A strong, single bookcase may be all you need to store your treasured tomes, but modern shelving can be more adaptable and help you create areas of real interest and character in your living space.

Shelving that spans the entire wall of a living space can be a dramatic way to accommodate plants, art and objects as well as books. It can boost storage in a house or flat where you have little, and it doesn’t need to break the bank financially. Plus, plenty of systems allow you to start small and add to over time.

For awkward, narrow or sloping spaces, a series of column-style bookcases or ladder shelves can be put to good use. Multiple compartments help to organise your books and belongings, but long shelving spaces give you more options for display. A case with adjustable shelves will also serve you much better over time than a fixed design.

Don’t forget that thin and tall bookcases should always be tied back to the wall for safety; some designs will have this feature included.

Hay Woody Shelves: from £219, Utility Design

The beauty of Hay’s system is that you can mix and match different shelf combinations depending on what you need. There are four versions: the smallest makes a good bookshelf for the bedside, while the largest is capable of filling a whole wall. The system is designed to be visually lightweight, with frames in slim solid oak, and shelves in white powder-coated metal.

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Content by Terence Conran Balance Shelving: £599, John Lewis & Partners

This asymmetrical oak bookcase by Terence Conran is a real attention-grabber. Its dynamic looks are down to the illusion of stacked boxes that have been shifted side to side. Placing books and decorative objects into this bookcase feels like creating a piece of art. It’s also useful as a space divider – create a reading nook by using it to screen off part of a larger room.

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Oliver Bonas Grid Nine-Shelf Storage Unit: £265, Oliver Bonas

Made in copper wire mesh, this storage unit is a fresh take on the standard bookcase. The mesh, together with low and wide dimensions, gives it the industrial feel of a gym locker, but the copper finish provides a luxe edge. The nine shelves are divided into three different heights making this piece useful for storing a variety of books, records and other bits.

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Habitat Loki Extra-Wide Five-Shelf Bookcase: £395, Habitat

You get a lot of shelf for your money with Habitat’s Loki unit. The two low shelves on the right are 186cm wide, and there are three upper shelves that are roughly half the width. The unit has a lot of capacity without appearing bulky, thanks to the slim walnut veneer frame uprights and thin black-lacquer shelves. There’s a standard five-shelf version – which is the single piece of five-shelves on the left of the image (£295) – that you could use in a narrower space, or team up with this unit as seen. These shelves can’t be adjusted in height, however.

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String Shelves: from £81, Skandium

This popular Swedish design is best for versatility. The shelving system works on a series of metal frame uprights and interchangeable shelves and cupboards. Because everything is designed to fit the same frame, you can move the units around as often as you need, and design something unique to your space. It’s also a great investment compared to heavier furniture that’s hard to move from house to house.

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Very Good and Proper Croquet Freestanding Shelving: from £748, Twentytwentyone

At first glance, the Croquet shelving system is fairly industrial, but the detail is where the quality really shows. The powder coated shelves are made of super-thin folded sheet steel and have edge details that sit delicately between the solid oak uprights. There’s also a three-shelf or five-shelf version that could be combined. An unusual palette of colours that includes light blue and pink, as well as grey and white, make this shelving unit stand out.

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Swoon Editions Aero Shelving Unit: £259, Swoon Editions

The open sides of the industrial-style Aero shelving unit make it a good option for showing off trailing plants as well as books, crockery and other bits. It’s made in steel (painted black) and each of its five shelves can take up to 20kg in weight. This makes it particularly useful in the kitchen, for heavy plates and pots. At 60 x 195cm it suits tall narrow spaces best, and looks particularly good in high-ceilinged spaces where you can use the top as a sixth shelf.

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Zig Zag Shelf: £630, Hem

This long, low shelf has a pleasing geometric design and is practical too. There are no screws or tools required for assembly, and it fits together easily. The shelves run the whole 175cm width of the case with no interruption, which gives it the feeling of a sideboard rather than a bookcase. The material is simple – all oak veneer with clear lacquer. There’s a tall version too (£1,180) that works well as a room divider.

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The White Company oak Large Ladder Shelf: £350, The White Company

Ladder shelves are having a bit of a moment, but not all are well-made. This solid large version from The White Company is made of sustainably-sourced oak, purposely left to look rustic in style. Its 180 x 96cm, giving a good amount of free storage and no compartments to get in the way. Of course, the shelves are get narrower towards the top, helping you organise your books and objects by size.

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The verdict: Bookcases

Hay’s Woody Shelves are versatile and contemporary, providing good all-round storage. The freestanding design means these units can also work as a room divider.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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