I need to store books, not an apothecary shop.
August 20, 2018 1:50 PM   Subscribe

Looking for recommendations on non-dowdy looking cheapish (like say sub-$100) bookcases to HOLD BOOKS. Everything I see online is pictured holding a human skull, several candles, an antique awl, and 14 art books. I have a lot of books. Also, no Ikea please. Their stuff just seems like it's getting worse and worse. I know for the price I'm getting particleboard and not solid walnut but I'd prefer it to not be Ikea. Thank you!
posted by Automocar to Home & Garden (27 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Are you handy around sandpaper and paint/ shellac? I see oldschool shelving/ bookcases on Craigslist not-infrequently that can be had for free or very cheap that can be fixed up with a little elbow grease.

You'll probably never find matching individual bookshelves, though.
posted by porpoise at 1:55 PM on August 20, 2018 [7 favorites]

I have about 7 of these things, because some of them can be stacked one on top of another to make a taller bookshelf. I've had them all for about 15+ years and they still are holding up just fine. And yes, all I have on them is books.

But I wouldn't let the way something is depicted in a catalog serve as a comment on what they can and cannot hold. If the things with the art skull look like they'd work, go with that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:58 PM on August 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

But I wouldn't let the way something is depicted in a catalog serve as a comment on what they can and cannot hold. If the things with the art skull look like they'd work, go with that.

Promise I won't threadsit but just to repivot this: I have had Bad Experiences with Things Collapsing before so I just don't trust a lot of bookcases.
posted by Automocar at 2:00 PM on August 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Coming back in to re-verify that even though one of the pictures in the shelves I linked you to depicts the shelves holding a phone and a vase, I use mine for books and nothing but.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:00 PM on August 20, 2018

Ohhhhh, it's stability you're concerned about, got it! Okay, then yes, i can verify that my recommended shelves hold up just fine under the weight of a crapton of books - even in my apartment with the really wonky sloped floors.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:01 PM on August 20, 2018

I have a bunch of these. I've had them for years, moved house with them and moved them around my house.

I've had a couple of the Target folding/stacking ones and they're okay - heavier and less well-constructed, but perfectly reasonable. I ended up going with these instead because you can usually find them for ~$59 and that's only $15 more per shelf than the target ones.

Mine hold books and virtually nothing but. TBH, several of them are just stacked and not fastened, and the weight keeps everything in place just fine.

If I were going to have these stacked in a house with a toddler, I would get some kind of wall tether. They don't wobble and I've never had any issues with them, but a heavy, determined child trying to climb them could knock them over if they were stacked. My cat jumps up on them with no issues.
posted by Frowner at 2:04 PM on August 20, 2018 [7 favorites]

My substantial and hefty cookbook collection lives in five half-height bookcases of various provenance. One's a built-in, two were acquired second-hand at points in the late '90s and early '00s, and the final two are these folding bookcases, one stacked on top of the other, with plans to continue buying that model as my collection grows and probably replace our falling-apart Ikea models for the rest of our books with them. They've stood up to five years of frequent use so far.

On preview, yes, the same bookcases Frowner linked. :)
posted by Pandora Kouti at 2:11 PM on August 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

How do you feel about brick and board shelves? There are glass blocks for a different look, plus you can use caulk to keep it together.
posted by soelo at 2:14 PM on August 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Additional vote for the Target folding/stacking bookshelves. We have a bunch of similar ones, some bought and some inherited, and they are reasonably sturdy and attractive (or at least unobtrusive) and easy to move. We do have kids, so they need to be anchored to the wall, but they perform the HOLD BOOKS function very well.
posted by Knicke at 2:32 PM on August 20, 2018

Second brick and board. I made one from floor to ceiling in my living room that cost me like 20$ total and a very entertaining evening. I used decorative lawn blocks and not only does that thing hold like 400 lbs on each shelf, every person who comes into my house comments on how much they like it. Another pro is that you can build them to the ceiling or a variety of heights!

Cons, buying as many bricks as you need is HEAVY so make sure you aren't creating a loading hazard if you live on the second floor or somewhere with unusually delicate flooring.
posted by cakebatter at 2:39 PM on August 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

IKEA quality has declined, I agree. If cost and convenience are issues then consider IVAR and STEN. If you can get old school IVAR, even better. I held several thousand books using those two IKEA types and made them look nice with stain and poly. People assumed that my bookshelves were custom (books hide a lot of sins.)

I would hit up a cabinetmaker and get a quote from them on making your bookshelves. Surprisingly, cabinetmakers can come in cheaper than modular cabinets and shelves. My kitchen remodel of cabinets came in cheaper with custom rather than with either IKEA or Home Depot/Kraftmaid.

Right now, I temporarily am using Billy bookcases to hold a lot of books until my family considers moving house from where we are at. The cases seem to be doing OK.

If I lived where my foundation and flooring were really solid (I don't) then I would totally think about the brick and board. If you want it to be snazzy you could stain the boards and as suggested above, get nice bricks. But be aware that you absolutely need to calculate the weight bearing -- knew a comic book store owner who almost died in an avalanche of comic books when his brick and boards failed. Granted, he was reckless in design and he seriously put way too many comic books in each short box and then overloaded the boards.

