Bookcases should hold books, not particles

By Mir
July 7, 2006

Stephanie knows where my Achilles heel is located. It is, in fact, quite a ways from my actual heel—about ten feet across the room, in fact.

I have a wall of books in my office at home, and my two children each have two shelves, which takes up about a third of my space. I want to kick them out of my bookcase and get them their own for their rooms so I will have more room for my books. Oh, did I say that? I meant, I want to get them their very own bookcases for their rooms so that they will be more encouraged to read and feel a sense of ownership for their books. Yeah. But they are so expensive! At super department stores, I find the ‘engineered wood products’ and laminate finish bookcases inexpensive, but they are cheaply made and not really very attractive. Where can I find real wooden bookcases that are big enough, sturdy enough, and doggone it, attractive enough, that will last them until I kick them out to find their own places (I mean, until they spread their wings and fly like the little angels they are into their own independent lives), and that will not empty the bank? Whew! Did you make it through all that? Like you don’t have enough to read during the day.

Right. Bookcases. Does anyone else wonder if the person who invented particle board was in it purely for the gag of the middle shelf bowing until all the books spill out onto the floor…? I’m sure particle board is great for lots of things, like… ummmmm… well, they sure do seem to use it a lot on design shows, but then the cameras leave before everything fall over… so… uhhh… okay, I’m not really sure where I was was going with that. Sorry.

I’m a book lover, and as such, I believe books deserve to be lovingly displayed and stored. Nothing says “one week in college I couldn’t afford beer at all” like a $40 particle board bookcase with a cardboard back. Not only are those bookcases ugly and prone to shelves warping or just plain falling off those tiny little support pegs, they are a particularly bad idea for kids’ rooms. If you’re looking for a unit to put in a child’s room, you need something sturdy. Or at least something you can attach to the wall with a bracket. Those particle board things, a bracket would just rip right through the back.

Okay, so let’s talk about what I like, because I’m guessing you may have already ascertained that I’m not the president of the Particle Board Fan Club.

In a perfect world with gobs of money, you go to your favorite furniture store where they don’t hold sales, just have fair prices on nice stuff all the time, and you pick out what you like. Voila! Lovely. You of course pick out a few sturdy wooden cases for your kids, and life goes on. (Heck, while you’re there, pick up something pretty for yourself. You deserve it.)

In reality, you may not be able to afford that, so then the question becomes what are the options between that and the saggy college cast-offs?

Do you have an unfinished wooden furniture store near you? Most such stores have a variety of offerings, from the most basic to “wow, this is so expensive I may as well go to a real furniture store and let someone else paint it.” (Speaking of: Most of these sorts of stores will paint or finish it for you for an additional fee, if you like.) Check out these offerings; the shipping is “free” there, but prices are a bit high (translation: shipping is already factored in, because nothing is free), and it means you have to do your own assembly, of course. I actually had local stores in mind, but that will give you some idea of what’s out there. If you’re looking for sturdy, no-frills bookcases, this sort of store may fit the bill.

Again, yard sales and thrift shops and consignment stores (aw, heck, just go review this post about finding things used) may yield something perfect. It may take some time to find something, but if you do, the price will certainly be right.

Don’t forget to check out Overstockicon… I’ll be putting up their weekend coupon later on today. Again, ordering online means you have to put it together yourself, but it may be a way to get a bargain.

And here’s one more thing for you to consider—I don’t know how old your kids are, but maybe you save the nice bookcases for later, and go with a slightly more creative solution for now. My son still has one of those racks of toy bins in his room… and he keeps most of his books in there. It’s not particularly elegant, but it’ll work for now. A couple of bins or baskets may work just fine until they’re old enough that you feel safe putting a nice piece of furniture in their rooms. Even a couple of sturdy brackets and a painted plank across the wall may be sufficient for your needs, and that will cost you more in elbow grease than cash.

Good luck, and remember—just say NO to particle board!


  1. Bookcases are also very easy to build yourself if you are even remotely handy.

  2. Yeah,I made my own bookcases once with my dad (they were hard core, industrial strength, and not very pretty) and once on my own (they were crooked).

    The best deals on bookcases that I’ve found are actually at Office Supply stores. They seem to go on sale more often there, and the pieces look a little more respectable than your standard el cheapo bookcase.

    But I have to agree, thrift stores and yard sales are usually the best places for real wood items.

