The 15 Best Bookshelves for Storage and Display in 2022

The Dolores Cane Bookcase from Pottery Barn has display shelves and hidden storage for the best of both worlds.

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 Best Bookshelves for Storage and Display in 2022

Pottery Barn

Bookshelves are a staple of home decor that find themselves in pretty much every room of the home. Whether they’re show-stopping decor pieces or hardworking furniture mixing open shelving with doors and drawers, bookshelves add storage and create style opportunities.

There are so many options available, from almost every home decor retailer and furniture store, that choosing a bookshelf is both fun and daunting. Plus, you absolutely have to take into consideration the space you have and what you want to store–two factors with near-equal impact on how you’ll decide the best bookshelf for you. 

We talked with Lindsey Putzier of Lindsey Putzier Design Studio and Samantha Tannehill of Sam Tannehill Designs about their advice for selecting bookshelves for your home as well as insights on specific bookshelves and retailers.

We used size, style, availability, and expertise to build this list of the best bookshelves. The result is a mix of exciting new styles and tried-and-true models that will bring a fresh look—and plenty of storage—to your home. 

Our top pick for the best overall bookshelf is the Pottery Barn Dolores Cane Bookcase with Doors—part hidden storage and part display space, it’s also a beautiful piece that balances sleek modern lines with traditional texture. 

Here are the best bookshelves.

Best Overall: Pottery Barn Dolores Cane Bookcase with Doors

Pottery Barn Dolores Cane Bookcase with Doors

Pottery Barn

Why You Should Get It:

  • Designer recommended
  • Multipurpose storage
  • 330-pound weight capacity

Keep in Mind:

  • Expensive
  • Long delivery lead time and costs

Our top pick, Pottery Barn’s Dolores Cane Bookcase with Doors, came recommended by Putzier. “This bookcase has great clean lines and would be a nice compliment to contemporary, boho, or modern farmhouse decor,” she says. “The caned doors add some great texture and warmth to the piece.” 

The doors really do pop against the washed black acacia wood frame, and the color and texture contrast make the bookshelf itself a decor piece. And its size—35 inches wide x 74 inches high—maximizes space without overwhelming it. 

We love that it mixes open and closed storage, so you can make the most of the space it occupies. There’s a height of 11 inches between the four fixed shelves, each holding a substantial 50 pounds. And at 15 inches deep, this shelf has plenty of room for arranging most hardcover books, including larger coffee table books. Plus, there’s one shelf divvying up space behind the doors, too.

White glove delivery is the only option, so you will be paying more on top of the bookshelf cost. There’s a long delivery lead time, too, but they’ll unbox, assemble, and place the bookshelf for you, saving you time and hassle when it does arrive.

Price at time of publish: $1,799

Product Details:

  • Dimensions: 35 x 15 x 74 inches
  • Material: Acacia wood with cane door panels
  • Weight Capacity: 50 pounds per shelf, 330 total weight capacity
  • Number of Shelves: Four

Best Budget: IKEA KALLAX Shelf Unit

Kallax Shelf Unit
Courtesy of IKEA.

Why You Should Get It:

  • Versatile
  • Sturdy
  • Budget-friendly 

Keep in Mind:

  • Assembly required
  • Inconsistent availability

When Tannehill recommended IKEA as a budget-friendly source for bookshelves, we jumped at the chance to praise the versatility and dependability of the iconic Kallax cube series. Available in four finishes, this bookshelf can be positioned vertically or horizontally depending on your space and needs—and it can be wall mounted, too. The 13 x 13-inch cube interiors have a 15-inch depth and provide regimented storage, fitting a variety of items, including notebooks, office supplies, shoes, and accessories. 

Because the Kallax is constructed with fiberboard, it’s not as strong or durable as most wood or metal bookshelves. However, the frame thickness and larger overall size makes the Kallax sturdier than similar cube shelving from other brands. Once you’ve assembled it, this unit can take 29 pounds per shelf (less when wall-mounted). Though we selected the simple 4 x 1 shelving unit, there are multiple variations and sizes in the series, so you can get the best fit for your space—and still at a totally reasonable price. 

