Difference Between a Bookshelf and a Bookcase

Difference Between a Bookshelf and a Bookcase - Nathan James

Whether you are an avid reader or someone who just likes to keep a few precious items on display, you probably have at least one bookshelf or bookcase in your home. But what exactly is the difference between a bookshelf and a bookcase?

In this blog post, we will explore the bookcase vs. bookshelf debate and give you some tips on how to choose the right storage solution for your needs.

Is There a Difference Between A Bookshelf and a Bookcase?

Yes. While the two words sound practically the same, there are actually a few fundamental differences. First, let's explore what a bookshelf and bookcase are.

What Is A Bookshelf?

A bookshelf is a horizontal shelf that is used to store books, personal items, knick knacks, and decorative items. There are many types of bookshelves, including:

  • Traditional bookshelves
  • Modular bookshelves
  • Ladder bookshelves
  • Corner bookshelves
  • Floating bookshelves

Bookshelves can be made from a variety of materials, including wood, metal, and glass. They come in a variety of sizes and styles, from small, simple designs to large, elaborate ones.

What Is A Bookcase?

A bookcase is typically a large, free-standing piece of furniture that has several shelves for storing items. Unlike a bookshelf, a bookcase typically has doors that can be closed to dust or protect your belongings. Bookcases are also taller than bookshelves and one bookcase features multiple bookshelves.

So, What is the Difference Between a Bookshelf and a Bookcase?

Many people confuse the terms, but bookcases and bookshelves are two distinct types of furnishings. The size, demands, and preferences of your living space will help you decide which one to purchase. Here are some of the key differences between bookshelves and bookcases:

Overall Size and Design

Bookcases are heavy storage units that typically feature multiple shelves, which is why most stores list them as shelving units. Because of their size and weight, they almost always sit on the floor. Traditional bookcases sit on four legs and have three closed sides with a door on the front.

However, they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, from small, cube-shaped bookcases to large, multi-shelf units. Some modern bookcases may have unique, angular designs and utilize their shelf space in creative ways.

On the other hand, bookshelves are horizontal shelves that can be hung on a wall or placed on the floor. They come in all different shapes and sizes as well but are typically smaller than bookcases. You can find bookshelves made out of wood, metal, glass, and even plastic.

Functionality and Use

One of the main differences between a bookcase and a bookshelf is how they are used. Because bookcases are large and sit on the floor, they are perfect storage for heavy books like atlases and textbooks as well as porcelain vases and other fragile items.

Some people use bookcases as entertainment centers while others use them to store office supplies. You can even find ones with built-in drawers and cabinets for additional storage space.

On the other hand, installing a bookshelf typically requires you to mount it on a wall. Bookshelves are perfect for displaying family photos, collector’s items, and other precious belongings. You can also use bookshelves to store lighter items like paperbacks and children’s books.

Because of their small size and ability to fit anywhere, bookshelves are an excellent place to spice up your home with plants, lamps, and other small pieces of décor.


Bookshelves are much easier to move around than bookcases because they are smaller and lighter. You can easily carry a bookshelf up a flight of stairs or move it from one room to another. However, because they are mounted into the wall, you will need to remove and dismantle them before moving them anywhere.

Bookcases, on the other hand, are difficult to move because of their size and weight. You will almost certainly need one or two people or a furniture dolly to help you move a bookcase. They also tend to be more delicate, so you have to be careful when moving them to avoid damaging the unit.

Bookshelf vs. Bookcase: Which is Right for Your Home?

When deciding between a bookcase vs. bookshelf, there are a few things you should consider:


The price of bookcases and bookshelves varies depending on the material. Plywood or pressboard bookcases are a less expensive option, although they are less durable. Real wood bookcases and shelves have a higher price tag, but the long-term value is well worth it.

Because they are very large, bookcases tend to be more expensive than bookshelves. Most bookcases cost a few hundred dollars, but you can sometimes find individual bookshelves for under $100.

If you are on a budget, a bookshelf is usually a more affordable option.

Size and Dimensions of Your Living Space

The size of your living space will play a big role in deciding whether to buy a bookshelf or bookcase. If you have a smaller living space, then a hanging bookshelf or small ladder bookshelf may be the better option. Smaller shelves will minimize the amount of floor space you take up and will make your room appear more spacious.

However, if you have a larger living space, then a bookcase can provide more storage while still fitting within the room. Keep in mind that even if you have a large room, a very tall bookcase may make the room feel cramped.

Purpose of Use

Think about what you will be using your bookshelf or bookcase for before making your purchase. If you need something to store heavy items, additional clothing, a large vinyl record collection, or other bulky items, then a bookcase may be the better option.

Conversely, if you have a small home office that will hold a few books, office supplies, and small house plants, a bookshelf will certainly suffice.

Style and Aesthetics

Your personal style will also play a role in deciding between buying a bookcase or bookshelf. If you prefer a more modern or sleek look, then consider getting a ladder bookshelf or wall-mounted shelves. These types of shelves are usually made of metal or wood and have a clean, simple design.

For a more traditional look, go for an enclosed bookshelf or bookcase with doors. These pieces may have intricate wood carvings and detailed moldings. You can also find antique bookcases made of solid wood that have been stained or painted.

If you have the room, modern bookcases with geometric shapes or unique designs can make a bold statement in your home that bookshelves usually do not add.

Where Can You Find Quality Bookshelves & Bookcases Online?

When searching for bookshelves online, the selection can seem overwhelming. Stores like Amazon, Wayfair, and Target all have a wide range of options available. This makes it difficult to find the style, price point, and material that you are looking for. Plus, most budget options have no way of guaranteeing their quality.

That's why we have done the hard work for you! No matter which style you want, you’ll find the best of the best at Nathan James. Our contemporary bookshelf collection features a wide variety of styles to choose from. We produce quality, design-first furniture that won’t break the bank. The best part? All our pieces assemble quickly and effortlessly!

Final Thoughts on the Bookcase vs. Bookshelf Debate

What is the difference between a bookshelf and a bookcase? The answer is: a bookshelf is typically one or a few shelves while a bookcase is a large, free-standing group of shelves assembled into a storage unit.

The type of shelf you need will depend on your budget, the size of your living space, and what you plan to use it for. Consider all these factors before making your final decision.

And when you do, remember that the best place to shop is Nathan James for high-quality, stylish bookshelves at an affordable price.

Best of all, we don’t just have bookshelves & bookcases. We've got all your home furniture needs that are perfect for maximizing the space in your home. Shop other popular collections you may love below:

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