The Case of the Humble Bookcase

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bookcase storage

Earlier this year, Jay Harris from Home Depot shared some tips for developing strategic and environmentally friendly garage organizing systems for your clients. Today he takes us inside the house, with a few creative ways that simple bookcases can be used as open storage systems in any room.


The humble bookcase has long been a household staple as a place for keeping our tomes and trinkets. It’s simple enough to settle a bookcase against the den wall when extra storage is needed. And any parent can install a bookshelf in the corner of a playroom for corralling the kids’ toys.

But when homeowners reach out to a professional organizer, they are seeking more than just the basics; they want solutions beyond what they themselves can dream up.

That doesn’t mean that the bookshelf can’t be a useful tool, however. In fact, it’s one of the most important devices in an organizer’s arsenal, especially if it boasts adjustable shelves that can accommodate canvas or wire bins, magazine file holders, baskets, small stacking drawers and binders. And by utilizing this simple open storage system in unexpected places and unexpected ways, you can impress clients with your creative planning and clever arrangements.

Let’s take a look at some of the innovative places and ways in which you can employ even the most common off-the-shelf bookcase:


Rather than using flimsy hanging organizers, which tend to bend under too much weight and don’t look particularly attractive, tuck a bookshelf into the rear of a closet for tidying non-hanging items such as sweaters, T-shirts, purses, hats and shoes. (When placing shoes upon the shelves, arrange every other one facing outward to maximize space.) With the addition of a hanging bar and hooks, a bland bookshelf can also be converted into garment storage in a child’s room; ideal if the closet is small or filled with toys. Taller shelf spaces perfectly accommodate little ones’ hanging duds. Dress up the wardrobe with a gathered curtain slung from a top tension rod and pulled in front to close up the clothes.


Situate a counter-height shelf at the end of a galley or along a blank wall in the kitchen for added storage of pots, pans, dishtowels, cookbooks and dry foods. For a clean and functional finish, store foods in clear glass jars — the look is lovely and supply levels can be quickly assessed. Further outfit the shelf with shutter doors if the homeowner prefers to hide their goods, and consider topping it with a stone slab or butcher block to extend the workspace.


No linen closet in the home? A tall, slender bookshelf in the bathroom makes an ideal spot for stowing clean towels, spare toiletries and bins of cleaning supplies. If multiple users have privy privileges, provide a basket for each person to contain their individual toiletries and include a place beside the sink or behind the toilet to perch the basket when in use. This will help to keep various bottles of cleansers and creams from cluttering up the shared space.

Living Room:

bookcases storage

A bookshelf along a living room wall isn’t so unusual, but when a collection of shelves is arranged to create wrap-around storage surrounding a sofa, the effect is pleasantly surprising. Select bookcases that are even with the height of the couch’s arms, and then situate one on either end, as well as along the back length of the sofa. This method works wonders for gaining storage in a small area for anything from books, magazines and movies to stationery, photographs and important files. Still need to rely on wall shelving? Try faking built-ins by adding trim and crown molding to pre-fab bookcases and then giving everything a uniform coat of paint.


For a hard-working, easy-to-fashion desk, transform two matching bookcases into supports for a tabletop. The shelves can hold manuals, a printer, office supplies and the like. If the room serves double-duty, as in a playroom/office combo, a bookshelf functions nicely as a divider. Place it on casters if the users might need to roll the bookshelf out of the way at times for full use of the space.

Dining Room:

In a large dining room, a centered table can sometimes appear to be floating out in space. Create a more intimate environment by installing half-height bookshelves along the entire perimeter of the room. (Use the faux built-in approach mentioned above for a more polished look.) Whether you leave them open or add cabinet doors, the shelves make excellent storage for china, stemware, serving pieces, table linens and crystal. Insert X-shaped shelf dividers or smaller cubbies for convenient wine storage. The final product makes smart use of formerly unused space and places the homeowner’s special occasion tableware on celebratory display rather than hiding it out of sight until the next dinner party. Plus, the height of the shelf allows it to be utilized as a buffet for entertaining.

To view Home Decorator’s options for bookcases, visit here. You can also find a selection of room dividers available at Home Decorators.

What are some of the creative ways you’ve installed bookshelves in a client’s home?


Photo Credits

  1. Courtesy of iriskh, used under a Creative Commons license
  2. Courtesy of Wicker Paradise, used under a Creative Commons license
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A Home Depot sales associate in the Chicago suburbs, Jay Harris offers home improvement advice to homeowners, ranging from room arrangement tips to the latest news on riding and zero turn mowers.

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  1. Avatar Seana Turner on November 4, 2019 at 8:13 am

    I am a huge fan of bookcases. I have them all over the house. I love the idea of using a book case in a bathroom or as a linen closet. Linens rolled can actually be quite decorative and add a pop of color, so this could add to the beauty of the room. And then you could tuck baskets or colorful bins to hold the “less attractive” items. Bathroom storage is so frequently lacking! Nice to “meet” you here on Janet’s blog, Jay!

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on November 5, 2019 at 12:27 pm

      I have repurposed bookcases, but never intentionally chose one for storing anything other than books. Jay’s ideas are great!

  2. Hazel Thornton Hazel Thornton on November 4, 2019 at 8:39 am

    This reminds me of a client project where we transformed a playroom into a combo kid/adult space by moving a large storage unit (including lots of bookshelves) into the room. We added baskets to contain the toys that were not otherwise hidden behind storage doors, so it was very kid-friendly, but could be transformed into an adult space merely by putting the toys away. Bookshelves are very versatile!

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on November 5, 2019 at 12:30 pm

      That must have been rewarding! Are there photos posted anywhere?

  3. Linda Samuels Linda Samuels on November 4, 2019 at 9:14 am

    What great bookshelf ideas! One of the things I like so much about them is that they are easy to set up and come in so many sizes. They can create an almost “instant” order in any space. I’ve used a small one in a guest bedroom to double as a bookshelf and end table- complete with reading lamp, a box of tissues, a vase for fresh flowers, a small bowl for candy, and of course, books.

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on November 5, 2019 at 12:33 pm

      What a great way to maximize space in a small place!

      There’s a tall bookcase in our spare room, which is where we store things that don’t need to be in our living space. I would love to position it so some of those things could be hidden behind it, but even though it’s very sturdy, I wouldn’t feel safe not having it next to a wall.

  4. Avatar Sabrina Quairoli on November 4, 2019 at 11:33 am

    I have used bookshelves in craft rooms and play rooms with clients. The clients with strap bookshelves to the wall to protect the children.

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on November 5, 2019 at 12:34 pm

      That’s an important tip! The things that could go wrong are unthinkable.

  5. Avatar Nancy Haworth on November 5, 2019 at 8:08 am

    Bookshelves can certainly be used almost anywhere! I’ve repurposed bookshelves in many closets, craft rooms, playrooms, and used them in entryways for a family command center or drop zone area.

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on November 5, 2019 at 12:37 pm

      Now that you mention it, I’ve seen bookcases in a lot of entryways. I don’t think it would work at my place but you’ve got me thinking!

  6. Avatar Janet Schiesl on November 5, 2019 at 2:51 pm

    So many uses for a bookcase. They as so useful to take things vertical and get items of the horizontal surfaces. It make so much room. I also think “up” is a much better way to display items of value.

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on November 6, 2019 at 12:23 pm

      And open shelves too! If you have beautiful keepsakes, why not have them out where you can enjoy them?

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