I love books and books infrastructure talk.
posted by jadepearl at 3:10 PM on August 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

Unfortunately, these don't meet your $100 requirement. However, we been using Skandia shelving from the Container Store. They are absolutely bulletproof, solid wood, and adjustable. Over the years, they've populated nearly every room in our house. They do not sag, at all, even when loaded at their full width.
posted by Carmody'sPrize at 3:28 PM on August 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Skandia is what the Container Store itself uses on the sales floor. They are indeed bullet proof
posted by jgirl at 3:41 PM on August 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Those folder/stackers do work well. Mine are the Winsome Wood brand, which I think actually are solid, well, SOME kind of tree and aren't painful to the eye, either.
posted by praemunire at 3:45 PM on August 20, 2018

Here's how to make particle board bookshelves stable. It's doable even with lower-end-than-Ikea shelves. Summary: anchors, shims, avoid double-stacking, do not shove books against the backs of the shelves. Movement is the enemy.

I can also plug those folding Container Store shelves. They've been fine for me for some years, though it's wise to apply the same concepts as above.
posted by asperity at 4:05 PM on August 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Do you care about whether they match? You can find plain bookshelves made of real wood for less than $100 at thrift and secondhand stores.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 4:27 PM on August 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

I would try your local unfinished furniture place. Most of them will do a finish if you want one, and you get solid wood.
posted by 8603 at 5:00 PM on August 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

Yep, used or unfinished wood is the way to get high quality real wood bookcases for low prices. You can certainly get great used stuff for under $100, and often new unfinished, depending on region. Hell you don’t even have to finish it, I have 10 year old unfinished cases that look great, and can be finished any time I get the itch.

Fun fact of reliability engineering and the dynamics of birh/death processes for product failure: at this price point, due to burn-in effects and survivorship effects, a 4-10 year old bookcase is more likely to last 50 years than a brand new one, all else being equal. See here for Wikipedia’s explanation.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:19 PM on August 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

My absolute favorite bookshelves are sadly little-known. I LOVE OrigamiRacks -- they make all kinds of shelves and trolleys and desks, and you don't have to do anything to put them together. They arrive flat-packed and you open them up accordion-style, like you would an ironing board, and they go from cardboard-packaged to up and holding books in under five minutes. (I'm only 5'3"; if you're taller/stronger, you'll get everything up faster. The 6-shelf Organizing Rack (Bookshelf) is the one you want and it's even on sale now. It's steel, holds 600 pounds, and comes in a few colors (though at the moment, I guess, only black and bronze, which makes me sad, because the red was very striking).
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 5:51 PM on August 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

Find a local woodworker - see what they can do for your pricepoint and quality needs because I bet you'll be surprised at what they are able to create for you.
posted by mightshould at 5:54 PM on August 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Automocar: " I know for the price I'm getting particleboard and not solid walnut but I'd prefer it to not be Ikea."

If this is your price range you can greatly increase the sturdiness of what ever you end up with by using construction adhesive a few screws to attach a 3/4 x 3/4 inch strip of wood to the bottom front edge of each shelf.
posted by Mitheral at 6:03 PM on August 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

i know you said no ikea, but the vittsjo shelves are metal and glass and holds up very well. i've had mine for over 5 years, and they've held many many many books and records and are still going strong. no particleboard!
posted by kerning at 7:07 PM on August 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Particleboard sags, but the effect is non-linear: a shelf twice as long sags 4x as much, at least. I have been very happy with Ikea Billy bookcases, but only in the 16" width. Also I shim them & screw them together. They make a super-skinny matching shelf that's perfect for CDs but also nice for small books, from octavo down. I've had mine for 10 years, moved them a few times, filled them to the gills, and had zero issues.
posted by mr vino at 7:48 PM on August 20, 2018

Nthing Ikea IVAR. They're solid pine, super sturdy, easy to set up and break down, modular...I've had a few apartments running where I set up a whole wall of IVAR shelves, filled to the brim with books. Always got tons of compliments.

If you can mount things to the wall, you could also just put boards on wall-mounted brackets (my current setup). That can look kind of sleek and modern, especially if the brackets are the same color as the wall so they disappear. I use Elfa standards and brackets from the Container Store, but there are tons of options for brackets. The boards are just long 12" pine boards from Home Depot, which cost maybe $1-$2/foot.

The Sagulator can help you figure the sturdiness of your various options.
posted by the_blizz at 8:20 PM on August 20, 2018

Beware of particle board. If it soaks up water, it looses all structural stability.

The nightmare scenario here is a small water leak when you are away for the weekend puts an inch of water on the floor. Once the front edge of your particleboard bookshelf base absorbs some of it, it crumbles, and the no longer well supported bookcase tips forward, your books tipping into the small amount of water on the floor.

There are less horror movie worthy scenarios where your bookcase fails more slowly as well.

If you do end up going with particle board, think about where you should locate the shelves.
posted by yohko at 9:52 PM on August 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

You can make them pretty easily out of pine boards if you are at all handy and like the simple look. Make a plan that works with standard board sizes at Lowe's or the like (8"x6', 6"x 8', etc.). Have the same size boards cut at the store for the top bottom and shelves. Screw and glue together. Bomb proof.
posted by bongo_x at 2:27 AM on August 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you find something you like, keep an eye out for it on Craigslist, might be possible to save money (or just find it).
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:54 AM on August 24, 2018

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