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Book Smart: 10 Envy-Inducing Built-In Bookshelves

Here at The Organized Home, we believe in living with less—a smaller wardrobe, fewer toys, less fuss. But there is one thing we are OK with accumulating: books.

I’ve moved seven times since I graduated from college, and with every move, I’ve attempted to shed most of my books. For the most part, I’ve been woefully unsuccessful. Thank goodness. My books have offered me solace and quietude, adventure and excitement—and they’ve made my home mine. (And truth be told, they’re the only part of my home that is neat and orderly all the time.)

As Horace Mann said, “A house without books is like a room without windows.” Here, 10 ways to upgrade your built-in bookshelves.

1. Paint the back of them.

rustic farmhouse hudson valley howell library
Above: Much of the paint in this historic home is original (the owners have a fondness for the distressed look); when they added floor-to-ceiling shelves in their office, they painted the back of the shelves a hue that looked like it could have been the original color as it appeared then. See A Historic Hudson Valley Farmhouse Receives the Ultimate Makeunder. Photograph by Justine Hand for Remodelista.

2. Build them along the staircase.

Brooklyn townhouse white metal stair designed by Bangia Agostinho Architecture. Pia Ulin photo.
Above: Inspiration for the steel staircase came from a utilitarian design that the homeowners spotted at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson in Paris: “We liked how thin and unobtrusive it is and came home with photos.” See Brooklyn Makeover: A Homey Townhouse with a Modern Garret. Photograph by Pia Ulin, courtesy of Bangia Agostinho Architecture.

3. Give them an angle of repose.

Workstead Boerum Hill-3
Above: These delicate shelves by Workstead were built to accommodate the homeowner’s extensive book collection (another set of shelves mirrors this one to the right of the fireplace). Angled ledges at chair level allow for the display of some of his larger books. See A Bespoke Parlour and Kitchen in Boerum Hill. Photograph by Matthew Williams.

4. Wrap a corner with them.

Simmons Library
Above: Contributing editor Izabella Simmons’s husband had one wish during their remodel: floor-to-ceiling shelves to hold his collection of antique fly-fishing books. See Before & After: Remodelista Contributing Editor Izabella Simmons Shares Her Scandi-Inspired Remodel. Photograph by Matthew Williams.

5. Create a reading nook with them.

Elizabeth Roberts Fort Greene Resized
Above: For a client who is an English teacher and avid reader, designer Elizabeth Roberts commissioned a reading nook that’s surrounded by books. See The Architect Is In: Elizabeth Roberts Adds Value in Brooklyn. Photograph by Sean Slattery.

6. Situate them in a bright corner.

Cobble Hill Brownstone Living and Dining: Book corner
Above: There’s nothing quite like getting lost in a book in a clean, well-lighted place. Here, sunlight streams into this cozy reading spot in a Brooklyn living room, a winner of the 2017 Remodelista Considered Design Awards. See Best Professional Living/Dining Room: Lorraine Bonaventura in Cobble Hill. Photograph by Hulya Kolabas.

7. Double-layer them.

Leave it to a pair of writers to reimagine bookshelves. Novelists Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon had two tiers built into the lower shelves to accommodate their overflowing collection. See Serenity Now: A No-Drama Bedroom in Berkeley, CA. Photograph by Aya Brackett.
Above: Leave it to a pair of writers to reimagine bookshelves. Novelists Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon had two tiers built into the lower shelves to accommodate their overflowing collection. See Serenity Now: A No-Drama Bedroom in Berkeley, CA. Photograph by Aya Brackett.

8. Frame a doorway with them.

In the living room of this remodeled Victorian, built-ins provide a dramatic view into the kitchen. See Sunny Side Up: A Victorian Makeover in Melbourne. Photograph by Shannon McGrath via Est Magazine.
Above: In the living room of this remodeled Victorian, built-ins provide a dramatic view into the kitchen. See Sunny Side Up: A Victorian Makeover in Melbourne. Photograph by Shannon McGrath via Est Magazine.

9. Accessorize them with a ladder.

Architect Camille Hermand designed a full-height bookcase lacquered in Farrow & Ball Strong White for this family room. It has a custom black metal sliding ladder and storage cabinets that wrap around the wall. See In Paris, a Grand Apartment Gets an Update for a Modern Family. Photograph by Hervé Goluza.
Above: Architect Camille Hermand designed a full-height bookcase lacquered in Farrow & Ball Strong White for this family room. It has a custom black metal sliding ladder and storage cabinets that wrap around the wall. See In Paris, a Grand Apartment Gets an Update for a Modern Family. Photograph by Hervé Goluza.

10. Line a hallway with them.

A built-in bookcase beautifully maximizes storage space in this narrow hallway. See An Unfussy Brooklyn Townhouse Remodel from Architect Elizabeth Roberts. Photograph by Dustin Aksland.
Above: A built-in bookcase beautifully maximizes storage space in this narrow hallway. See An Unfussy Brooklyn Townhouse Remodel from Architect Elizabeth Roberts. Photograph by Dustin Aksland.

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