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Six Sneaky Ways To Get All The Bookshelves You Need

For most people, bookshelves are just another piece of furniture. But for those with very large book collections, bookshelves are not only necessary, but a pretty major factor to consider when decorating your home. The more books you have, the more space you’ll need to dedicate to bookshelves – anywhere from a single wall to a full library-style room depending on the size of your collection. But if you have a lot of books and not a ton of space to store them in, you might need to get creative with where you put your bookshelves. So, if you’re having trouble finding a place to display all your reading material, here are six unusual places to add a little extra shelf space.

High On The Wall

Half sized bookshelves mounted to the wall add functionality without taking up floor space or forcing you to move furniture (by Lovejoy Designs, photo by Michael J Lee)
Half sized bookshelves mounted to the wall add functionality without taking up floor space or forcing you to move furniture (by Lovejoy Designs, photo by Michael J Lee)

The biggest problem with standard bookshelves is that wherever you set one up, you simply can’t put any other furniture. Even a relatively small bookshelf needs a pretty wide berth if you want the books to be accessible, which makes decorating the rest of the room a whole lot more complicated. One surprisingly simple solution is to mount bookshelves higher up on the walls. And I don’t mean flimsy open shelves, I mean legitimate half height bookshelves hung high enough that they won’t interfere with the furniture below. The blank space over the sofa is one obvious choice, but a shelving unit can easily replace more traditional artwork in any space where there’s a blank wall above waist-high furniture.

Under The Window

Placing knee or waist high bookshelves underneath a window not only preserves your view but creates a comfortable spot to sit and enjoy it (by Albert, Righter & Tittmann Architects, Inc., photo by Robert Benson)
Placing knee or waist high bookshelves underneath a window not only preserves your view but creates a comfortable spot to sit and enjoy it (by Albert, Righter & Tittmann Architects, Inc., photo by Robert Benson)

The reverse of this technique works well, too: instead of hanging the bookshelves above your furniture, tuck them underneath your windows. In terms of footprint, these half-or-smaller shelves take up about the same amount of floor space, but it’s space that wouldn’t otherwise be occupied by furniture, especially if you have very tall windows. A long bank of short bookshelves can add a pretty significant amount of storage, and if they’re deep enough, they can even form a sort of makeshift window seat – just add a few cushions and you have not only a place to store your books, but also a comfy place to read them, too.

Over The Door

Building bookshelves up above your windows or doors is a great way to make use of wasted space (by The Works, Lincoln Barbour)
Building bookshelves up above your windows or doors is a great way to make use of wasted space (by The Works, Lincoln Barbour)

If you’re really strapped for space, you need to go through your home and seek out any odd stretches of wall that you could either recess a shelf into or build a shelf onto. There are lots of possibilities: the walls on the sides of a little nook, an odd corner, the space between your refrigerator and your cabinets, the little gap between your shower and your bathtub. But one that every home has is the space above your doors and windows. This small gap is only big enough for one fairly small shelf, but it can easily be extended all the way around your room (like a very literary crown molding) or down to create a frame around the window or doorway. You may need a step stool (or library ladder!) to retrieve your books, but in a house that has absolutely no room for another traditional bookshelf, this void space can provide the storage you need without sacrificing the rest of your decor.

The Kitchen Island

Adding a bookshelf to your kitchen island is a great way to keep your cookbooks close at hand, and put them nicely on display (by Dresser Homes, David C. Fowler and Associates)
Adding a bookshelf to your kitchen island is a great way to keep your cookbooks close at hand, and put them nicely on display
(by Dresser Homes, David C. Fowler and Associates)

Building a small bookshelf into your kitchen island isn’t the revolutionary idea it was a few years ago, but the growing popularity of these niche shelves is only evidence of just how useful they can be. Most often, these shelves are built by bumping in one side of an island and provide about half the storage space of a full sized bookshelf. This is an especially good option if you have a large collection of cookbooks, since they’ll not only be close at hand and easy to sort through, but they can be stored separately from the rest of your book collection. Since the shelves don’t need to be very deep, you won’t be sacrificing much storage space inside your kitchen island, and the books will give the whole island a really nice, homey, personalized quality that it wouldn’t have otherwise.

Up The Stairs

Recessed bookshelves can cover the entire wall of a staircase, converting a blank wall into charming shelf storage (by Optimise Design)
Recessed bookshelves can cover the entire wall of a staircase, converting a blank wall into charming shelf storage
(by Optimise Design)

The wall on the side of a staircase is probably one of the least interesting (and least useful) surfaces in the entire home. Other than hanging up a few family photos (which will inevitably wind up crooked), there’s not a whole lot you can do in that space without crowding the stairwell. The secret is not to put anything on the wall, but to build in to the wall: simple shelves recessed about six inches into the wall of a stairwell are just the right size for standard paperback or hardcover books. This project also scales quite nicely with your needs: If you only need a little added storage, or want to use the shelf to add character to your stairwell, a single small shelf or a few decoratively stacked cubbies will work just fine. If you need a lot more storage, you can build the shelves all the way down to the stairs and up as high as you can comfortably reach as you climb the stairs.

The Bathroom

Stowing books in the bathroom might seem like an odd choice, but it's a surprisingly practical way to make use of your wall space (by Smith & Vansant Architects PC, photo by Rob Karosis)
Stowing books in the bathroom might seem like an odd choice, but it’s a surprisingly practical way to make use of your wall space
(by Smith & Vansant Architects PC, photo by Rob Karosis)

Maybe the last place you’d ever expect to find a bookshelf is actually probably one of my favorites: in the bathroom. As with many of the other bookshelves on this list, bookshelves in the bathroom aren’t freestanding units, but shelves built recessed into the walls so they don’t take up any extra floor space. Recessed shelves in general have become a pretty popular option for adding storage to a small bathroom, but if you get creative (and make them a little larger), you can actually sneak a decent number of books into your bathroom walls. In the room above, the small bookshelf is like the world’s best bathroom magazine rack, while shelves installed at the head or foot of a soaking tub are great for those who like to read while taking a bubble bath.

What do you think of these out of the ordinary bookshelf ideas? Let me know in the comments below!