Good bookshelves
December 28, 2010 3:39 PM   Subscribe

Bookshelves that don't suck.

I finally threw out the awful pine bookshelves I made (poorly) years ago and now I need replacements. Everything I can find in stores is cheaply made and wobbly, monstrously ugly, or both. Criteria:
  • solid, robust, not wobbly
  • freestanding — I can't anchor them to the wall or the floor or the ceiling, and I'd like the option to put them in the middle of the room
  • deep — many of my books are oversized; the shelves should be at least 10" deep on the inside
  • I don't mind spending some money on something that is especially well-made but I'll probably need at least three good-sized, full-height bookcases, or more smaller ones, so I'd like to keep the per-unit price at least vaguely reasonable.
  • I do not have the time, space, vim, vigor, or moral fiber to deal with unfinished furniture or other kit-type things that require a ton of additional work before they are ready to use.
Thank you for any advice you are able to provide.
posted by enn to Home & Garden (25 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I'd like to keep the per-unit price at least vaguely reasonable.

Can you provide some guidance on what this means to you? "reasonable" is highly variable when it comes to cost, and for bookshelves in particular, it can have a pretty wide range, since so many people are perfectly satisfied with a low-end option.
posted by Tomorrowful at 3:46 PM on December 28, 2010

Best answer: I love my antique barristers! I have two 4-stackers in quarter-sawed oak and one 2-stacker in walnut. Just 10 boxes and 6 pieces of wood, so there's no muss or fuss putting them together, and they are easy to transport. No vim, vigor, etc. is needed. And the glass keeps the dust and the cats away from the books.

Look around on craigslist or flea markets and the like. Buying mine was one of the very smartest things I've ever done. (And there have not been that many.)
posted by jgirl at 3:47 PM on December 28, 2010

I do not have the time, space, vim, vigor, or moral fiber to deal with unfinished furniture or other kit-type things that require a ton of additional work before they are ready to use.

"Cheap, Easy, Good: pick two." You just chose Easy and Good.

Room & Board Woodwind sounds appropriate. 17" deep.
posted by rhizome at 3:50 PM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Ivar from Ikea can be stained and configured in interesting ways. Mine have held up or years and a 4000+ book collection.
posted by jadepearl at 3:52 PM on December 28, 2010

Best answer: We chose these from Dania Furniture, based on similar criteria to yours and they're very nice. While they don't come preassembled, the company charges very little to assemble them prior to delivery in the Chicago area.
posted by DrGail at 3:53 PM on December 28, 2010

I adore Ikea's BILLY bookshelves and would fill my house with more of them if only I had the room. I am not totally sure about having them freestanding in the middle of the room, though. On the less-than-level 120-year-old floors of my crappy apartment that would spell tippy disaster.
posted by elizardbits at 3:54 PM on December 28, 2010

From Chicago craigslist, with some 6-stackers!

If you don't want to mess with meeting up with people, an antique dealer should be helpful.
posted by jgirl at 3:56 PM on December 28, 2010

I have two of these from Target, which are EXTREMELY sturdy and nicely deep (12", it says), but the crazy shapes may not be for you. The shapes, for me, mean I can fit a lot of different shape and size books, including gigantic coffee table books and tiny novelty books. (And they add some visual interest to the room.)

I cannot imagine I paid $370/each for them, however, because I am extremely cheap. Probably I got them on sale.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:58 PM on December 28, 2010

I too love my Wall o' Billy (four currently with the height extender and a fifth to be added some time in the near future I believe), but I wouldn't let them stand freely in my 80 year old apartment. Especially not with the heavy glass doors that make them front heavy. So I borrowed my dad's drill and had him hold them steady while we anchored them to the concrete walls. Super cheap and holding a few hundred pounds of books. They're 11" deep, so awesome there.

See also cb2's hancock for relatively cheap (you haven't really defined price points) or dwr's sapporo for a lot more.
posted by Brian Puccio at 4:02 PM on December 28, 2010

I have Billy bookcases from Ikea. The shelves and cases are oak veneer over chipboard. The masonite backs are required for stability. They were oak mylar, i.e., printed wood grain, but I painted them and like them better now. They're sturdy, deep enough for most books and affordable. I wish they made them in birch or a more neutral pale wood. Billy bookcases are quite generic, but they work well in different settings. I moved mine and they held up well.
posted by Mom at 4:04 PM on December 28, 2010

Hm. If you don't want to put stuff together I wouldn't get anything from Ikea or CB2.

