Sorry, BILLY—This Just Might Be the Most Iconic Bookcase of All Time

updated Nov 20, 2020
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You’ve surely seen this bookcase before. You know, the one that makes your books look like they’re stacked a mile-high with absolutely no support? Regardless of whether you call it the Sapien, the Tower, or the Story, it’s pretty much all over the internet, Instagram, and in several of our AT House Tours. People love this bookcase, and it’s easy to see why. It has a tiny footprint, and yet, it still manages to provide ample storage. By my estimations (yes, I’ve counted!), it seems like it can hold upwards of fifty books at once without taking up as much as a foot or so of ground space. That’s hard to beat, even if you’re a die-hard BILLY bookcase person or if you’ve gotten super creative about storing your books.

It’s the perfect solution for tight quarters where vertical storage—instead of a wide bookcase—is really the only option, or in rentals, where putting holes in the wall means running the risk of losing out on a security deposit. The cherry on top is the fact that a freestanding tower of books basically looks like a fancy expensive sculpture, albeit a precarious one. Am I the only person that thinks these things could fall over at any minute? Can you use one around pets or kids? Or am I totally overthinking this?

Read on to see how you can work this cool unit into a room and then check out a few of our favorite versions of this now classic piece. 

The slanted ceiling of this cozy reading nook limits the possibilities of putting most furniture up against the walls. Anything more than a few feet wide would have to fit under the ceiling’s lowest point. The Sapien is the exception to that rule. Its thin form tucks into the corner of the room perfectly, taking full advantage of vertical space. Plus, it offers tons of book storage without overcrowding the already small room. 

Have an empty corner? The Sapien to the rescue! Here this versatile bookcase fills an otherwise empty corner and adds a bit of interest to the white walls, while the spines of the titles perfectly complement the neutral tones of the space. 

Never thought to put a bookcase on your porch? Us, either. This indoor/outdoor dining room situation might just make you reconsider. The Sapien bookcase barely takes up any space while offering easy access to your favorite titles for a day of sun-lit reading. If you have more colorful spines, this shelf can be a great way to add a rainbow colored pop to an otherwise neutral room.

Talk about a perfect fit. There was only about a foot of space to spare between the couch and cabinets in this living room, and the Sapien bookcase was the obvious choice. The fact that the frame disappears beneath the books and blends in with the white walls keeps a cramped area from feeling too visually busy. 

This living room manages to feel wide open, thanks to the streamlined silhouettes of all of its furnishings. Whereas a regular bookcase along the wall might look clunky, the narrow Sapien transforms a functional element into a space-saving design moment.

Feel like you might need one of these at home now? Here are our favorite tower bookcase picks. 

Credit: Houzz

Sapiens 60-Inch Bookcase Tower

This metal shelf is a sleek and simple way to bring the tower bookcase look into your home. Ten metal shelves, each with room for five or so books, depending on thickness, gives you ample storage without any frills. 

Buy: Sapiens 60-Inch Bookcase Tower, $290 $210.98 from Houzz

Story Bookcase

Design Within Reach put a twist on the regular Sapien bookcase with this adjustable version. Position the shelves in alternating directions for a creative twist on this classic, and take bookshelf styling to the next level by pairing your unit with attachable planter bowls for a much-needed dose of greenery. This version also comes in two heights—short and tall—so you can get the best fit for your space.

Buy: Story Bookcase, Starting at $295.00 from Design Within Reach

Credit: Blick

Design Ideas Takara Column Shelf

If you want your shelf to stand out a bit, try this wall-mount wooden take on the Sapien concept. It gives you all the storage capabilities of the metal versions, only with natural and organic vibes that are sure to make a statement.

Buy: Design Ideas Takara Column Shelf, $55.97 from Blick

Credit: Wayfair

Waverly Ladder Etagere Bookcase

If you’re really tight on floor space or are just into wall-mounted everything, this small-scale ladder shelf also lets you emulate the Sapien’s vibe without taking up any floor space. Use it as a wall display for books, candles, and plants.

Buy: Waverly Ladder Etagere Bookcase, $77.99 from Wayfair

Anthracite Floating Bookshelf

This 10-shelf steel version from The Container Store can support up to 200 pounds. Choose from dark gray or white, and cover the entire back spine of the shelf, so your books look like they’re floating in air.

Buy: Anthracite Floating Bookshelf, $199.99 from The Container Store