If you love the idea of a roomy library but don’t have the luxury of a room filled with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, don’t worry. Even the smallest spaces can accommodate a small bookshelf or storage space where you can keep your collection of books, knick-knacks, and collectibles.
Maybe you donate old books to clear space for new ones or perhaps you restrict your visits to the bookstore because it seems like you don’t have the room. If you’re waiting for a time when you can have that home library you dream of, we’re here to tell you that all it takes is a little creativity to make it happen now.
In this guide, you’ll learn what to keep on your bookcases (hint: it’s not just books), how to style them, and where to place them. You’ll also find some of our favorite small bookshelf options so you can start updating your space right away.
How to style a small bookcase
Working in a small space or just with a small bookshelf requires a bit more planning than when you have large, open wood shelves throughout a room. You need to know what you want to keep in your bookcase, how you want to organize it, and how to make it look beautiful. And we’re here to help. Below, we’ve highlighted everything you need to know to style and organize a small bookshelf.
What to put on a small bookcase
Bookshelves help you organize your space and enhance your home decor. But what do you put on them aside from books? If you’ve spent time looking at too-perfect pictures online, you’ve probably noticed that not everyone fills their bookcases end-to-end with books.
Shelving throughout your home is a fantastic way to organize and display a variety of objects. Here are some top options to keep on a bookshelf:
- Books: New, old, small, large, paperback, hardcover — all books look great on shelves. But instead of just arranging them in a simple row, get a little creative. If you have large books, most designers recommend varying how they’re displayed, with some vertical and others horizontal to create visual interest. If your books are small, they can be arranged by size. (We’ll get more into styling later.)
- Photos and Artwork: Small photo frames and pieces of art, like paintings, layer easily alongside and in front of books. This approach adds a personal touch while creating depth. Depending on the size of your photos or artwork, you can lean them against the back wall and place small items in front or layer them in front of books. Many designers feel that photos and artwork look best between waist-height and eye-level, but you can place them wherever your shelves are.
- Baskets and Boxes: Baskets and decorative boxes are go-to accessories for empty spaces because they can hold plenty of stuff and come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and styles. With boxes, you can stack or layer items on top of them, and with baskets, you can arrange them on top of large books. Generally, boxes and baskets look better close to the bottom of shelving units, making it easier to access whatever you have stored inside.
Small bookshelf styling tips
One thing that many people overlook with open shelves or any sort of shelving unit is styling. This is especially important in small spaces, where poor styling can create a cluttered effect.
Styling a bookshelf requires you to look at the available space and display items with a designer’s eye. Essential elements to consider include:
- Layering: A display shelf shouldn’t be one-dimensional; it needs layers of items to bring it to life. Generally, place the smallest things in the front and the tallest items in the back. You might display a few smaller decorative objects in front of your books or place smaller books in front of a larger framed photo. Don’t hesitate to partially obscure a few things, either. What you can’t see from the front is probably visible from another angle.
- Composition: Composition means making sure that your items have something in common, such as style, color, theme, or a combination of the three. Regardless of what you’re displaying, make sure the items work together. It can help to think of everything on each shelf, and the whole bookcase, as a single unit.
- Scale and size: Whether you’re styling a bookshelf, a DIY mantle display, or a coffee table, balance is crucial. You don’t want to get lost or overwhelm the space. Vary the sizes, shapes, and heights of your items, but try to arrange them according to scale and size. For example, from large to small or with larger items in the center and smaller objects on the ends.
- Contrast: Contrast keeps things from looking flat, which tends to happen when things are too similar. Add a touch of contrast through color, shape, or material. For example, if you have three square boxes stacked on top of each other, a round object on top creates a contrast of shape. With a collection of hardcover books, you might place a glass or metal decoration in front to create a contrast of material. It doesn’t need to be extreme. A bit of contrast can go a long way.
- Density: Except for a row or stack of books, too many small objects on a small bookshelf can make it look and feel cluttered. By varying the size of the non-book objects that you display on the shelf, you can introduce a few large items among a few small things. If you have several small items you’d like to display, try keeping some in one or two larger boxes or baskets on the shelf and rotating them out.
Where to put a bookshelf
There’s no rule about where you can place shelving in your home. Bookshelves work everywhere because they add effortless storage and style.
If you have room for a multi-shelf bookcase in the living room, go for it. If your entryway has built-in shelves, use them. Likewise, if you have a curio or storage cabinet in your home office, decorate it. And if your kid’s room needs extra toy storage, a bookshelf can work well there too.
5 small bookshelves you’ll love
Even small spaces have room for bookshelves if you find the right options. We’ve highlighted some of our favorite small bookcases below to help you get started.
1. 24-Inch Wall Shelf
This 24-inch wall shelf in black and rustic oak uses a plumbing pipe frame and four open shelves. It would work well in a small living room or bedroom, and the wall hanging gives it a unique touch. It features a metal frame and MDF, particleboard, and laminate construction with a distinct industrial style.
This industrial bookcase is also available in black and grey driftwood if your space calls for a lighter color palette.
2. 3-Tier Geometric Bookcase
This 3-Tier Geometric Bookcase features a rustic finish and a puzzle-like aesthetic. With an eye-pleasing design, it would make an enticing addition to any space, especially one with rustic decor. This multi-tier bookshelf has three levels of shelving with a small storage cubby in between each, for a total of five tiers. It would make an excellent etagere bookcase, which refers to a set of open shelves used to display collections of objects or decorations.
This small open bookcase is made from MDF, particleboard, and laminate construction, and is also available in a weathered grey finish.
3. 5-Shelf Corner Bookshelf
If you have an open corner, you have space for this classy 5-shelf corner bookshelf. This five-tier bookcase is designed to fit easily into a corner for space-saving convenience. The rich espresso finish adds depth and elegance that’s sure to enhance any room, whether you place it in the den, bedroom, home office, or dining room.
This wood bookcase is made from rubberwood and other high-quality materials to create a safe and sturdy spot to display your books and keepsakes.
4. Convertible TV Console and Bookcase
Small spaces benefit from versatile items like this Convertible TV Console and Bookcase. It can be positioned horizontally to hold your TV or vertically to display books, photos, and souvenirs. No matter how you use it, the striking L-shaped modern design is sure to make a tasteful addition to your den or living room. And with easy assembly, it’s a snap to switch it between console and bookcase.
This small bookcase is made from MDF, particleboard, and engineered veneer make it durable and strong without maxing out your credit card. This unique furniture piece also comes in a grey driftwood finish.
5. 3-Tier Bookcase with Cabinet
This 3-tier Bookcase with Cabinet in espresso and chestnut brings traditional styling and durability into any small space, with solid wood construction and elegant design. It features three tiers of wooden shelves atop a two-door cabinet that conceals an interior adjustable shelf. The hidden storage shelves below are perfect for seasonal items and anything else you’d like to keep on hand.
Made from poplar, plywood, MDF, and cherry veneer and accented with bronze hardware, this classic bookcase can create a sophisticated ambiance in any room.
Get ready for your shelfie!
A small bookshelf can change your space, giving you room for your favorite books and mementos without crowding your home. Whether your style is industrial, minimalist, transitional, or somewhere in between, a bookcase will also bring your decor to life.
If you’re still looking for the perfect small bookcase or shelving option, check out Coaster Furniture’s full selection of bookcases to get inspired.
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