IKEA also offers a leggy base to elevate the bookshelf off the floor, as well as a variety of boxes and baskets to perfectly fit the cubbies. 

Product availability with some popular IKEA products like Kallax can be challenging. Delivery or pick up options, as well as stock availability, can vary by location, finish, and product size.

Price at time of publish: $60

Product Details:

  • Dimensions: 16.5 x 15.375 x 57.875 inches
  • Material: Fiberboard
  • Weight Capacity: 29 pounds per shelf
  • Number of Shelves: Four

Best Splurge: Ambella Home Collection Spindle Etagere

Ambella Home Collection Spindle Etagere

Perigold

Why You Should Get It:

  • Designer recommended
  • Stunning details

Keep in Mind:

  • Expensive
  • Very tall

“Regal” is the word Putzier used to describe the Spindle Etagere by Ambella Home Collection, and we heartily agree. Putzier pegged this as her pick for best bookshelf overall, but with the hefty price tag, we knew it had to be the best splurge-worthy bookshelf in our lineup. “I adore this wood and metal bookcase,” she says, noting that its stately look and size would be especially at home in a living room or home office. When decorating, she recommends leaning into the style. “Dress it up with some antique hardcover books and ginger jars for an updated traditional feel,” she says. 

At 30 x 15.5 x 91.5 inches, the bookshelf certainly commands space, but the etagere design—more open than a traditional closed-sided bookcase—makes the unit less visually imposing than its almost-8-foot height would suggest. The weathered light gray finish also helps it feel airy, though the bookshelf is available in a deep walnut as well for an even more traditional feel to accentuate the wood grain. The weight capacity is 35 pounds per shelf.

Price at time of publish: $3,648

Product Details:

  • Dimensions: 30 x 15.5 x 91.5 inches
  • Material: Mindi wood
  • Weight Capacity: 35 pounds per shelf
  • Number of Shelves: Five

Best Low: Inside Weather Alto Shelf

Inside Weather Alto Shelf

Inside Weather

Why You Should Get It:

  • Customizable 
  • Ultra-low profile
  • Ships flatpack

Keep in Mind:

  • Shallow
  • Assembly required

Standing at a slight height of 24.75 inches, Inside Weather’s Alto Shelf is the lowest bookshelf on our list and one of the shortest we encountered overall. This ultra-low profile and 28-inch width is perfect for fitting alongside low-slung furniture or under windows—still leaving room to display things on top, too. But take note: At just 10 inches deep, it’s a bit shallower than most bookshelves and might impact what (or how) you plan to store your materials. However, with solid wood construction, it can still hold 20 pounds per shelf. 

It’s the unmatched customization that secured the Alto Shelf a place among our best bookshelves. Choose from three wood frame finishes (black, espresso, and latte) and the number of modular units (you can order up to six units at a time–and buying more units at once is less expensive than purchasing individual units). For the accent panel, choose from hundreds of colors and patterns, including Frank Lloyd Wright Usonia designs. 

Part of a modular series, each shelving unit comes with connection brackets so you can add more shelves, vertically or horizontally, and take them apart again as your needs change. Plus, they come with a wall-mount kit and instructions to easily transition from floor to hanging units. 

Unlike many other bookshelves, this one arrives flat packed for easy shipping. Although you have to assemble it yourself, Inside Weather estimates it should only take 20 minutes. 

