Sideless bookcases: yea or nay?
August 16, 2018 9:24 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a bookcase, and many of the ones that I think are stylish have a common trait: they lack anything on the side to prevent books from falling out. Is this a terrible idea?

I'm thinking of things like these:


(Not these specifically, but ones with "open" edges at the sides).

We have a lot of books, so maximizing capacity is a concern to some extent. Is books falling out a realistic concern? Are we going to have to buy a bunch of bookends to keep things from falling (and would that be enough)? I'm worried about having books fall off the edge.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You will need bookends, in my experience. Either that, or you'll have to "bookend" the ends of each shelf with a horizontal stack of books. Otherwise, yes, books will fall out.
posted by slkinsey at 9:26 AM on August 16, 2018 [8 favorites]

I think you have to choose - do you want your bookcase to store a lot of books in an efficient way? Or do you want to store 9-10 books in a stylish way?

That dichotomy will help decide the type of bookcase to purchase.
posted by bbqturtle at 9:28 AM on August 16, 2018 [17 favorites]

Came to say what slkinsey said. I think this could be fine as long as you're OK with using bookends! You could find similarly stylish options, or just do what my partner and I do and go the functional and cheap route, using office supply bookends. They're pretty inoffensive in that you barely see them unless you're staring directly at the side of someone's bookcase.
posted by lieber hair at 9:32 AM on August 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think the second bookcase, the Elton, is more suited for when you want to display some pretty things along with the books. The Ryland looks like too much structure and not enough space for books and then, yeah, stuff will fall out the sides. If you have a lot of books, I really recommend Elfa wall-mounted shelves. Not sure if wall mounting is going to work for you but you just mount this top bar and everything hangs from it. You can add these little "bookends" that slot right into the structure of the system to keep things from falling out. You can get those for the middle arms, too, to keep things in line. And, of course, you can vary the height of the shelves and even incorporate a little desk-depth shelf if that's something you want. Once it's full of books, you don't even see the structure and you can get different kinds of wood-look shelves.
posted by amanda at 9:33 AM on August 16, 2018

I have shelves with open ends and I am constantly swearing at them because books keep falling off. (I want to fill the shelves with books & not waste space with bookends.) I end up turning larger books on their sides & wedging them against the vertical supports to block the holes.
posted by belladonna at 9:36 AM on August 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

Yeah it should be fine, you can get really flat metal bookends that just look like a right angle, with one end going under the books. If you're happy with those, having no sides to the shelf isn't really a problem.
posted by stillnocturnal at 9:38 AM on August 16, 2018

The flat metal bookends that stillnocturnal references can be hidden inside the end books, rendering them invisible. Just put a rarely-used book at each end.
posted by pipeski at 9:43 AM on August 16, 2018 [12 favorites]

I find most those flat metal bookends a real pain in the neck because they tend to fall over if you move the books much.

Another concern I'd have with these shelves is dust, since you've got it coming in from the back and the sides in addition to the front. I really, really hate dusting, so that would be a problem for me, but maybe it's not for you.
posted by FencingGal at 10:03 AM on August 16, 2018

Standard metal bookends are cheap (2-5 bucks) at Office max/depot but they will cut into your space a little. For the first kind, you could find some interesting hardware or pieces of wood to fasten to the sides of the shelves between the upright pieces.
posted by soelo at 10:12 AM on August 16, 2018

Good heavens, no no no. These are for "staging" or making things look nice as long as you don't actually need to use the things! Even bookends, while they can look nice and/or hold books up, tend to fall down on the job (ha) if you're actually getting books out and putting them back more than once per month.

Please do not reward this kind of "design". People need book shelves that actually hold books, and other things. These are ... pretty.
posted by amtho at 10:36 AM on August 16, 2018 [6 favorites]

Standard book cases have sides — and backs for that matter— for many good reasons that were worked out long ago. Things like bearing lots of weight, protecting books, keeping them upright, etc.

Buy form over function if you like, but these are both bad book shelves, in terms of being bad at the job of holding many books well while protecting them and providing access for long periods of time.

They are probably pretty good for showing off a few books and a other stuff as a decorative piece of furniture.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:36 AM on August 16, 2018 [6 favorites]

Buy form over function if you like, but these are both bad book shelves

Exactly. These are cool looking shelving units but won't be great for books. You would need fewer books and you'd need books that were sort of uniform (the second one, in particular, has a maximum depth that will be enforced). Which is great if that is what you want, but you'll wind up with one more "design" element which will be bookends and then a few restrictions. Some people can work within those for a look they like but if maximizing book space is what you want, this doesn't do that.
posted by jessamyn at 10:41 AM on August 16, 2018

A sufficiently deep book will block the gaps at the ends of the Ryland – books as bookends.
posted by nthdegx at 11:06 AM on August 16, 2018

It's probably worth noting that the one picture of the Ryland with actual items on the shelves shows precious few books on there. The pictures of the Elton I've been able to find with items on the shelves don't exactly show a lot of books on there either. I would call these open-sided arrangements "display shelves" rather than "bookcases."
posted by slkinsey at 1:34 PM on August 16, 2018

Agree that if you are using ones similar to your examples to hold a lot of books, they will drive you a bit crazy. I have these CB2 bookshelves which give a feeling of openness that you might be looking for, but do have something to hold the books in at the end. I also like the height as they maximise the books I can hold in a small space. They come in white/black (and a smaller height), plus there are some similar ones with timber shelves.

Ikea's SVALNÄS wall-mounted shelves look open - but the small metal brackets will hold stuff onto them.
posted by AnnaRat at 1:52 PM on August 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

I've got a bookcase of my grandfather's with open-ish ends like the Ryland (which I love) and have no problems keeping the books in place but I did have to move it from one wall near near the window when the covers of books on one side became faded in the sun. (Not a lot of sun at that, I'm in the UK.)
posted by humph at 1:52 PM on August 16, 2018

Agreed that these are shelving units that are designed to display treasures/tchotchkes with books staggered here and there in a decorative fashion. They really aren't sturdy functional library shelves. Books are heavy!

That said, if you don't have a ton of books, it's easy to find knickknacks with heft, pretty rocks, or actual bookends to keep your books from falling over.

I really like that first shelf you linked to, and I would definitely put that in my living room with curiosities and doodads along with some of my most beautifully bound books.

But my actual bookshelf is a boring sturdy wooden wall unit where the computer lives.
posted by BlueHorse at 2:21 PM on August 16, 2018

Seconding those CB2 bookshelves. I actually have three of them scattered around my condo and they're actually one of my favorite purchases, as they look good, hold a lot of books and can fit into lots of places regular bookshelves can't.
posted by peacheater at 5:06 PM on August 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I don't have a ton of books, but I intensely and unreasonably dislike open-sided bookshelves and the repurposeful arranging of larger books to keep things from falling off the sides. I simply don't think the aesthetics overcome the functional weaknesses. tl;dr: bookcases > bookshelves.
posted by rhizome at 6:29 PM on August 16, 2018

I had a bookshelf similar to your second link, from a boyfriend who brought it in to cohabitation. We could use the middle section for books, with those cheap metal bookends on both sides, as long as we put heavy non-book things on the outer sections (stereo, printers, etc.). Even with that, the books were always toppling when I tried to take one out. I was very, very happy to get rid of that shelving unit. It was very pretty, but not very functional (and now I'm realizing it was a totally apt metaphor for that relationship).
posted by lazuli at 6:38 PM on August 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

I have open end bookshelves. My "bookends" are stacks of horizontal books. Works fine and maximizes storage space.
posted by she's not there at 11:18 PM on August 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

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