Bookshelves are among the most utilitarian pieces of furniture in the home. By and large, they’re designed to do one thing, and one thing only: shelve books. If you need to store books (or other roughly book-shaped media), you need a bookshelf, and nine times out of ten, that’s simply that. But if you want your bookshelves to do double duty – say, to actually enhance your home decor as well as create some nice biblio-storage – you need to look for something a little more creative than your simple rectangular box with adjustable shelves. The right bookshelf can be a real statement piece, you just need to find one that gets a little creative.
Among my own personal favorites are asymmetrical bookshelves like this Reid Shelving Unit from EuroStyles. With different shelves in offset sizes, a finish that covers all the edges, and most importantly an extremely solid internal framing, you can use this unit either upright or on its side, arranged just about any direction you want. The various sized and shaped shelves are perfect for storing a variety of media no matter which way you turn it. But my favorite thing about it is that the offset design makes it an excellent room divider as well, especially if you use the open space to showcase a few favorite trinkets rather than lots of books. You’ll have a visual partition, but one that lets through a little light so you won’t crowd or darken your space.
I think slightly off-shaped bookshelves are among the best ways to add visual style to your room. Whether you pack them with books or populate them more scantly with books and other trinkets, bookshelves like this Robbie Shelving Unit act as a primer in white space, helping you create a visually stunning look by just loading up the slightly offset shelves.
If you’re a little more confident in your own design abilities, these Barney shelves fare an excellent way to get a smooth, sleek modern finish that you can arrange yourself. At its heart this piece is “just a shelf,” but the hidden hardware makes them look like they’re floating. That gravity-feel look creates a unique visual appeal while maintaining a minimal style. And with two different lengths, you have the freedom to arrange the shelves in any design you can imagine – symmetrical, asymmetrical, or otherwise.
Sometimes, it’s the shelves themselves that look cool. These futuristic Kira shelves from Nuevo are maybe a little less functional (after all, they only really have three usable shelves), but they also make an excellent room accent or divider, with the slanted chrome legs that create the illusion that the shelves are different sizes. Plus, if you keep the space in between the closed shelves clear (rather than using it for storage, which you technically could), you’re adding a nice dose of white space to your room that will help it look open and uncluttered.
For a slightly more flexible design, I like these Gunnar bookshelves from Uttermost. Available in three sizes, these can be arranged just about any way you desire – as a freestanding table, a skinny shelf, a wall of shelves, or a series of steps as in the image above. They’re designed to fit together seamlessly to look like a single piece, no matter which sizes you choose or how many of them you add on, but can also be completely standalone if you only need shelving in a smaller space.
Sometimes it’s the shelves themselves that are interesting. This slightly gravity-defying Vintage Library Ladder leaning shelf from Sterling Lighting has a pleasantly roughed up antique feel to it that’s sure to add a little personality to your living space. But it’s also a fully functional shelf, using the staggered sized shelves to help weight the “ladder” despite its slightly unsteady appearance. A perfect way to display a collection of old, loved books, or antiques.
The same goes for this Shogun Etagere. An Asian take on an old French design, this piece is equally visually interesting in a traditional or modern space, making beautiful use of line and form for a sleek, polished shelving unit that’s anything but ordinary. Again, it may not have quite the capacity of traditional bookshelves, but it most certainly has a lot more personality, and a lot more value as an accent piece.
Even choosing bookshelves made out of unconventional materials can go a long way towards adding style to an often purely utilitarian piece. This gorgeous V16 Shelving Unit is made entirely of reclaimed wood and reclaimed iron. Each piece has a unique texture, color, grain, and finish. While it’s otherwise a fairly standard multipurpose shelving unit, the beautiful naturally aged wood makes it its own art piece – a perfect focal point rather than just a place to put your books, and excellent for a loft in a repurposed building.
So if you’re in the market for a new set of bookshelves but you want something a little out of the ordinary, remember: look for interesting shapes and interesting materials. Even if you have to sacrifice a little shelf space, you’ll end up with something that looks amazing and will last you much, much longer than a bargain bin assemble-at-home bookshelf. What are you looking for in a bookshelf? Are you looking primarily to store books, or do you want something to accentuate (or divide) your rooms, or showcase some of your favorite trinkets?