A Trip Down Memory Lane Inspired By Old-Fashioned Bookcases

We’re all familiar with those old-fashioned bookcases with ornate wooden frames and glass doors or those with lots of open shelves. They used to be popular for a long while and they still are if what you want for your home is either an eclectic or a retro look. As it turns out, these bookcases can turn out to be the main ingredient for creating a cozy and welcoming ambiance.

20 Inspiring Old-fashioned Bookcases for a Unique Library Design

1. Symmetrical Bookcases

traditional bookcases had symmetrical designView in gallery

Practically all traditional bookcases had symmetrical designs. That creates a sense of order and makes it easier to organize things. A common way to achieve symmetry is with two matching bookcases placed on either side of the fireplace. Creating a symmetrical look across the room can be done by repeating elements on either side of a vertical axis in the center of the room. With matching bookcases such as these, your vertical axis will be located up the center of your central fireplace. Adding matching elements on either bookcase, such as accents in the same colors, can help unify the design and bring everything together. 

2. Built-in Bookcases

White built in bookcase around fireplaceView in gallery

This bookcase setup is a similar configuration. In this case, the bookcases seem to be integrated in a large wall unit that also incorporates the fireplace mantel. there’s a good balance of closed and open storage spaces and shelves. One detail that makes this bookcase look particularly dated is the scrolled trim at the top of the case and the brass hardware. These mid-century touches are just the thing for adding a retro vibe to your room design.

3. Living Room Library

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A lot of traditional living rooms have bookcases in their composition. A large collection of books is often stored and displayed in multiple bookcases with matching designs, spread throughout the room, covering the walls and ensuring a poetic ambiance. Pair this look with natural wood accents and warm ambient lighting to help complete the cozy feel of the room. This is also a good home for any antique furniture you might want to display, too. 

4. Wall Unit Bookcase

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At one point, bookcases started being integrated into large wall unit structures or entertainment centers that also incorporated closed storage compartments, a nook for the TV, and various sizes of open spaces for displaying decorations, books, and other things. Wall unit bookcases are perfect for large collections of books or other items that they need to display. Keeping your book collection in a single large built-in bookcase helps keep them from cluttering up the house with a bunch of bookshelves. 

5. Custom Bookcases with Custom Furniture

Custom bookcase designView in gallery

This pair of custom bookcases is perfect for the space. Given the unusual layout of the room and the presence of the fireplace, the best option was to choose custom furniture that would perfectly fit in the two nooks. Another advantage that comes with custom furniture is the free choice of materials, colors, and forms. Going with customized bookcases is a good choice for an eclectic or bohemian interior design since it adds class and symmetry without making the design look stiff or boring. 

6. Family Room Book Collection

Decorate a traditional bookcase with booksView in gallery

When a bookcase is actually used for books, its design takes a step back, allowing the book collection to become the focal point. This traditional family room is the perfect example in this sense. It has a very inviting look and that’s mostly due to the bookcase and the lovely floor lamp in the corner. Part of the appeal of this design is the symmetrical look of the books chosen to display on the shelf. To emulate this look, choose large collections of bound hardbacks to display, such as antique encyclopedias. 

7. Bookcase with Attached Ladder

Luxury traditional living roomView in gallery

One of the signs of a traditional or vintage design when it comes to bookcases is the attached ladder which offers access to the top shelves. It’s one of the things that are reminiscent of big libraries and take us back in time, bringing back memories. The ladder can also be a quirky touch for a personal bookcase. Leaving this style of bookcase unfinished or in a natural wood stain can help make it look more old-fashioned. 

8. Bookcases with Traditional Fireplace

Add symmetry with tall bookcaseView in gallery

Old-fashioned bookcases and traditional fireplaces go hand in hand. They pair well with leather sofas and classical armchairs, creating a décor and an ambiance that are not only very welcoming but also very comfortable. This style of bookcase is perfect for a traditional library or study, but it can also be a great way to display books in the master bedroom if you have a fireplace there. Don’t forget to decorate the mantle with some candles or statuary for a finishing touch.

9. Off-White Display Case

Living room with chandelier and tv on wallView in gallery

One way to give your furniture or décor a retro look is by using an off-white color for the furniture or a light shade of beige. Mix it with browns for a warm and inviting look. Also, a lot of times bookcases are not actually used for books but rather as a display space for vases, framed photos, and other things. Using off-white is a smart option versus bright white since it is a little bit of a softer look and can help keep your living room from looking like a laboratory.

10. Black Bookcases

Small black living room designView in gallery

Black is not very common in the traditional home interior but in this case, it looks very elegant. It’s nice how the bookcase seems to become a part of the wall itself, allowing the books on the shelves to stand out and emphasizing the small things. Using black and other dark colors is a useful technique for making large vaulted rooms feel more intimate and cozy. Use metallics or bright white as an accent to create an even more striking look.

