12 Small Spaces That Prove Bookcases are the Best Room Dividers

updated Mar 5, 2022
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Credit: Liz Calka

For the past decade or so, the open layout has become the de facto style.  Instead of homes having multiple smaller rooms, today’s homes are full of wide open spaces. All that openness has its benefits—light and brightness being chief among them. But when you live in a small home like a studio or an apartment, an open layout can often mean there’s no real delineation of space, which can be a new design challenge. You might not want to close off your space with walls, but maybe it’d be nice to have some clear sleeping, eating, working, and Netflixing zones? 

Enter the room divider bookcase. Freestanding bookshelves and shelving units with cubbies are the perfect non-permanent way to divide a small space. They create physical and visual separation while providing new storage surfaces for books and decor. Designs with open backs will allow light to pass freely into your new “room,” while models with drawers or doors mean you can stash things out of sight. The best part: Unlike walls, you can move these pieces any time you want. 

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The following 12 homes make the case for a room divider bookcase. If you’re in need of a little visual separation in your space, let our inspiration be your guide. 

12 Room Divider Bookcases We Love

1. Storage Galore

A see-through five-by-five shelving system makes all the difference in this 400-square foot NYC apartment. Light flows effortlessly through the shelves, which brightens the entire space. The ample squares allow for plenty of storage for books, plants and trinkets. 

2. Built-In

By adding a room divider bookcase to an existing wall, this Chicago condo owner added a great deal of storage space along with a slightly more open feel. It’s a great way to store favorite books and artsy items as well. 

3. Toys for Two

When you’re small-space living with multiple kids, you’ve got to get a bit creative. And that’s just what Sara did in this shared bedroom in Yonkers, New York. Here, a room divider bookcase houses both books and toys for both kids to enjoy. 

Credit: Franke Chung

4. IKEA Bookcase

The bedroom in this Chicago 640-square-foot studio would be on complete view upon entering the apartment were it not for IKEA’s trusty KALLAX bookshelf. This popular product, touted on IKEA’s website as a great room divider “because it looks good from every angle,” closes off part of the bedroom area to offer a bit of privacy and separation from the rest of the home. The owners made the top three rows of the bookcase open shelving and closed off the bottom two with bins—a smart move that allows light into the bedroom area but still offers a place to stow things you don’t want on display. 

Credit: Franke Chung

5. Double Duty

One room serves as four in this tiny 400-square-foot Chicago studio, but it still feels airy and spacious, thanks to its smart design details. Two sets of IKEA’s customizable BILLY bookcase serve as a room divider bookcase between the bedroom and main living area, giving this renter extra storage space for colorful books and personal objects.

6. Separate Workspaces

Even if your space isn’t tinythis 2,400-square-foot Philly loft isn’t exactly hurting for space—it can still benefit from a room divider bookcase. The main floor of the loft serves as a workspace for two of the renters, a painter and a sculptor, so it’s sunny and super open. A square bookcase (the discontinued EXPEDIT bookcase from IKEA, which has been replaced by the KALLAX) divides the back corner of the room, creating a small, homey seating area away from the work zone.

Credit: Submitted by Alex

7. Let In The Light

A room divider bookcase doesn’t always have to be ceiling tall or wide either. This NYC renter wanted a sense of separation between the bedroom and living space without blocking light flow from the only window in the apartment. The short, open-shelf bookcase between the couch and the bed sets some boundaries without blocking light and doubles as a spot to add a pop of color with books and tchotchkes.

Credit: Chris Snook

8. Sleeping Space

Another studio with smart organization, this 269-square-foot London space uses a tall bookshelf to create a cozy bedroom nook hidden from plain view of the living room and kitchen. A light colored natural linen headboard keeps the alcove from seeming too dark, and a mixture of open and closed shelves offers privacy without completely closing the corner off. 

9. Bedside Built-In

This solution is definitely more ambitious because it involves a built-in, but it’s still worth exploring. To create natural, thoughtful separation in a small space, this 450-square-foot studio in NYC uses a custom bookcase that separates the bedroom and dining area without any real sense of division. A square bedside cutout and curved archway create architectural interest and allow for plenty of light to flow into this tiny corner.

10. Privacy, Please

This Brooklyn renter didn’t want to waste space in her open loft, so she used vintage screens and a large bookcase in one corner to carve out an office and wardrobe space. Now she has a dedicated place to focus on work and getting dressed.

11. Small Space Separator

Bookcases serve a super functional purpose in this 700-square-foot Netherlands apartment. The bedroom sits right off of the small kitchen. Fitting a dining table into the space would have made the kitchen seem even smaller, so the renters set two open bookcases outside the kitchen to create a dining room-living area combo. The room divider bookcases here hold both cookbooks and kitchen appliances, making them feel like a natural extension of the room’s function.

12. Mother/Son Space

This fiber artist shares her Oakland loft with her young son, so she wanted to make sure the home served both of them. She used two large room divider bookcases on either side of the kitchen and dining room to section off a large space for her to work and sleep without impeding on the rest of the space. The bookcases aren’t so big they block light from the huge windows, but they do hide her workspace and give the artist plenty of privacy.