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Modern Bookshelf Designs and Ideas

modern bookshelf design

Bookcases are a traditional way to furnish and decorate a home. After all, they have the potential to display a wealth of knowledge in addition to cherished art and memorabilia. This has made them a favorite storage solution and decorating element for decades if not longer. That's why dark rooms filled with heavy tomes probably dominate most thoughts of bookcase décor. But today's bookshelves don't have to weigh you down. Modern bookshelf designs present a light and airy feel, providing a clean, contemporary look to any room.

Modern bookshelf designs organize clutter without looking heavy or busy. There are many kinds of bookshelves that can be classified as modern. But one thing they all have in common is versatility combined with an open feeling. Use them to organize clutter, maintain a minimalist aesthetic, define spaces, and more. And bookshelves don't need to be limited to organizing books. Let them become the focal point of your room when you display your favorite art or memorabilia on the shelves.

Traits of Modern Bookshelf Designs

There are numerous types of open shelving systems that can be classified as modern. However, modern bookshelves have certain characteristics in common. These include:

  • Dynamic and irregular shapes
  • Open shelving on a bookcase wall
  • Floating shelf installations
  • Cubes and compartments
  • Form follows function — sometimes in unexpected ways

Dynamic Designs

Many modern bookshelf designs utilize a dynamic, asymmetric layout to convey energy. This is in direct contrast to the staid and heavy design of a traditional bookcase. Asymmetric, dynamic bookshelves should be mounted to the wall and secured invisibly to the wall studs for support. Shelving in this type of bookshelf is typically fixed rather than adjustable.

Modern bookshelf design with asymmetrical compartments
This bookshelf appears to defy gravity. The asymmetrical design appears to float against the wall, yet it holds a lot of books and has no weight restrictions.

The Bookcase Wall with Open Shelving

Shelves that cover the whole wall, extending from top to bottom, one side to the other, are referred to as a bookcase wall. This type of bookshelf system creates a natural focal point in any room. Modern bookcases that cover an entire wall most commonly rely on open shelving to convey a contemporary feeling and prevent the system from feeling heavy. If the bookcase wall includes drawers or cabinets, these are usually relegated to the very bottom of the system. Lighting highlights the treasures stored on the shelves, whether books or other favorite objects.

Modern built-in bookshelves cover wall
This modern bookshelf design covers an entire wall with shelving, yet never looks heavy.

Floating Bookshelves

A floating shelf is any shelf that cantilevers out from the wall with no visible support. Because you don’t see any braces or stanchions to hold them up, the shelves appear to be “floating” against the wall — hence the name. However, don’t be fooled. All floating shelves are supported by hidden brackets. The type of bracket used and the way it is installed determine how much weight a floating shelf will hold.

Floating bookshelves mounted on wall over a TV.
These floating bookshelves are mounted over a low media center storage cabinet. The shelves surround the television in a pleasing manner. They support books, CDs, and a houseplant. However, their main purpose is decorative.

Floating shelves have definite weight restrictions. This varies by manufacturer; however, a good shelf will hold up to 75-pounds. This has important implications where books are concerned. Use your floating bookshelves for a few treasured tomes and possibly some paperbacks. The rest of the shelf should be regulated to display lightweight memorabilia only. That way you won't go over the weight restrictions and bring the shelf tumbling down.

Floating shelves can be configured in multiple ways. Straight shelves are most popular. however, corner shelves that wrap the inside corner of a wall are an excellent solution for small "cloffices" and other tight areas. By nature, the floating shelf does not take up much visual space. It is a great choice when you need to maintain a light and airy sensation in the room.

Floating bookshelves mounted on wall over a TV.
These floating corner bookshelves support a few booklets and manuals but are mainly used for display.

Cubes and Compartments

Modern bookshelves often rely on cubes, rectangles, hexagons, or other geometric shapes in their design. This results in shelving with numerous small compartments. An advantage of this type of shelving is that bookends are rarely needed to keep things standing straight. Use this type of bookshelf to cover a wall, act a room divider in an open floor plan, or to create a focal point in a room like a functional piece of art.

Custom bookshelves built on a cube design.
These shelves function as a room divider in addition to offering storage for books and media equipment.

Form Follows Function

One thing modern bookshelves have in common is an attempt to think "outside-the-box." Preconceived concepts of what a bookshelf should like and where it should be placed are abandoned. Anything goes if it is structurally sound and can do the job required. Creativity combined with simplicity is the hallmark of the best contemporary shelving ideas. The famous axiom "form follows function" is used to produce simple, aesthetically pleasing designs in unexpected places.

Modern bookshelves inset into drywall in stairwell.
Modern bookshelves inset into the wall cavity in stairwell. Notice how the shelves follow the sloping line of the ceiling over the stairs, creating an irregular but pleasing shape.

Where to install modern bookshelves and what to put on them.

Anything goes when it comes to modern bookshelf placement. The home office, living room, playroom, and bedroom are traditional locations. However, there's no need to limit yourself. Place your shelves wherever you need them. Mount them on the wall, inset them into the drywall, or use them as freestanding furniture. Bookshelves can even be built into the backs of doors to create a secret door to another room.

Murphy bookshelves on back of door.
Bookshelves are used on the back of these Murphy doors to camouflage the entrance to the kitchen.

Use your bookshelves for storage and display. Place books, framed photos, and small collectibles on the open shelves. If you need a place to keep small accessories, linens, or other things you don't want on display, consider a set of matching baskets or boxes to contain the items on the shelves in a neat and orderly manner.

Add a modern bookshelf design to your home!

Bookshelves are a practical addition to any room. They can be made to any depth to handle everything from the smallest paperback to the largest manuals and magazines. Plus, bookshelves are good for more than just books. Use these ideas to jumpstart your next project. Combine the functional aspect of shelving with the creative appearance of today's modern bookshelf designs and you've got a winning combination for any home. And if you'd like any help with custom shelving, the talented designers at Closet Works are always ready to help with your space management needs. Why not schedule a free consultation today?