Price at time of publish: $399

Product Details:

  • Dimensions: 28 x 10 x 24.75 inches
  • Material: Solid ash and birch plywood
  • Weight Capacity: 20 pounds per shelf
  • Number of Shelves: Two

Best Tall: Crate & Barrel Natasha Solid Pine Wood Bookcase with Shelves

Crate & Barrel Natasha Solid Pine Wood Bookcase with Shelves

Crate & Barrel

Why You Should Get It:

  • Built for display
  • Classic style

Keep in Mind:

  • Pricey
  • Cannot be returned

When custom built-in bookshelves aren’t an option, Crate & Barrel’s Natasha Solid Pine Wood Bookcase with Shelves can offer a similar feel. Measuring 35.5 x 18 x 98 inches, it’s taller and deeper than the other bookshelves on our list. In fact, it may be a challenge to fit in some 8-foot ceiling rooms or get it flush against the wall in rooms with thick, decorative molding. If you want to capitalize on the height, Crate & Barrel offers a corresponding Natasha bookshelf with a library ladder; put the two units side-by-side, and the ladder can move along the iron rail at the top of the shelves (though despite the height, the ladder is for decorative use only).

Though the weight capacity is not listed, solid pine material should mean you can easily store plenty on the four generous 33.5 x 17.25 x 15.25-inch shelves. A standout feature of these shelves is the removable ledge that can be slanted at the back of the shelf to provide an angled backrest perfect for propping up display-worthy coffee table books, drawings, and other artwork. Don’t overlook the hidden storage behind the bottom doors. 

A custom-made order through Crate & Barrel, this bookshelf requires a long lead time before delivery and cannot be returned.

Price at time of publish: $2,199

Product Details:

  • Dimensions: 35.5 x 18 x 98 inches
  • Material: Solid pine
  • Weight Capacity: Not listed
  • Number of Shelves: Four

Best Floating: Room & Board Staple Double Wall Shelf

Room & Board Staple Double Wall Shelf

Room & Board

Why You Should Get It:

  • Many color options
  • Lightweight

Keep in Mind:

  • Shallow
  • Won’t hold a lot of books

Double the storage space of a single bookshelf with the parallel ledges of Room & Board’s Staple Double Wall Shelf. Unlike many traditional floating shelves, this lightweight aluminum bookshelf offers two tiers of functional storage on just one shelf. However, with a shallow 6-inch depth and short 6.75-inch clearance on the lower ledge, plus a weight capacity of 50 pounds overall, you won’t be stacking more than small paperbacks on this model. 

The powder-coated shelf is available in 17 finishes, including classic gray and black as well as bold tangerine and sunny saffron. It even includes coordinating colored screws for a seamless installation that contributes to the floating look. 

Because floating shelves tend to accentuate what’s on display, rather than the shelf itself, Tannehill recommends floating shelves for decor-worthy storage in small spaces where floor and wall space is at a premium. If 24 inches is too short, a 35-inch version is also available. 

It’s worth noting that this unit is suitable for damp locations—perfect for those seeking a pop of color for some fun bath storage, too. 

Price at time of publish: $49

Product Details:

  • Dimensions: 24 x 6 x 7 inches
  • Material: Powder-coated aluminum
  • Weight Capacity: 50 pounds
  • Number of Shelves: One

Best Corner: Urban Outfitters Mara Corner Bookshelf

Urban Outfitters Mara Corner Bookshelf

Urban Outfitters

Why You Should Get It:

  • Great price 
  • Versatile style
  • Lightweight

Keep in Mind:

  • Only 4 feet high
  • Assembly required

Maximize space with a bookshelf built for taking advantage of a room’s dead space. A simple open column unit like the narrow West Elm unit (below) may do the job, but bookshelves designed to fit into corners offer style intended for your home’s nooks and crannies. 

While there are many style-forward corner bookshelf options available—like geometric illusions and curvy enclosed bookcases—we like the simplicity and timelessness of Urban Outfitters’ Mara Corner Bookshelf. A mix of rustic color and contemporary lines, it has a transitional style that fits any space. 

The mango wood is a rich, natural color and pattern, and the material itself likely provides quality shelf support, despite the weight capacity being unlisted. Three of the four shelves have a 12-inch clearance that may limit taller decorative items. An angled back tucks into corners, giving the unit a reasonable 14-inch depth. 

