My favourite bookshelves under $300


Before: The blank canvas

In our mid-twenties, J and I made one of the biggest decisions of our lives and purchased our first house. We were both moving out of our parents’ houses and neither of us had lived on our own before. I could count the furniture we owned on one hand: an old coffee table, a Billy bookshelf, a desk, an office chair, and a sofa. Other than that, our house was essentially a clean slate. Though we didn’t own a lot of furniture, we had a vision for what our home would look like and we were excited to build it up from scratch. 

Our new home on move-in day.
Our new home on move-in day.

When it comes to furniture, I tend to pick out streamlined, minimal pieces that flutter between mid-century modern and modern styles. I’m also quite picky. When I shop, it’s love at first sight or bust. If I don’t love something and end up buying it anyway, chances are I’ll return or resell it down the road because I’ll have found something else that I like better.

However, with décor, I tend to err on the side of the maximalist. I can’t pass a home goods shop without bringing back a trinket or book. My living room became the designated drop-off point for almost everything I brought home; our mantle and coffee table often stacked with knick-knacks that I rotated each season. We also started collecting board games, which are great fun when hosting friends and family. Not so much fun when trying to put them away at the end of the night when you don’t have storage. It got a little messy.

Meanwhile, we had two walls on either side of our fireplace that remained unused. So we thought, “What about a bookshelf?”

Our living room with blank walls.

Looking for “The One”

We knew we wanted a bookshelf that had a streamlined and custom look. I had my eye on CB2’s wall-mounted Stairway bookcase for the longest time but couldn’t bring myself to invest in it for this transition home.

I was on the hunt for something at a lower price point. IKEA’s wall-mounted SVALNÄS combination shelving was the perfect cost-effective solution for us. We had been looking for white shelving for a while and even thought about painting the Svalnäs unit white. However, the natural bamboo added warmth and coziness that we didn’t notice the room was lacking until we found this shelf.

After measuring our wall space, we decided to get one 26” wide shelf unit and one 33 ⅞” unit. This combination cost just over $200!  

Preparing for the install!
Taping the walls to get a visual.

We taped and re-taped the wall, which helped us visualize what the space would look once the bookshelf went up. Functionality was top of mind. I wanted it high enough off the ground so that we could fit some wicker baskets underneath (extra hidden storage!) but also wanted the top shelf low enough to be able to reach it.

Once we decided on placement, we got the drill out and started the install. A couple hours later, we had the finished product! TA-DA!

After: The custom look for less

Re-organizing all our trinkets from the mantle to the bookshelf.
Plants are a great way to add a pop of colour to any space.

So, finally, my home goods have a home! The bookshelf—adorned with a collection of books, candles, plants, souvenirs, electronics, store-bought trinkets, and board games—showcases our personality and functions as convenient storage too. Although it’s carries the same amount of stuff, it looks much more curated and organized. Huge bonus: we use it (or something on it) everyday and it’s all within arm’s reach now.

Looking at the before and after photos just makes me wonder why we waited so long to commit to a bookshelf, honestly. These little planks of wood transformed our living room and made it suddenly look and feel like home.

Home sweet home.

My favourite bookshelves for under $300

For those of you on the hunt for a modular or custom look for less, here are some of my favourite shelving options for under $300:

  • IKEA SVALNÄS combination shelving (Units starting at $100). I’ve showcased this unit in this blog entry so there isn’t much else to say, but I wanted highlight that some of the pieces in this series are currently on sale until August 27! Aside from bookshelves, the Svalnäs series includes desk combinations, compartmentalized shelving, and closed cabinets options.
  • IKEA FJÄLKINGE shelving unit ($130). This white, steel-framed bookshelf is minimal but spacious; chic but sturdy. In true IKEA fashion, it also offers you options for hidden and open storage (you can purchase two drawers for $90). I loved this so much, I actually bought one for my home office!
  • CB2 Helix 70″ Acacia bookcase ($299). Despite the clean lines on this wall-mounted bookshelf, this gorgeous piece adds drama to any room in the best way possible. The sleek black frame and mid-tone acacia shelves offer a modern-industrial look with a touch of warmth at the same time.
  • Crate and Barrel Sawyer series (bookcases from $209 to $289). The Sawyer series is a great storage solution for smaller spaces. In terms of bookshelves, there are two different options for width at 18 and 24.5 inches. But that’s not all. There’s also a matching shelf/desk combination, shelf/wine bar, TV stand, and floating shelves so you can customize a cohesive space that works for your lifestyle. This series comes in two colours: white and dark brown. Gotta love options!
  • Zone Maison Franco Wall Cubes ($108). For all the minimalists out there, floating shelves may be a more appealing storage solution than bookshelves. Floating shelves give you the option to really play around with wall placement in order to achieve a truly customized look. The Franco Wall Cubes, which come in a set of three, are one of the more eye-catching options I’ve come across. They look more like display cases that frame and highlight your décor pieces, turning your wall into a little gallery in and of itself.

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