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Not only is a bookcase a practical and functional piece of furniture, but it can also add much to a room as a decorative piece. When choosing a bookcase, there are several important factors to take into consideration.


First, it is important to select an appropriately sized bookcase. All three dimensions — width, depth and height — should fit into the designated space well, avoiding any sense that the room is too empty or too cramped. While standard bookcases tend to be 24-36 inches wide and 12 inches deep, a space may be better suited by a bookcase that is narrower and shallower. Additionally, a shorter bookcase will allow the eye to move smoothly over the rest of the interior design scheme, while a tall bookcase may look regal and stately, accentuating high ceilings.

Style & Material

A large mahogany or oak bookcase is a solid, heavy piece of furniture that adds dignity and gravitas to a room. It makes a statement. It may have intricate carvings, hardware or other design elements that tie it to a certain period. But depending on tastes and available space, there are other options for bookshelves. Glass or metal bookcases have a clean, modern look, while unfinished pine creates a rustic, relaxed atmosphere. Wood and metal bookcases can be stained or painted to match a specific color scheme. If books will be frequently taken off the shelves and replaced, a durable finish will reduce wear.

Standard bookcases with long, deep shelves are great for books, while a cube bookcase with square storage spaces is ideal for decorative items. If the bookcase is to hold things other than books, a unit shallower than 12 inches may be very suitable.

A bookcase with an open back tends to make a room look larger, even if it is against a wall. But such bookcases can also be placed in an open space as a room divider, with the added benefit of being accessible from every side.

What Will It Be Used For?

Walls lined with bookshelves can lend a room a cozy, homey feel. If a bookcase will, in fact, be used for books, then how many books, and what size? This plays a role in deciding the type and size of the bookcase. If the books vary significantly in size, a bookcase with moveable shelves may be the best option. If the books are heavy art folios or a large set of encyclopedias, shelves will need sturdy construction. For specialist book collectors, glass-covered cases may reduce dust or be treated for UV light-filtering, and some have locking features.

In terms of design, a large bookcase completely filled with books won’t "stand out"; it may just become another sort of “wall” in the room.  But if the shelf space is shared or broken up by other items — pictures, photos, decorative objects, plants, knick-knacks, etc. — it becomes less uniform to the eye and turns into a place for individual and artistic expression. If there is enough space, two bookcases placed on either side of a window or fireplace give a balanced symmetry and provide ample room for books and other objects.

Are there children in the house? If so, the bottom shelves may be used to store toys and games. A bookcase with closable doors — at least on some shelves — helps keep clutter out of sight and allows for privacy. Additionally, such space can also be used for storage. Glass doors or shelves may not be the best option if children will be using the space.