While the 56-inch height isn’t taking full advantage of a room’s height, it will be a better fit for smaller spaces and tighter corners; the shelves feature a rounded front profile for more style and less intrusion into the space. 

Assembly is required, but weighing just 20.72 pounds, it’s easy to move around to whatever corner needs it most.

Price at time of publish: $249

Product Details:

  • Dimensions: 14 x 14 x 56
  • Material: Mango wood
  • Weight Capacity: Not listed
  • Number of Shelves: Four

Best Ladder: Better Homes and Gardens Bedford 5 Shelf Leaning Bookcase

Better Homes and Gardens Bedford 5 Shelf Leaning Bookcase

Walmart

Why You Should Get It:

  • Inexpensive
  • Ledges keep things in place

Keep in Mind:

  • Assembly required
  • Shelf depth varies

For a simple storage solution with a warm, traditional feel, we love the Better Homes and Gardens Bedford 5 Shelf Leaning Bookcase. Though sleek metal ladder bookshelves are especially popular right now, this two-toned wooden bookshelf has a cozy presence that would fit smartly with cottage, traditional, or coastal decor. 

The off-white frame warmly contrasts the five wooden shelves, but the straight sides give it a slight contemporary edge. An overall 14-inch depth is standard for bookshelves generally, but remember the actual shelf depth varies along the ladder. The almost 25-inch width and 71.5-inch height provides plenty of storage, but there are many larger, deeper ladder shelves available. Gallery edges along the sides and back keep things in place, which is a feature we find really practical with shallow shelves. 

The bookshelf can ship directly to you but assembly is required. The Bedford is not a wall-mounted ladder shelf, and since it’s 28 pounds, you can easily reposition if and when you need to, making this a great choice for renters or those moving frequently. 

Price at time of publish: $99

Product Details:

  • Dimensions: 24.8 x 13.6 x 71.5 inches
  • Material: Wood
  • Weight Capacity: Not listed
  • Number of Shelves: Five

Best Solid Wood: CB2 Ventura Notched Low Oak Bookshelf

CB2 Ventura Notched Low Oak Bookshelf

CB2

Why You Should Get It:

  • Adjustable shelves
  • Removable drawer
  • Durable

Keep in Mind:

  • Tone and coloring will vary 
  • Pricey
  • Expensive shipping and handling

Created by designers Lawson-Fenning, CB2’s Ventura Notched Low Oak Bookshelf stands out for its modern style and sensibility. Little touches, like the recessed drawer handle, rounded feet and angled front corners, give the impression of a thoughtfully designed but casual bookshelf that can fit perfectly at home wherever you need it. 

Crafted from FSC-certified white oak, the four-shelf console-style unit has excellent adaptability for a solid wood bookcase. The shelves and drawer can be repositioned or completely removed, letting you create a console bookshelf that matches your storage needs. The weight capacity is unlisted, but solid wood shelves should provide a solid foundation for most things. The open-back design makes it lighter to move around the house, plus you don’t have to worry about blocking outlets. 

Measuring 66" w x 13" d x 30", the low bookshelf is a standard console structure. If you love the practicality of adjustable solid wood shelves but are looking for something taller, CB2 offers a coordinating closed-back tall bookshelf. Prepare to reach around $2,000 in costs with taxes, shipping, and handling (though, you may be able to circumvent shipping by picking it up from a warehouse).


Price at time of publish: $1,699

Product Details:

  • Dimensions: 66 x 13 x 30 inches
  • Material: Solid oak
  • Weight Capacity: Not listed
  • Number of Shelves: Four

Best Hanging: Burrow Index Wall Shelf

4
Burrow Index Wall Shelf

Courtesy of Burrow

Why You Should Get It:

  • Modular system
  • Solid wood

Keep in Mind:

  • Shallow depth
  • Smaller display spaces
  • Assembly required

Burrow’s Index is an eye-catching solid wood modular bookshelf system intended to change as your space requires (and budget allows). The simple grid design, available in walnut, oak, and white finishes, lets your shelf decor be the center of attention. 

