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Standard Bookshelf Dimensions | Not So Standard

Standard Bookshelf Dimensions | Not So Standard

Looking for the average bookshelf dimensions and sizes? We’ll explain why they aren’t so standard, a few things to consider before buying, how to find the right size for your room, and much more in our guide below.

Are Bookshelf Dimensions Really Standard?

For many of us, a home is simply not a home without books. If you’ve got a great collection, it’s crucial to know the right bookshelf dimensions to both show off your library and create continuity and symmetry in your room.

If you’ve tried bookshelf shopping and are overwhelmed with all the options, keep reading to find a clear-cut path through the confusion and into the best bookshelf dimensions to create the library your books deserve.

Every Room Is Different

Even if you only have a small space to display your books, the optimal bookshelf dimensions will ensure that your space has harmony and feels put together and mature. 

To help you pick out the right bookshelf for your space, we’ll go through:

  • Standard bookshelf styles and dimensions
  • The differences between a bookshelf, bookcase, and book cabinet 
  • And how to style your bookshelf in your room

The Impact of Bookshelf Dimensions by Type

Piece on bookshelf dimensions showing two standard sized bookshelves in a living room

Photographee.eu/Shutterstock

Whether you’re moving into a new space for the first time or looking to replace an old piece of furniture, dimensions are the key to achieving a space with continuity and harmony. 

Of course, the most important reason to pay attention to dimensions is to ensure that the scale and proportion of the bookshelf you’ve picked will create symmetry and harmony in the space you have in mind. But the importance of dimensions goes far beyond that.

Believe it or not, there are standard dimensions when it comes to the majority of bookshelves on the market. These will depend on the other key characteristics of the bookshelf itself.

Generally, though, you can expect small bookshelves to be between 27 to 36 inches tall, while large bookshelves with more space will be between 60 to 84 inches tall. Here are some of the other factors that will impact the dimensions of a bookshelf.

Standard Shelves

A standard-sized bookshelf is overall symmetrical, with shelves spaced evenly apart. These bookshelves can be tall or shorter, but regardless of the height, you can expect the same amount of space on every shelf.

However, nowadays, many standard bookshelves are made with options for customization. So you can lower or raise individual shelves to vary the amount of space offered on each.

Examples of this sort of style include many of the bookshelves offered by Ikea. For sturdiness, these sorts of shelves often include a closed-in back panel that completes the overall tidy and organized look.

Open-Back Shelves

Unlike standard bookshelves, this style can include more decorative elements for uniqueness but is often less customizable. As the name suggests, open-back shelves are open to the wall behind them and therefore have a more blendable, less imposing effect on the room they’re in.

They can blend in well and, although they often come in the same size ranges as their closed-back counterparts, the openness creates a visual effect where the eye believes it’s taking up less space than it is.

Ladder-Style Shelves

If you have more space depth-wise than you do in width for the piece of furniture you need, then a ladder shelf may be your best bet. Because these shelves create the visual impression of leaning against the wall, they are often as tall as eye level or more.

The shelves are also usually evenly spaced from each other but get increasingly deep the closer they get to the floor.

This can be a less-than-practical arrangement for a books-only sort of shelf, but this style can accommodate object styling as well as storage very efficiently for the small space it takes up.

Built-In Shelves

This sort of shelf will be taller than the standard bookshelf height because they’re made to blend into the wall and give floor-to-ceiling shelf space. Don’t let the name fool you, though; you can DIY your shelves to look built-in. 

Dimensions are a particularly important component in utilizing this style of shelving because they are made to fit tightly into a certain space, so there’s far less wiggle room. They also are not as versatile because not every kind of room will look harmonious with such a large and dominating shelf.

Breaking down the Terminology

Bookshelf vs bookcase dimensions

Urfin/Shutterstock

Part of choosing the perfect book storage for your space is knowing what kind of terminology to use in your search. Though so many of the terms seem interchangeable, does it matter whether you search for a bookshelf or a bookcase?

It actually does matter! There are many terms used to designate the different styles of book storage that you might want to use to better and more appropriately narrow down your search. 

Bookshelf

Bookshelf is sort of a catch-all term for furniture used as book storage, but at its heart, it refers to a free-standing piece of furniture with shelves. Because of the broadness of this term, there are several other ways you can break it down into more specific styles and functions:

  • Etagere, which refers to an open-backed shelf that looks more minimal
  • Corner shelves, which are triangular-shaped bookshelves that fit into corners
  • Ladder-style, which we’ve mentioned above

Bookcase

Although you’re likely to find the terms bookcase and bookshelf interchanged at will, the real difference is that a bookcase often is a heavier piece of shelved furniture with doors.

