE: Where will you be installing the bookcase; take some general measurements.
  3. WEIGHT: If you’re a frequent mover, consider the weight and ease of assembly and disassembly of your bookcase.


Barrister Bookcase

Named after attorneys, this bookcase style was intentionally designed for housing law books. The look is a classic, more formal design. Ideal for holding rare treasures and precious collectibles.

  • Built to store massive volumes of law books.
  • Thus, built with sturdy frames.
  • Most come with sets of doors that can be locked.

bookcaseBooktree Bookcase

A sister book holder to the stylish ‘tree’ bookcase (which literally is built to resemble the shape of a tree), the booktree has a climbing look with branches of shelves that are more symmetrical.

  • Usually has shelves of the same size.
  • An artistic bookcase option.
  • Able to be hung directly on a wall, this might be advantageous for some.
  • Also available in free-standing styles that rest on the floor.

Bookcase With Drawers

This type of bookcase can fall into many categories or design styles as the only criterion is that a bookcase has some drawers included in its design.

  • Has the bonus of concealed storage.
  • Can double as a file organizer in a home office setting.
  • Decor themes can come in many styles from traditional to contemporary.

Colorful Bookcases

Painted bookcases make for a quite pleasing aesthetic. Either painted the same tone as your walls or a popping contrasting color to add some design vigor to a space, either way, this is a fun idea to consider when installing your bookcase.

  • Using the same color scheme delivers a sense of unity to a space.
  • Instead of painting the outside frame, you can also consider painting the backboard walls of the bookcase. This is a more subtle presentation and can be an eyecatcher if using a contrasting color.

Contemporary Bookcases

Coming in neutral shades of whites, tans, and greys, contemporary bookcases are minimal in their design structure.

  • Elegant and sleek with intentional design.
  • A practical and sensible method for book display and organization.
  • Straightforward and functional but this doesn’t have to mean boring.

Corner Bookcases

Bookcases that fit neatly into empty corners are decorating gems. Oftentimes left empty, adding a bookcase to a corner space can change the feel and of course usefulness of an area. Ideal in small spaces or tiny homes.

  • Great for displaying other items besides books, more of a decorating feature.
  • A good spot for delicate objects as they are tucked out of the way.
  • Nice way to take advantage of unused vertical space.
  • Varieties come in freestanding forms or those that can be hung on the wall.

Cube Bookcases

Symmetrical square designs come in stackable and well as hangable versions. A complementing choice to go with futuristic and techno style homes, as well as the traditional modern or mid-century modern theme.

  • Equal-sided cube shapes.
  • Quite practical storage-wise.
  • Has a specific design aesthetic with clean bold lines.
  • Can also act as a ‘zone’ or space divider, thus falling into the multifunctional furniture category.

Industrial Bookcases

This is more of a stylish decor theme category of bookcases that can turn an unexpected item of furniture into a display or bookcase.

  • Industrial design uses a lot of raw materials: metals, pallets, and found objects. Think timeworn, rough, and rugged. The overall vibe is more masculine in nature, with sturdy overtones.
  • Industrial bookcases can be massively large furniture pieces such as an item of leftover commercial kitchen equipment or simple and small like a wrought iron milk crate.

Ladder and Leaning Bookcases

Nothing hidden here. As the name implies, these bookcase styles look like decorative ladders and can be freestanding or ones that actually lean again a wall.

  • Many times the design ascends from large to small in shelf width.
  • Other ladder types have rung-like shelves to store books.
  • It’s more of a minimalist design style that works well in tight spaces.

Modern Bookcases

Much like its counterpart the modern bookcase is similar in form, function, and style to the contemporary bookcase. Modern bookcases are more prone to come in warmer natural earth tones.

  • Minimal detailing.
  • A functional, albeit stylish, basic.

Modular Bookcases

There is not specifically a definition difference between a modular or a cube bookcase, but since both terms are in popular use, it’s included here in a separate entry. Usually coming in sets of two or three, these stackable and arrange-as-you-like bookcase units are fun to configure in any design shape you please.

  • Placed on walls without any backing is one favored way of installing a modular bookcase unit.
  • Stack them both horizontally or vertically.
  • Create bookcase shapes to fit under a display unit in a low horizontal manner. Or stack on either side of a doorway vertically for a nice framing effect.
  • Classic modular bookshelves have straight rows of shelves.
  • The most standard finishes found are painted white or black, and metal or wood.

Rectangular Bookcase

The traditional rectangular bookcase is the most common style found in a considerable number of homes around the world. Affordable and offered by most furniture manufacturers, as well as coming in an abundance of sizes, designs, colors, and finishes you can understand why they are so popular.

  • The classic go-to bookcase model that will easily fit just about anywhere.

Shelf Bookcases

And the second most common type of storage unit would be the shelf bookcase. Obtainable in open or closed-backed styles, these adjustable types can be either free-standing or secured onto the walls.

  • Commonly found in bright colors adorning children’s rooms.
  • Another go-to option that is customizable to any space or location where you need some book or accent storage installed.

Symmetrical Bookcases

This category falls under the design theme of bookcases as just about any style unit can be placed in your layout in a symmetrical fashion to make a decor statement.

  • Gives off a more organized and structured feel to the space.
  • To really go the classical route, make each shelf on either side of your symmetrical cases copy each other in display structure (10 books on the bottom shelf and a vase and photo on the second self on each side for example).
  • Mix it up and DON’T be symmetrical in your display layout for a more loose and artistic flair.

Staggered Shelving Bookcases

Another artsy or more noteworthy type of bookcase is the staggered unit. These are usually focal points in and of themselves.

  • It’s definitely a piece for a room that’s not looking for a classic structured and straightforward organized feel.
  • Make sure to add an attention-grabbing artwork item in with your book display to really set the piece apart.


Bookend Ideas

If you’re not filling up your bookshelf from end to end with books, including personal accents as bookends in part of your bookcase display is a lovely finishing decor touch.

  • Whatever decorative item you use, it might have to be on the more weighty side to hold your books in place.
  • This is a fun collectors project; keep your eyes open when browning flea markets or when out on walks. A beautiful rock, an old railroad fitting, or an antique knickknack would all make the perfect bookend addition to your display.


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