With each Index unit capable of holding 90 pounds (30 pounds per shelf), you can pack a hefty punch with your decor—but Putzier advises that with bookshelves like these, it’s best to fight the urge to overfill. “Don't feel obligated to fill each compartment with stuff,” she says. “Leave a couple empty for a less cluttered look.”

The 9-inch shelf depth and 9.75-inch vertical space helps combat the urge to over-decorate; unlike most of the best bookshelves on our list, this unit has a more confined display space. It will still accommodate most traditional paperback and hardcover books, but larger works, like cookbooks, won’t fit. However, it will also more effectively showcase small collections and items that could get lost on deeper, larger shelves. 

Assembly is required, but Burrow will ship each unit in a single box directly to you. The package includes all the mounting hardware you’ll need as well as instructions and a hanging template to make building and installation a breeze. 

Price at time of publish: $395

Product Details:

  • Dimensions: 32 x 32 x 10 inches
  • Material: Solid ash
  • Weight Capacity: 90 pounds per unit, 30 pounds per shelf
  • Number of Shelves: Three

Best Modern: Room&Board Foshay Console Bookcase

Room & Board Foshay Console Bookcase in Colors

 Courtesy of Room & Board 

Why You Should Get It:

  • Strong weight capacity
  • Geometric design with great storage 

Keep in Mind:

  • Scratch prone
  • Long delivery lead time

Pops of color and geometric lines are hallmarks of modern design, including Room & Board’s Foshay bookshelves. Available in natural steel or 16 powder-coated finishes, the slim, narrow lines of the Foshay provide contemporary decor without visual weight. We love that the Foshay’s lines don’t physically segment the shelving space—instead, it offers the classic geometry with uninterrupted shelf space, too. You can easily store longer and larger pieces or use the vertical lines as “frames” to highlight individual pieces. (In fact, the website lists the size of each open space framed on the shelf, so you can really make sure it fits the bill before buying). 

These steel shelves offer excellent weight capacity, holding approximately 100 pounds of distributed weight per shelf. Despite their durability, these bookshelves are prone to scratches, so you may want to decorate them with little-used items.

We selected the 48 x 15 x 29-inch model, which is a newer, smaller size for the Foshay console bookshelf (also available in 60- and 72-inch widths), because it fits more comfortably in smaller spaces and behind more compact furniture. However, the Foshay collection also includes hanging shelves, traditional upright bookshelves, and entire wall units so you can get its simple, modern storage in any space. 

Some colors are made to order, and while the cost doesn’t change, you will be waiting longer to get your bookshelf. 

Price at time of publish: $699

Product Details:

  • Dimensions: 48 x 15 x 29 inches 
  • Material: Steel
  • Weight Capacity: 100 pounds of distributed weight per shelf
  • Number of Shelves: Two

Best with Doors: Aviva Barrister Cabinet

Aviva Barrister Cabinet

West Elm

Why You Should Get It:

  • Historically inspired style
  • Easy-access but protected shelves

Keep in Mind:

  • Large
  • Expensive
  • Long shipping time

Inspired by the once-common equipment for lawyers, the Aviva Barrister Cabinet is a contemporary take on tradition. Originally, each shelf of a barrister bookcase would be a separate unit that could be transported where needed and stacked to form a cabinet. Antique barrister cabinets found today are typically wood with glass doors and legless in order to sit securely on the ground. We love the way this bookshelf reimagines that style: a single bookcase, uncharacteristically on legs, made of iron in a gunmetal finish with contrasting brass door hardware. 

