Bookcases range enormously in price, but unlike many other kinds of furniture, an inexpensive bookcase can look just as good (or unobtrusive) and function just as well as a much pricier one. But if you mention cheap bookcases, or perhaps even bookcases at all, the Ikea Billy will inevitably come up. That’s because the Billy is under $100, readily available, and relatively unobtrusive.
But you don’t have to settle for the Billy if you want something that’s more of a statement, something wall-mounted, or something that’s not made of particle board — all at a reasonable price. We talked to interior designers, stylists, and documented bookworms to find some other options — most of which are not from Ikea and almost all of which are under $500. We’ve grouped these into stand-alone bookcases and wall-mounted shelving.
Washington, D.C.–based interior stylist and content creator Dominque Gebru tells me that she previously owned the Carson five-shelf bookcase in white, and she loves that “when pushed up next to each other, they can look a little more built-in and substantial than, say, a Billy bookcase.” Even better, they come in six different finishes, from rustic walnut brown to stately black.
If you want the convenience of Ikea and are willing to pay a little more, try the Hemnes instead of the Billy. Laura Fenton, the author of Living Small, is a fan and especially loves the narrow width, plus it’s made with solid wood (as opposed to particleboard) and has a more modern silhouette. Arguably the best part about the Hemnes, though, is that it comes in six different colorways and is much easier to paint than other Ikea furniture, as it doesn’t have a high-gloss finish.
If you’re looking for a pop of color as opposed to a more traditional black, white, or wood tone, stylist and design YouTuber Paige Wassel loves this industrial shelving unit from Home Depot. “It’s advertised for your garage,” she notes, “but I love it for a unique piece in your kitchen or living room.” It’s quite similar to the more-expensive Hay shelving unit, as well to Strategist associate editor Louis Cheslaw’s bookshelves, which he loves for their cheery red and 4,000-pound capacity.
If you’re a DIYer or just want to have total custom control over a classic wood bookcase, Caroline Weaver, small-business retail consultant and writer of the shopping newsletter Caroline Finds It, suggests checking out Gothic Furniture. Founded in 1969 in NYC by a Greek immigrant, Theodore Zaharopoulos, the company makes high-quality solid-wood furniture for much less than you’d expect. “You can get solid-wood bookcases in any size that can either come unfinished, so you can customize yourself, or stained to your liking,” Weaver tells us. “I love that they’re made locally and that they’re classic enough they won’t go out of style.” The site quotes a three-to-six-week delivery time for an unfinished piece and five to eight weeks for a stained piece. And if you’re local to NYC, you can visit one of Gothic Furniture’s stores in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Long Island, or Westchester.
The popular CB2 Stax bookcase comes to us from interior design and DIY Youtuber Drew Scott of Lone Fox. Since this bookcase has pretty classic, clean lines, it doesn’t take up too much visual interest but also won’t fade into the background. “I’ve also been really into walnut tones as of late,” Scott says, pointing toward an industry shift from light oak to deeper, richer wood tones.
For a wall-mounted bookshelf suited for a small space, Wassel recommends this poplar shelf that comes in natural, dark brown, black, and rustic brown finishes. The two-tiered shelf can also be stacked as multiple units (such as the two shown in the photo) to create a larger built-in feel or hung above a dresser or desk as a custom storage and display space.
Ladder shelving is popular for its streamlined, modern look, and we got recommendations for several options in this style. As part of the internet’s most well-read group, the “bookfluencers,” Adeline Hocine (of @adelinereads) naturally has a wall totally dedicated to books, something she’s always coveted. Hocine chose to line up three of these Nathan James bookcases to accommodate an ever-growing collection, and she calls out the clean and minimal design as a primary selling point.
Copywriter and content strategist Carrie Carrollo wasn’t necessarily looking for a dupe for CB2’s Stairway Bookcase (see below), but she happened upon one while looking for something small-space friendly that would fit in a specific nook in her apartment. “I love the construction,” she says, “it’s sleek and simple enough without being totally boring, and the way its shelves almost disappear against my white walls.” Carrollo adds that it’s got enough depth to hold various-size books and is also a perfect blank canvas for plants, artwork, and décor. “It’s the most surprising thing in the apartment that I get asked about often,” she confides. “I love telling people that it was just over $100.”
Fenton also recommended I check out Abby Clawson Low’s bookshelves. The design director employed the Elvarli line of custom closet-organization pieces in her son’s bedroom, as she was envisioning “European bookstores and museum display cases,” using shoe rack pieces to lean books as a display, shelves for more books and drawers for odds and ends. Like all of Ikea’s closet-organizing lines, the Elvarli is pretty endlessly customizable with lots of individual and prearranged pieces to purchase as well as the option to fully build a system from scratch.
Gebru loves the way the CB2 stairway lacquered bookcases look when stacked up next to each other. “They look clean but can easily be styled to fit whatever vibe you’re trying to create,” she says, and “this example from Chris Loves Julia lives in my brain!” These bookshelves come in black and white and can hold a ton of knickknacks, books, and plants.
Interior designer Shamika Lynch likes the CB2 Helix Bookcases because they’re sturdier than the Billy and come in different heights. They’re lighter and airier than traditional bookcases, reducing heavy visual clutter in small spaces. “I like that they have a really low profile,” says Sourya Venumbaka of Sové Home, plus “you can also add to it over time if you need to. It’s a great blank canvas for styling or to create a modern library at home.” Some versions of the shelf even come with a desk, providing dual function in a small space.
The Elfa shelf system is the platonic ideal of wall-mounted shelves as they’re slightly industrial, unobtrusive, and the shelf combo can be endlessly tinkered with. Lisa Cheng Smith, founder of Yun Hai Taiwanese Pantry (and formerly chief design officer at Areaware), says when empty they can certainly “look a bit clinical, but fill it with books and the shelving disappears completely giving the illusion of a floating library.” Cheng Smith also suggests swapping out the original shelves with stained wood if you want a more rustic look, which will also bring the cost of this particular shelving unit down to $201 by just buying the standards and the brackets. Keep in mind that this doesn’t include the cost of shelves — which depends on lumber prices — or mounting hardware.
For a totally custom wall-mounted set of bookshelves, Wassel prefers building her own shelving units with wood from the hardware store and brackets from Etsy (like these, these, or these). “You can stain the wood,” she says, “or keep it natural and customize the layout to fit your wall, big or small.” The brackets can also be any color you desire, but a bright red or bold orange can turn bookshelves into a real focal point. The total cost of this option will vary according to lumber prices.
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