It’s Surprisingly Hard to Squeeze a Bookcase into a Small Living Room, but These 8 Spaces Prove It Can Be Done

updated Sep 8, 2020
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If you’ve ever lived in a tiny apartment (or had an eensy-weensy living room), you know it’s actually really hard to fit in a bookcase. They never seem like they take up too much real estate, but once you situate the must-haves—a couch and/or chair, a coffee table, someplace to eat, and some kind of storage—you realize that a bookcase feels positively luxurious, space-wise.

When I signed my current apartment lease, I promised myself I’d finally get a bookcase for my new living room. I had never invested in bookcases before because I knew all of my apartments were temporary and didn’t want to deal with the hassle of breaking one down once I had to move. Once I got settled in my new place though, I quickly realized I didn’t have enough space for a traditional bookcase, but that didn’t squash my vision. But it turns out, you can still have your living room feel library-esque without devoting a whole wall to shelving. It’s all about finding creative ways to squeeze in a bookcase—or even rethinking what a bookcase is supposed to look like—to make it work. I flagged these ideas and wanted to share them with you, in case you were grappling with the same decorating issue. 

Credit: Viv Yapp

Slab-style bookshelves over sofas

Rather than putting paintings or photographs over your couch, install an expansive bookcase instead. This is a great option if you don’t have much floor space but really want a floor-to-ceiling look for all of your books and objects. You could go the custom route, but IKEA LACK wall shelves are 74 inches long and $30 a pop, which allow you to create a similar setup as what’s in this Hong Kong apartment above—just on a tight budget.

Floating bookshelves in nooks

Floating bookshelves are a great idea for apartments with little square footage because they don’t take up any floor space. This bookcase consists of four small shelves, and it feels anchored rather than random, thanks to the painting hanging next to it. Don’t be afraid to just carve out a little stretch of wall and turn it into a book nook. Placing a chair beside your shelves can help them feel grounded and intentional.

Stack it up in a corner

Don’t forget about your corners—they’re a great spot for a bookcase. Wedge something tall and thin, like a spine-style bookcase, into a corner. You can also try the skinny, wall-mounted IKEA LACK shelving unit in a corner spot, too.

Make use of your radiator

Many renters feel like the area over a radiator is dead space, but you can utilize it with some smart and careful planning. Transform yours by topping it with floating shelves in the space above and next to the unit, just like blogger Allison Allen did here in her home. You can even pull a chair up to this area to turn it into a full-blown nook. Just be sure to use materials that won’t get scorched or cause a fire hazard during the cold months when the heat is on.

Create a floating horizontal unit

Are totally open shelves not really your thing? You can attach an enclosed bookshelf unit to your wall for a little bit more structure, just as these Parisian apartment dwellers did. Just make sure it’s oriented horizontally rather than vertically to keep your floorspace free.

Work your doorway

If a lot of your wall space is already earmarked with paintings, decor, or taller pieces of furniture, then don’t be afraid to install your bookcase near a doorway or window. It’s not common, but this kind of setup creates an interesting, asymmetrical look in a room, as evidenced in this

Divide and conquer

Just when you thought you couldn’t float a bookshelf in a living room without it looking strange, this London space proves that it can be done—and done well. This squeeze-in strategy tends to look best in studios or open concept layouts, where you are using a large bookcase to divide a space into zones.

Stacks over a sideboard

If there’s enough space in your living room for a sideboard, then there is enough space for a bookshelf! Simply install a wall-mounted bookshelf unit over your buffet and fill it with books and decor pieces, as seen in this New York apartment. I have a tendency to want to anchor every piece of furniture with art hung over it, but why not use books instead? They deliver even more color and texture than a painting or framed print.

Now that I’ve found so many ways to squeeze a bookshelf into my living room, all that’s left is for me to decide which one to do. Which is your favorite bookshelf setup?