Similar to its ancestors, this barrister cabinet offers plenty of storage, with five individual shelves and glass doors. The 30 x 14x 14-inch interior compartments are suitable for showcasing a prized collection of books of varying sizes, as well as delicate artifacts better protected behind doors. The doors lift up and push in for access to each shelf individually—a welcome feature that makes adding or removing items a bit easier without having to navigate a swinging door. 

At 184 pounds and almost 7 feet tall, this barrister bookshelf requires ample space to house. Though the weight capacity is not listed, it seems likely to be substantial given the strength of the material. Also substantial: the shipping and handling fees for such a hefty object and the long lead time before this item will ship. 

Price at time of publish: $2,099

Product Details:

  • Dimensions: 32 x 15 x 82 inches
  • Material: Iron and glass
  • Weight Capacity: Not listed
  • Number of Shelves: Five

Best Round: Anthropologie Irving Bookcase

Anthropologie Irving Bookcase

Anthropologie

Why You Should Get It:

  • A showstopper on its own
  • No assembly required

Keep in Mind:

  • Pricey
  • Largest bookshelf on our list 
  • Currently on backorder

At nearly 6 feet round and 18.5 inches deep and standing more than 6 feet high, Anthropologie’s Irving Bookcase needs a lot of space to shine. But shine it does: From the rattan to the uncommon shape, it’s a bookshelf easily selected more for the style than the storage, but the storage is abundant, too, with three long, deep shelves. The weight capacity is unlisted, so we’re unsure how much it can safely store, but natural rattan is typically a fairly strong material (it is frequently used for seating, after all). 

Because it’s a natural material, expect variation in color and tone from the pictured bookshelf (and it will likely differ from other rattan in your home, too). Perfect for boho, beach, and coastal grandmother decor, it’s a classic material that can find a place in less style-specific spaces, too. 

“It's always good to vary the materials in a space, so make sure to take your existing items into account when selecting a new bookshelf,” Putzier says. The airy, open Irving might be the visual break you need from heavy woods or bare walls. 

Because it comes fully assembled, you can anticipate an additional cost to ship. However, we think it’s worth the peace of mind knowing such a large piece of furniture will be accurately constructed and the shelves are properly supported.

Price at time of publish: $898

Product Details:

  • Dimensions: 76 x 71 x 18.5 inches
  • Material: Rattan 
  • Weight Capacity: Not listed
  • Number of Shelves: Three

Best Wall Mounted: Nathan James Theo Industrial Bookshelf

Nathan James Theo Industrial Bookshelf

Amazon

Why You Should Get It:

  • Concealed storage
  • Great fit for many rooms

Keep in Mind:

  • Particle board shelves
  • Wall-mounted for extra stability

A mix of open shelving and closed storage, the Nathan James Theo Storage Ladder Bookcase with Drawers can find a useful spot almost anywhere in the home. This wall-mount ladder style has a bit more stability than leaning ladder styles, which is especially helpful for bookshelves like this, where opening a drawer may otherwise rattle the frame. 

Measuring 24 x 14 x 73 inches overall, it’s just the right size to fit into those empty spaces around the home, like nooks at the bottom of the stairs, between doors on a shared wall, and inside closets. But it’s also a practical solution for living rooms, dining areas, bedrooms, and offices, easily providing barware display, a petite library, or bedside storage. The three particle board shelves hold a reasonable 55 pounds per shelf (and 30 pounds per drawer). 

We chose the dark wood with matte black frame for its more contemporary look, but the Theo is also available in oak wood with matte white frame if your home feels more traditional. Even though assembly is required, we appreciate that the brand provides an expected assembly time of 45 minutes.

Price at time of publish: $190

Product Details:

  • Dimensions: 24 x 14 x 73 inches
  • Material: Metal, paper laminate, particleboard
  • Weight Capacity: 55 pounds per shelf, 30 pounds per drawer
  • Number of Shelves: Three

Best Narrow: West Elm Zane Bookshelf

West Elm Zane Bookshelf

West Elm

Why You Should Get It: 

  • 15 inches square
  • Light and airy design

Keep in Mind:

  • Assembly required 
  • Not great for traditional book storage

Narrow bookshelves have two common uses: to add vertical storage and style in a tight space or to create a variation in scale for your room’s furniture. Either way, we think the elegant lacquered white wood and brass etagere design of West Elm’s Zane bookshelf is a sure fit. 