Often, they will be double doors that incorporate glass. There are a few different types of bookcases as well, including:

  • Barrister bookcases, which originated in lawyers’ offices and traditionally have a vertically opening glass door for each shelf.
  • Modular bookcases, which include doors for some sections and have other open sections for a more asymmetrical look
  • Cabinet-style bookcases, which can be interchanged with other pieces of storage furniture not necessarily used for books since the doors are often solid and without glass

How to Style a Bookshelf in Your Room

Standard dimension bookshelves in a room

ImageFlow/Shutterstock

Most peoples’ go-to style between the two will be a bookshelf of some sort because it’s less bulky, a bit more versatile, and is often less expensive. But with all the types and sizes to choose from, how do you pick the best bookshelf for your book collection and the space you have in mind?

Don’t Forget Dimensions

Dimensions are the main reason we’re here, and it’s important to check them and double-check them. Take the main dimensions, such as the width and height.

Then take the depth of the space you have in mind for the bookshelf, and keep those dimensions with you whenever you go shopping. Also, if you’re shopping in person, don’t forget to bring a measuring tape.

However, dimension-measuring shouldn’t stop there. Many people forget a few key components that, if ignored, can create disaster later on.

  • Measure the depth of your baseboards. Because this will impact how far the shelf sits from the wall, it will impact your bookshelf depth measurements as well.
  • Measure the depth of any nearby window sills and window casings. If your bookcase overlaps at all, this could also impact depth measurements and cause you to take up more floor space than you planned.
  • Measure the dimensions of any object you know you’ll be storing on the shelf so you don’t end up with incompatible shelf height later on.

Consider the Room Flow

The kind of bookshelf that will fit best in your room will depend on its function and the function of the room it’s in. If it needs to fit inside an already small and somewhat full room, utilizing height over width is the best way to use space efficiently while avoiding a cluttered overall look.

But if you have plenty of space in the room and don’t want the shelf to be the focal point, a height below eye level will keep the bookshelf from dominating the space. Placing multiple shelves together can create a faux-built-in look that mimics a home library.

But if you have tall ceilings, you’ll need bookshelves with a balanced height to pull off the look. Similarly, in a room with low ceilings, shelves that are too short can contribute to a closed-in feeling in the room.

However, keeping all of these factors in mind, there are plenty of ways to trick the eye into seeing what’s not there in a good way. If you need a large shelf in a space that can’t handle a big piece of furniture, an open-backed shelf or etagere can blend into the background of the room well.

Similarly, choosing a closed-back bookshelf that’s the same color as your walls can make them blend in as well, regardless of their height.

Things to Consider

To nail the perfect bookshelf dimensions and create harmony in your room, remember:

  • DO measure everything twice and then some! 
  • DON’T forget the often-overlooked dimension measurements that will impact depth.
  • DO consider the overall look you want to achieve in the room before deciding on the size and style of the bookshelf you want
  • DO consider an open-backed shelf for smaller spaces and tall built-in shelves for larger ones
  • DON’T forget to use the correct terminology during your search to help you find exactly what you want with less effort

Frequently Asked Questions

Still have more questions about getting your bookshelf dimensions just right? Keep reading!

What is the standard size of a bookshelf?

In all, a standard bookshelf will be on average 31 inches wide with a depth of 12 to 13 inches, and height will depend on how many shelves the bookshelf has.

What is the standard height between shelves?

Most evenly spaced shelves will be between 8 to 12 inches apart. This is a good range for normal-sized books, but large books, such as textbooks or coffee table books, may need up to 15 inches.

How thick should wood be for shelves?

For decent support, wood should be around 3/4 inch thick. For heavier items, a thickness of 1 1/4 inches is nearly unbendable.

How much do bookcases cost?

Custom built-in bookcases can cost upwards of $5000 depending on the size. Often, you can create DIY built-ins for far less.

How do you store books in a small apartment?

In a space where size and visual space are an issue, create a minimalistic look with your books to cut clutter. Turn the books pages-out to create a clean, organized, all-white look, or use a bookcase with frosted glass doors to hide clutter and give an instantly put-together look.

What Are the Standard Bookshelf Dimensions?

If you just can’t live without your collection of books, you need a good storage system to both organize them and help them look harmonious and appealing in your space. A good bookshelf not only fits into a room but adds to its overall design and layout flow. 

To make sure your bookshelf dimensions work with and not against you, don’t forget to be honest with yourself about the space available and your needs, and when in doubt, it never hurts to take yet another measurement, just in case.

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