11. Triple Bookcase

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This triple set of Billy bookcases from IKEA is a great way to add elegance and symmetry to your living room or home library. The repeating look of the bookcase structure makes these bookcases look almost built-in even though they’re affordable IKEA assembly pieces. Even if you put eclectic items in your bookcases, the repeating style of the cases will make them look organized and put together. Paint the bookcases the same color as the walk to make them look even more seamless. (via The House of Navy)

12. Curio Cabinet Bookcase

Curio Cabinet BookcaseView in gallery

Curio cabinets are great for transforming into bookcases since the glass front of the cabinet can help protect paper books from being damaged by humidity and time. A transformed curio cabinet bookcase is also a terrific place to keep your most precious books such as first editions and nostalgic keepsake titles. Turning an antique curio cabinet into a bookcase may take a little do-it-yourself magic and elbow grease, but you’ll end up with a one-of-a-kind storage piece for your home you won’t be able to find anywhere else. (via Confessions of a Serial DIYer)

13. DIY Crate Bookcases

DIY Crate BookcasesView in gallery

When people think of old-fashioned bookcases they usually think of ceiling-high built-ins and glass-front display cases. But another way to give bookcases a retro look is to build them out of reclaimed materials that might have been recycled into bookcases in the past. This simple do-it-yourself project involves staining some crates and stacking them into a bookcase, but the end result has timeless craftsman appeal for the effort you put into making them. (via Tara Michelle Interiors)

14. Toscana Bookcase

Toscana BookcaseView in gallery

Another option for a smaller bookcase that nevertheless manages to give off a retro vibe is to install a Toscana bookcase. This simple, open style bookcase gives off a kitschy homemade vibe and allows you to display your books for easy visual reference. Even homeowners who aren’t that crafty can easily make this bookcase one of their beginner projects and end up with a very respectable piece of furniture. (via Jen Woodhouse)

15. Craftsman Bookcase

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Here’s another option for a craftsman style do-it-yourself bookcase that will fit beautifully into any interior design that features a wooden element. Despite its relative simplicity, this bookcase is sturdy enough to hold a large number of books or other items for display. Stain or even paint can be used after the bookcase is constructed to help it match any design you want, but the grain of the wood is the most attractive part of this easy bookcase design. (via This Old House)

16. Nautical Bookcase

Nautical BookcaseView in gallery

Sometimes when you want an old-fashioned bookcase, you don’t necessarily want the style of big enclosed top-to-bottom bookcases. Sometimes you just want to invoke the feeling of a bygone era of history. This ship-shaped bookcase from the DIY Network is a cool way to add a timeless nautical aesthetic to your nautical-themed guest room or lakehouse. Include a few nautical knick knacks for display to help pull the look together. (via DIY Network)

17. Glass Front Bookcases

Glass Front BookcasesView in gallery

If you want to evoke the look of a dated library, going with a traditional glass-front bookcase to display your collection is the best way to go. Glass-front bookcases are also a good option if you don’t want to waste a bunch of time dusting your book collection. The large size of these bookcases and the symmetry of the squared-off display makes it an instant focal point in the room, so you’ll have no choice but to design around it if you use this striking piece. (via Core 77)

18. Bookcase Over Bed

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Bookcases can take up a lot of space in a room, but one way to include book storage in a room while still keeping with an old-school vibe is to install books above the bed and include a library ladder to reach them. These ladders are a perfect callback to tall old-fashioned library bookshelves, but they also allow you to store books in parts of the room where you normally wouldn’t be able to display anything. Now that’s an efficient use of space! (via Decor Pad)

19. Simple Barrister Bookcase

Simple Barrister BookcaseView in gallery

For an old-fashioned bookcase look, you can’t go wrong with a simple barrister bookcase design. These bookcases were some of the first modular pieces of furniture and were particularly popular around the turn of the 20th century. Barrister-style bookcases have been around for hundreds of years and due to their immense popularity, they’re geared to stick around for a few hundred more. Modular bookcases like these are perfect for fitting in even small spaces around the home. This guide from Popular Woodworking can show you how to build your own, but if you’re not feeling handy there are plenty of pre-built versions ready for installation. (via Popular Woodworking)

20. DIY Driftwood Bookcase

DIY Driftwood BookcaseView in gallery

Going with an old-fashioned bookcase style doesn’t mean you have to go with the big bulky library-style bookcases. Try looking even further back into history when people created bookshelves out of whatever foraged materials they could find. This DIY driftwood bookcase at Instructables would look great at a beach house or coastal cottage. The only drawback to this bookcase type is that the amount of heavy books you can place on it is limited. However, it still makes a useful display case not just for your books, but for your seashell collection too. (via Instructables)

For people who have extensive book collections or hobby displays, bookcases are one of the few ways to store and display their collections in a way where they can be enjoyed by everyone. Books can be a beautiful interior design element if they’re displayed well, but they can devolve into total clutter if they aren’t given a proper home in the design. Giving bookcases an old-fashioned look is often down to changing up the details of the piece such as the stain, the hardware, or the trim. Even if you’re into traditional old-fashioned bookcases from the 20th and 19th centuries, these aren’t your only options for installing book storage in your home. Whether you’re into coastal themes or you just want your bedroom to look like a library, there’s sure to be a bookcase perfect for your space.