When selecting a narrow bookshelf, Putzier recommends going for something “visually lighter than a heavy, wooden bookshelf.” In this way, less is definitely more: An open design not only prevents the bookshelf from weighing down the room, it allows you to easily place, access, or view what’s on your shelves. 

The Zane doesn’t sacrifice depth for a narrow width: at 15 inches square and 48.2 pounds of capacity per shelf, the five shelves offer plenty of capacity for storage. Plus, 13 inches between shelves is sufficient vertical space, too. Though, if you’re looking to display books, they’ll probably need to be stacked—you can’t fit too many upright books since they’d need bookends to hold them in place. 

If you’re all about creating balance by framing a desk, media area, or window with a narrow bookshelf, you’re in luck—West Elm also sells the Zane in a set of two

Price at time of publish: $380

Product Details:

  • Dimensions: 15.4 x 15.4 x 71.8 inches
  • Material: Solid and engineered wood, stainless steel base 
  • Weight Capacity: 48.2 pounds. per shelf
  • Number of Shelves: Five

The Bottom Line

Designer recommended, Pottery Barn Dolores Cane Bookcase with Doors is our pick for best bookshelf. It offers a balanced mix of closed and open storage—with a substantial weight capacity—that brings style and function to any room. If you’re looking for something similar that will take up less space (and less of your budget), check out Nathan James Theo Storage Ladder Bookcase with Drawers

What to Know About Bookshelves Before Shopping

Size

Size really does matter when it comes to finding the best bookshelf for your needs. Both the size of your space and the size of what you want to store or display will be key considerations when shopping. 

“A traditional tall and wide wooden bookshelf would be a great option for a large space,” Tannehill says. Floating shelves or a narrow etagere, on the other hand, may not have an impact in that same space. Beyond aesthetic, overall size factors into whether a bookshelf can fit through doorways and staircases, too—an especially important consideration for large bookshelves that arrive assembled. 

“If you have items that you know will go on the bookshelf, it's important to make sure that those items will fit,” Putzier says. This means measuring their height and width (and possibly their weight) and comparing bookshelves against those numbers. It might even mean finding one or two items that are larger than the rest—irregularly tall and wide books, for example—and evaluating bookshelf options based on their fit. 

A note on dimensions: When it comes to bookshelf sizes, measurements are not consistently labeled or listed in the same order between retailers. Height (h) is standard, but width (w) can also be referred to as length (l), and depth (d) may be noted as width (w). Compare the structure of the bookcase with the dimensions listed, so you know exactly what those measurements are identifying. 

Material 

Material can define the style and aesthetic of furniture, but it also impacts how bookshelves function, influencing the weight capacity of shelves as well as their durability and longevity. Wood and wood veneers, metal, fiberboards, rattan, and glass are common bookshelf materials you can consider. 

“The material of your bookshelves has an effect on how long a bookshelf lasts and how simple it is to move,” Tannehill says. “Solid hardwoods and metals are long-lasting investments. However, they are significantly heavier and more difficult to move around.” 

How you intend to use the bookshelf may influence which bookshelf materials you’ll consider. Glass, for example, will need frequent cleaning if you’re using it for everyday storage. Particleboard generally cannot stand up to water, so it might not be the right home for a number of plants. 

“For "workhorse" bookshelves being used in a home office or other functional space, I recommend sticking with stained wood,” Putzier says. If you’re someone who loves to makeover furniture to fit their home and personal style, wood bookshelves may be the right material for you, too, since they’re easily painted, stained, and altered. 

