Bookshelves Buying Guide

by Ryan Berger

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Despite the name, bookshelves are about more than just shelving books. Bookshelves make versatile solutions as free-standing dry food pantries, open dressers or displays dedicated to your knick-knacks and tchochkes. They quickly convert into china cabinets, media organizers or shoe storage. Whatever the case, the right bookcase goes miles toward making your home into the haven it should be.

What to Look for in a Bookshelf:

  1. Measure twice, buy once: Bookshelves come in more sizes than most furniture, which makes sense because buyers choose them to fill very specific areas. Before you choose a new bookcase, make sure the overall product dimensions fit your space.

  2. Shelf space: The easiest assurance that your books will fit is to choose a bookcase with adjustable shelving. If the shelving is fixed, you can make sure it meets your requirements by measuring your books. A library comprised of hardcover octavos (from 7 3/4 inches to 9 3/4 inches tall) has different needs than stacks of trade paperbacks. Be sure to factor in enough head room above the book spines, so you aren't bumping the corners.

  3. Other size considerations: If you are wall-mounting your bookshelf, locate your wall's studs. In most houses, they're spaced every 16 inches, but yours could be different. If you don't know how far apart your studs are placed, they can easily be located with a stud finder.

Types of Bookshelves:

  1. Ladder and leaning bookshelves: Ladder bookshelves and leaning bookshelves offer a way to optimize space while adding to your home or office decor. Their lean-to designs are ideal in apartments or dorm rooms, where a security deposit might discourage tenants from affixing anything to the walls.

  2. Corner bookshelves: Corner bookcases work for small rooms, apartments and anybody trying to save space. In one swoop, they look great by creating an even flow over the corners in your home decor and redistribute usable space to overlooked areas.

  3. Tower bookshelves: Tower bookshelves divide space in oblique and large rooms with attractive, slender height. They draw sight lines upward in rooms with high ceilings and are excellent contrast pieces in rooms dominated by horizontal lines. Tower bookcases can also frame another significant piece of furniture, like an entertainment center, a lounger, sofa or, within reason, a fireplace.

  4. Wall-mounted bookshelves: Wall-mounted bookshelves are excellent for those who don't have a lot of floor space and are puzzling over what to do with their walls. The ideal wall-mounted bookshelves will be around eye-level and just as interesting as a well-placed piece of artwork.

Bookshelf Tips:

  1. If your books (along with all your bookshelves' treasures) constitute something you'd like to keep for generations, think about proper care. First, beware of mildew, moisture and sunlight exposure for your books. Second, if you'd like to take the extra step, consider bookcases with sliding glass or hinged doors. Finally, if you will be placing large volumes on top of your bookcase, bookends are an absolute must. Not only do creative bookends look great in your home; they are fantastic gifts.

  2. When you're deciding how to decorate your bookshelves, start with what you have. Books are a great place to start. Organize them however you wish: by subject matter, by color, by size or by author. Arrange some books face-out and pair them with decorative accent pieces, like an Audubon text with a bird sculpture placed in front of it. Tall, lightweight shelves will strain under heavy loads. Likewise, short, brawny shelf sets will look awkward if covered in dainty decor. As always, trust your own taste, style and judgment when it comes to buying the right piece for your space.

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