Places like Room & Board and Crate and Barrel tend to have furniture that is delivered already assembled. But that furniture is correspondingly more expensive than what you would get from Ikea et al.
posted by dfriedman at 4:07 PM on December 28, 2010

I love the expedit from Ikea I use as a room divider but they are evil to put together (and I love assembling furniture). You would have to hire someone from Craigslist to assemble it.
posted by saucysault at 4:53 PM on December 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

Bookboxes and hire National Assembly Services if the assembly process proves too onerous.
posted by ob1quixote at 5:19 PM on December 28, 2010

Best answer: You're in Chicago, so be sure to stop by Nadeau. It's my go-to place for wooden furniture. They don't have everything all the time - it's a sort of what you see is what you get warehouse, but the prices are insanely cheap for the quality so it's worth a drop by.
posted by misskaz at 5:32 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

One general recommendation: real wood, not laminated particle board. Will hold up much better in the long run, and will look better doing it.

If you go Ikea, go for Hemnes or Linnarp. West Elm, cb2, Crate and Barrel, and Pottery Barn will all for the bill as well, in increasing price order.
posted by supercres at 6:01 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

This doesn't fit your criteria exactly, but one option would be to buy cheaper ones and then add some minor stability enhancing. For example, I've noticed that the cheap ones become wobbly because they don't have a substantial enough back, or not enough back fasteners, which work loose. So get some masonite (or even wall paneling) and double up on the tiny pin nails.

Or add a face frame- that's a great way to get better looking furniture. Buy cheap shelves, and a few pieces of 3/4 x 1 1/2 stock and securely attach them to the front.

Also, they have pre-finished boards at places like Menards, complete with perfectly drilled holes for shelf pegs. Couple of those, some masonite and some shelves and you have something that is really sturdy, fairly cheap and not too much of a hassle.
posted by gjc at 6:10 PM on December 28, 2010

While Ikea Billy bookcases do require assembly, if you can't put one together in 15 minutes, you're doing something wrong. I wouldn't consider it "a ton of extra work".
posted by Brian Puccio at 6:26 PM on December 28, 2010

We thought a lot about this a couple months ago. Elfa freestanding shelves have everything you are looking for. The Container Store has them. Our are great.
posted by Prayless at 6:32 PM on December 28, 2010

Have a look at the Sonoma bookcase from Ballard Designs. I have 3 of them along a wall, not anchored. They are very nice looking if you like the rustic-industrial sort of style. They're real wood, very sturdy, no wobbles or sags. You do have to assemble them, but it's very straightforward. I looked long and hard and found nothing else of comparable quality near this price ($500 each, plus of course shipping).
posted by Corvid at 6:35 PM on December 28, 2010

I've been lusting after these from Arhaus.
posted by buttercup at 6:48 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Meets your criteria of solid, robust, freestanding, deep, inexpensive:

Surplus bookshelves from university libraries.

They will also be Deep Institutional Ugly.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:07 PM on December 28, 2010

This one is from the Chicago eBay classifieds (probably covered by the CR post above) it's 11" deep and the seller claims to have more from an estate sale.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:25 PM on December 28, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you all for the responses — everything here is very helpful!

jgirl — I've been kicking myself for not buying some of the old Globe-Wernicke barrister bookcases I saw a few years ago when they were much cheaper than they are today (and so, alas, was I). Most of the time they seem to go for very high prices now around here but I will keep my eyes open.

I should clarify that I'm not opposed to things that require assembly. I'd just rather not deal with oiling, painting, staining, varnishing, or sanding, since I don't have the space and have in the past had terrible luck getting a decent finish — Ikea-type assembly is fine.

I know I was vague about my price range; I don't really have one in mind, except that I'd like to spend pretty close to the minimum it is possible to spend without getting cheap junk. I don't know what that number is, but the responses here have been very helpful in giving me an idea.

Library shelves would be fantastic, and I kind of like institutional-looking stuff, but I don't know a source for them as surplus and they are very pricey new from, e.g., Gaylord.
posted by enn at 8:00 PM on December 28, 2010

Lawyer's bookcases aren't always expensive. Here in SF they're on Craigslist all the time, so much so that I'd think haggling would get you well sorted. In Chicago's Craigslist, there's a stack of 4 with base and crown for $165. The Globe-Wernicke's seem to be going for $1-200 per each, here in SF.
posted by rhizome at 9:18 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I adore my skandia shelving from the Container Store - solid wood, so I think it looks better than the elfa line. Sturdy free-standing, modular, 16" deep, and have already lasted me well over a decade (I cheated - when I moved out of my dad's house, I stole some of his components....)

However, not all that cheap. If you buy new, the uprights are $45-$75 each, and shelves are $35-$45.
posted by Metasyntactic at 8:00 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

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