Weight Capacity 

If you’re intending to store a large number of books, particularly heavy books like textbooks, or some other weighty collections, weight capacity will be a critical component in picking your best bookshelf. Material plays a part in weight capacity—for example, steel or wood often hold more than fiberboard or glass. Installation also influences it: Hanging bookshelves usually accommodate less weight than something freestanding. Size is also related to weight capacity—generally, smaller units can hold less and larger units more. 

Unfortunately, bookshelves frequently do not list weight capacities in their product information. In our research, we found many of the retailers on this list willing to respond to product information inquiries via chat or email; if weight capacity is important for your storage needs, try contacting customer service and see if they, or the manufacturer, can supply a definitive answer. 

Number of Shelves

What, and how much, are you trying to store? More shelves supply more surface for storage (and often add more weight capacity to the shelf, too), but more shelves can also create visual clutter. It’s a balance. 

In many instances, the size of the book shelf and available space will take precedence over the number of shelves when deciding what’s best for you. However, how you want to organize your bookshelf may influence the number of shelves you're looking for. For example, in a home office you may want a shelf dedicated to completed projects and one for works in progress, or you might be seeking distinct display areas to celebrate different hobbies and interests in a living room. 

Bookcases with adjustable shelves not only allow you to better accommodate what you’re storing, they can often be removed (and added back later) as needed. However, note that adjustable shelves don’t always have the hefty weight capacity of fixed shelves since they aren’t as strongly supported by the bookshelf frame. When evaluating product information related to shelves, consider if the info includes the top or bottom of the bookshelf—in many cases it may not, but you may intend to use those areas for storage and display. 

Your Questions, Answered

What can you store on bookshelves?

“There isn't a hard and fast rule when it comes to what is and isn't allowed on bookshelves,” Putzier says. The beauty and usefulness of bookshelves is that they can hold almost anything. Of course, books are always a favorite, but Putzier says other popular items for bookshelves include decorative elements like vases, sculptures, boxes, plants, family photos, and art. 

Tannehill reminds us bookshelves can also hold more unexpected items, like musical instruments, vintage typewriters, and games. “A thoughtfully stacked bookshelf is not only an easy way to display your most prized possessions, but it can equally serve as a great conversation piece to spark exchanges on individual objects,” Tannehill says. 

Though they can be specifically chosen to store prized collections or lovingly curated decor, you’re likely to find bookshelves acting as open and accessible storage for everyday things, too—storing barware near the liquor cabinet, jewelry in the bedroom, or video games near the TV. The best bookshelves store what you need, where you need it. 

What is the best way to organize bookshelves?

Organizing a bookshelf doesn’t have to be harder than picking it out. “The most important thing to remember is scale,” Putzier says. “Items should all fit on the shelves without being way too tiny or too large.” Choose something too big and your decor will look out of place and draw too much attention. 

On the other hand, Putzier notes that an abundance of small items can make it impossible for the eye to focus. You should also aim to keep the shelves free of clutter—even on hardworking storage space, like a home office. 

“If you need to store small items such as pens or paper clips, small decorative storage boxes are wonderful! They hide the mess and are very practical,” she says. Check out these easy tips for arranging, layering, and accessorizing your bookshelves. 

Who We Are

Kristina McGuirk is a freelance writer whose first contracts included doing product selections for Better Homes & Gardens branded special interest magazines in 2008. As someone who recently started looking into bookshelves for her own home, Kristina was familiar with the overwhelming number of styles, sizes, and types of bookshelves on the market. She asked Lindsey Putzier, owner and principal designer at Lindsey Putzier Design Studio, and Samantha Tannehill, designer at Sam Tannehill Designs, to share their professional insights on both buying and using bookshelves. The designers also offered leads on their favorite retailers and best bookshelves. Kristina compared their insights with other best-of lists around the industry, researched multiple styles for each category, and created a final collection that mixes popular selections with new styles and features from trusted sources.

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