  3. I found some great bookcases a few years ago from the Hold Everything catalog. That’s a Williams & Sonoma company like Pottery Barn and they’ve closed it now so you might have to look at PB. Anyway, I admired these folding REAL WOOD bookshelves in their catalog until I saw them on sale for $75 each with free shipping and that’s when I bought them. They stack and have hardware to fasten them together. I bought some brackets to fasten them to the wall. I have lived in 4 places since I bought them and they have gone from a wall of books with 4 stacked together and anchored to the wall – VERY secure, don’t stack bookcases without doing that – to individual book cases in the kitchen and various rooms. Currently they are lined single height along a wall with a sloping ceiling on the 3rd floor. They are good wood, look fabulous 5 years and 4 moves later. Folding bookcases are my favorite. These are a natural cherry finish that works with most decor. They are nice enough for the living room. I spent $300 on 4 of them and it was money very well spent. I expect to have these bookcases for many, many years to come. So I guess the moral of this tale is to put your sights on something of quality and watch it until you can get your best price, or free shipping, or both!

  4. We have good bookshelves and crummy ones, but the kids also have the wire mesh squares that you can put together in a variety of ways (Target was selling them for a while 2 years ago) that work really well for bookshelves. We’ve also used milk crates.

    I don’t like spending a lot of money on furniture for my kids, as there can be distruction, and I don’t want to end up getting angry about it. plus we have way more books than we do money. I lust after my mother’s bookshelves she had built into one wall.

  5. Frugal AND a book fanatic? OK, I think we were separated at birth. Seriously though, my advice about the bookshelves– marry a woodworker. My hubby built an awesome floor to ceiling built-in bookcase in my boys’ bedroom behind their bedroom door. The top shelf goes above the closet and spans the entire wall. it is built out of walnut, and L-bracketed to the wall. Basically indestructible. I love it. In fact, I may blog about it today. Come over later.

    Mary, wife to a very handy hubby and mom to many

  6. I feel, as a constant mover type, I must add one other reason to loathe particle board. Most major moving companies will make you sign a waiver stating if they damage particle board (and I quote, “because it is fragile and known to collaspe in transit.”) they are not responsible. Now I realize that the thing may have cost me $59, but dang it, I move like every 4 years at a minimum — that adds up.
    I’m huge fan of IKEA, which breaks my no particle board rule (mostly because they do have solid wood items which tend to be thin and wobble — or I’m a horrible put it together kind of girl). But back to IKEA. I do have quite a bit of their stuff — I have no visions of it being “good” furniture; but it works for the boy’s room and frankly he’ll destroy it before the movers do.
    Now to figure out how much Mir would charge to bring her famous trash bag solution to my house and explain the finer points of plastic hangers to my kid!!!

  7. I got an industrial-strength set of metal bookshelves from the state-surplus auction (all the state surplus goes in a big warehouse and you can pick through it) for $5. UGLY but I painted it with black chalk board paint and put some magnets on one end to hold “artwork” and secured it to the wall and now it’s kinda cute in that “indestructible” kind of way. I love me some black chalk board paint…. I will paint anything with it…. popcorn tins from the Boy Scouts, dressers, flower pots, beat up closet doors…

  8. My husband owns an unfinished furniture store. It’s called Real Wood Furniture. Their slogan is “Friends don’t let friends buy particle board.” You like that dontcha?
    Years before I met him, my parents bought an entertainment center from Walmart that was particle board. It actually broke while they were putting it together.

  9. I got my picture up!

  10. I’m going to show my age here. In college in the early 1970’s the big thing was concrete blocks and real boards. Very sturdy, but REALLY heavy, and those concrete blocks were murder on your fingernails. We had those through the first few years (5-10?)of marriage, and moved them into my daughter’s room for her toys. We got rid of them when we moved half-way across the country and the shipping company charged by the pound.

  11. In your area, check if there is a Freecycle Network ( You can post that you need sturdy bookcases or whatever and, amazingly enough, someone frequently has just decided that their kid needs new bookcases and to get rid of the old ones. It’s fabulous. I recently got a buffet/sideboard, old, needs some TLC, but pretty good looking and it was FREE for the picking up.

    I’ve also scored some furniture purchases from Craig’s List ( — a wooden drafting table and chair for $100.

  12. I HAVE to get me some chalkboard paint! That stuff sounds amazing.

    I’m about to buy some IKEA bookshelves. Are the particle board? Oh, probably, BUT just put supports at intervals and they don’t bow!

  13. Two suggestions:

    Does your local/state prison have a “prison industries” store? If you don’t mind supporting felons, you can get some incredibly nice bookcases at those places. The store in Concord, NH made me drool.

    Also, some used office furniture places have great deals on bookcases, especially one-of-a-kind items.

  14. In defense of particle board, there are some items that work well with it (we have a bunch of the IKEA Billy bookcases, and while they’re not going to be heirlooms, they’ve never bowed or crapped out on us – they’re light years beyond what I bought as a student from Futon stores.) Plus? The As-Is IKEA section had ’em for crazy cheap.

    For those who do want real wood, IKEA (again) has some pretty affordable pieces, but they’re often of a very light wood, which means they don’t hold up well to attacks by children. Office supply stores are a great bet during sales, and the big metal bookcases are near-indestructable.

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