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Six Stylish Bookshelves To Decorate Your Space (Even If You Aren’t An Avid Reader)

Many bookshelves are built to be utilitarian – designed to fit as many books as possible onto rows of simple, even shelves. But if you don’t have a big book collection, standard shelves probably aren’t the best use of your space. Of course, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth having shelving units. You just want to opt for ones with slightly more innovative designs. Unusually shaped shelves are great for making a statement and let you display items (books or otherwise) in a slightly more artistic, visually appealing way.

Ditch The Traditional Five-Shelf Structure

If you're not big on hanging artwork on your walls, decorative bookshelves are a great way to display less conventional art pieces (by Bask Interiors)
If you’re not big on hanging artwork on your walls, decorative bookshelves are a great way to display less conventional art pieces (by Bask Interiors)

Standard bookshelves aren’t great for displaying anything but books. The flat rectangular shelves can hold other items, but it’s hard to arrange them in a way that’s aesthetically pleasing; after all, that’s not really what they’re for. Switching from flat shelves to enclosed cubbies immediately changes the appearance of your bookcase. While slightly less efficient for storing books, a stacked cube design is perfect for displaying trinkets. Each cube literally frames whatever you’re storing in it, giving it an artistic feel. In a large shelf there’s plenty of room to play with white space, so your shelves feel attractive and not overburdened.

Plan Your Shelf In Three Dimensions

Here’s a mind-blowing one: not only can you throw away the idea of what you think a bookshelf should look like, you can also dismiss the idea of where you’re supposed to put it. Instead of putting your shelves against the wall, you can actually… use them as a wall? You heard right! Modern bookshelves have become a popular alternative to room dividers. If you’re looking to add privacy to an open greatroom, decorative shelves are an easy, affordable way to do it. You’ll want to choose an open-backed, self-supporting model (no wall mounting needed). Even without a single book on them, they can block line of sight, dampen sound, and provide an eye-catching display.

The Leaner The Shelf, The Better

Really, anything you can do to lighten up a traditional bookshelf will give it a more playful, artistic feel. Leaving the back of the shelves open to the wall (or even replacing flat wood sides with thinner metal or plastic pieces) can reduce some of the heft of a bookshelf. That will make it feel more natural as a piece of freestanding furniture. Where solid bookshelves can take up a big chunk of your room, ones with open designs are more decorative and less obtrusive.

Open Up Your Space With Glass Or Plastic Bookshelves

Shelves with plastic or glass sides have an even more minimalist feel. Though they’re a step more solid (and portable/easy to setup) than individual shelves mounted directly to your wall, the transparent sides and open backs create a similar illusion of floating shelves. The shelves themselves can be either even or asymmetrical. Either way, they’re great for creating simple, elegant displays and keeping a pared-down feel with lots of open white space.

Forget About Symmetry

You can also find bookshelves with intentionally asymmetrical or differently shaped shelves. Like cubby-style bookshelves, each portion feels like a different “zone”. This is perfect if you want to tailor a display to the dimensions of the opening. But while cubby-style shelves are fairly uniform, you can also find ones that definitely aren’t. Think dramatically different “shelf” shapes that help create a tiered, asymmetrical design. Some shelf shapes are better for some items than others. Hybrid display/shelf bookcases are great for mixing a small book collection into a larger display (or vice versa).

Bookshelves That Bring The Style

Then, of course, there are shelves that are clearly made for decoration. These are usually metal and glass rather than wood, and typically a bit narrower and shorter than their conventional counterparts. They’re meant to create a small display rather than a full sized installation. You can find shelves that run the gamut here, from simple metal frames to more elaborately decorated designs, and from nearly full-sized to petite wall mounted displays. With shelves like this, the shelf itself is as much part of the decoration as anything you put on it. Consider it a freestanding piece of art in its own right.

You don’t need to have a big book collection for a bookshelf to be a vital part of your decor. Whether you want them for storage or display, forgot about conventional bookshelves; the more unique the shelf, the more it will bring your collection (and your room) to life.