Difference Between a Bookcase and Bookshelf

Posted In Knowledge - 08/02/2018

Bookcases and bookshelves offer a safe place to display prized novels, photos or anything else you love. Buying the right fit for your home is essential, and it begins with knowing whether to purchase a bookshelf or bookcase.

Bookcase vs. Bookshelf: What's the Difference?

Although many people use the two terms interchangeably, bookshelves and bookcases are two different types of furnishings. Which one you should buy depends on your space, needs and preferences.

Size and Design

Most bookcases are large free standing furniture pieces and feature multiple shelves. As such, furniture websites may describe a bookcase as a shelving unit. A traditional model has three closed sides, though modern designs may have a more open look with no back or feature glass doors. Bookcases usually sit on the floor, making them perfect for heavy items such as vases and stacks of hardbacks.

On the other hand, bookshelves typically refer to a single, wall-mounted shelf, a small grouped set of wall-mounted shelves or a ladder-style piece. A wall-mounted bookshelf is typically affixed high on the wall, making it a great place to keep fragile objects away from curious children and pets.


Since larger models tend to be a little bulky, bookcases may pose more of a challenge when it comes to rearranging furniture or moving. However, unlike bookshelves, they are not permanently bolted to the wall. As a result, a bookcase may be the best option for renters. To prevent tipping, however, it is recommended to strap tall bookcases to the wall, as you would with any other tall or top-heavy furnishing. This is especially important if you have small children or live in an area prone to earthquakes.

Alternately, there are advantages to owning a bookshelf versus a bookcase. These pieces free up floor space, keeping your room less cluttered. In addition, hanging bookshelves over mantles and doorways makes it easy to draw attention to design features or add creative flair to otherwise blank walls.


Before selecting a bookshelf or bookcase, think about your existing decor. For an elegant living room, book-filled library or timeless office, bookcases fit the bill. Upscale pieces with etched glass barrister doors, deep wood tones or carved detailing instantly add a classic touch. If a minimalist vibe is more your scene, ladder bookshelves provide simple shapes and clean lines that will blend with your decor.


The cost of bookcases verses bookshelves varies depending on the material. Plywood or pressboard models are a less expensive option, but they are prone to damage. Solid wood bookcases and bookshelves have a higher price point, but their durability is worth every penny.

Making the Decision: Bookshelf or Bookcase?

When it comes down to it, deciding on bookshelves or bookcases is a personal choice. For classic, movable storage, bookcases are the way to go. If you want a contemporary style that stays fixed to the wall, look at bookshelves instead. No matter which you choose, your books, decor and collectibles will have a beautiful new home.