Look back at these vintage bookshelves, book nooks & other beautiful old-fashioned home libraries

Vintage bookshelves, book nooks and other beautiful old-fashioned home libraries

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Bookshelves in a home once was more than simple home decor — it often signaled that the residents were intelligent, worldly, and could afford to collect their favorite volumes.

Here’s a look at some vintage bookshelves to see how people have displayed their prized books in the past!

Woman reading - vintage postcard (c1918)
Woman reading – vintage postcard (c1918)
Globe-Wernicke Elastic Bookcases (1910s)

In selecting the Christmas gift, be guided by the standard of William Morris: “Have within your house only that which is beautiful or useful.”

Bookcases in a home from the 1910s

A small closet converted into a bookcase (1914)

Peterson's Magazine 1888 Bookcase

Living room (1914)

Built-in bookcases of proper height and simple construction. 

Bookcases shelves from 1914 Making built in furniture 2

Bookcases shelves from 1914 Making built in furniture 1

ALSO SEE: Antique kitchen ranges from the ’20s & ’30s

Scrapbook of vintage bookcases from the ’40s

Give me a room whose every nook is dedicated to a book.” — From Frank Dempster Sherman’s “The Library”

by John Normila

Let your walls be filled with shelves… or only a tiny niche here and there for a mere handful of books.

Let the shelves be planned for utmost utility — no less than six, or more than nine inches deep; from six to fifteen inches high to fit any book. Let them be adjustable, if possible, to follow shifting moods and needs. Read the books upon them so often that they’ll never gather dust.

But don’t lose sight of the fact that your bookcases and shelves should add new, fitting beauty to your home’s interior architecture, all the while they’re serving their useful purpose as a trysting place for the — rich romance of books worth reading.

MORE: Remember vintage library checkout cards & due date slips?

Quaint work retreat (1941)

A proud old secretary forms the nucleus for this set of shelves. The shelf cases, with cupboards below, were planned to leave a sheltering niche for the old desk. Note the striking grain in wood of shelves and wall. (Architect: John L. Volk)

Home library - Books and shelving from 1941 (8)

Homely reading den 

Antique paneling and age-old ceiling beams are the setting for this wallful of shelves.

Note how space has been left above all for squat jugs and pewterware to hobnob with an old sewing basket. Some long-forgotten craftsman is responsible for this design that’s as satisfying as any work of our modern designers.

Vintage home decor - Books and bookcases 1941 (1)

Smartly designed addition

Here’s how a clever carpenter, cutting one board into three shelves and their end casing, has transformed an ugly jog into a smart bedroom book niche.

See how the wall drawers and shelves balance each other.

Vintage home decor - Books and bookcases 1941 (2)

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Curved desk and bookshelf area

Designers in the Modern trend are masters at combining smooth curves and straight lines.

This quadricircular bookcase, with its ultra-modern desk below, is simply constructed, yet gracefully charming. (Architect: Micheal Hare & John B. Manzer)

Vintage home decor - Books and bookcases 1941 (3)

Recessed bookshelves

Vertical plank paneling, with monk-like severity in its trim, guards cased-in rows of books.

The cases themselves form a pleasing recess for the doorway. This depth lends interest to the view through the door. (Architect: John Richard Rowe)

Vintage home decor - Books and bookcases 1941 (4)

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Classy office bookshelves

This doorway, inviting enough in itself, is made even more gracious by its flanking bookcases.

Paneled below in horizontal grooved boards, the shelves become stately guardians of their wide, light portal. (Architect: H. Allan Wright)

Vintage home decor - Books and bookcases 1941 (5)

Duo bookcases with storage

Everything’s in tune here — the sturdy table, the knotty pine cases, and the gleefully rampant apple-blossom sprigs. Beneath the shelves, H hinges and old latches support table-height cupboard doors. (Architect: J. Hampton Robb)

Vintage home decor - Books and bookcases 1941 (6)

Gorgeous reading area by windows

A scene set for reading. On either side of a light-beckoning window, bookshelves look down on a comfortable sofa. Shelves and casing may easily be constructed from ordinary stock millwork. Notice how the bookcases here lend themselves to well-balanced furniture arrangement and provide worth-while storage space below. (Architect: Chas. Cutler)

Vintage home decor - Books and bookcases 1941 (7)

MORE: Laura Ingalls Wilder’s famous ‘Little House’ books have long enchanted readers, young and old

Entryway bookshelves

Here’s how to turn an odd-shaped corner into a delightful addition to your home’s interior scheme. Any carpenter could build these round-the-corner shelves and cupboard, even to the scalloped edging [of this entryway].

Home library - Books and shelving from 1941 (1)

Simple but classic styled bookshelves

Even the rigidly designed book covers follow the pure Classicism of these shelves. The lining of the case is painted a dark color in stark contrast to the fluted trim and the plain cupboard panels below. (Architect: Perry M. Duncan)

Home library - Books and shelving from 1941 (2)

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Vintage bookshelves utilizing space

Even the curtained doorway carries books on its head in this wall-filling group of shelves. Simply built, the rows break from their military precision on the triple tier at lower left of the doorway.

Home library - Books and shelving from 1941 (3)

Modern-looking inglenook

Streamlined shelves in the simple Modern mode. The crisp masonry below is laid in Roman-size bricks, whose straight-standing mortar joints cleverly merge with the vertical members of the bookcase itself. (Architect: John Yean)

Home library - Books and shelving from 1941 (4)

Cozy book-nook 

The coziest kind of book-nook, where many volumes nudge a corner fireplace. Exceedingly good taste is revealed in the full, knotty paneling and the cupboards below, where magazines and games may rest.  (Architect: Evans, Moore, & Woodbridge)

Home library - Books and shelving from 1941 (5)

ALSO SEE: Look inside Gene Kelly’s house from 1950 for some simple vintage celebrity style

Elegant fireplace bookshelves

These shelves and their paneling are a dull white, set off by the darker tone of their interiors. The scrolled arches cleverly turn the shelves into graceful, trim flanking elements of the fireplace mantel itself. (Architect: Victor M. Reynal)

Home library - Books and shelving from 1941 (6)

Rustic cabin reading nook (1941)

Precise cabinetwork would have made these shelves as out of place as diamonds in this rugged attic room. But careful attention to rustic texture has made them rich, welcome additions to a space hard to fill. 

Home library - Books and shelving from 1941 (7)

Fantastic vintage curved book nook desk for libraries (1945) 

1945 books library book nook

Manhattan’s East Sixties (1957)

Writer Margaret Cousin’s apartments.

Home bookshelves from 1957

Mid-century modern home with bookshelves & Asian-inspired decor

ALSO SEE: We are (surprisingly!) obsessed by the vintage wall paneling in these 58 mid-century rooms

Book shelves in the living room 1957

Hundreds of books on colorful vintage bookshelves (1959)

Vintage bookcases from 1959

Books… in the bathroom? (1964)

This collection of literature is tucked away next to the bathtub, above the towels and bath soaps.

ALSO SEE: 60 vintage ’60s bathrooms: Retro home decorating ideas

Bathroom bookshelves from 1964

Maple sectional stacking units with bookshelves and cabinets (1965)

Functional Maple by Pennsylvania House: colorful… compact… convenient 

Vintage furniture - Bookshelves and wall cabinetry from 1965

The living library (1966)

Now that we are buying more books than ever before, they have burst out of the study and made themselves officially at home in the living room, where they are apt to see service any hour of the day.

Here, at one end of a sizable room, a family can store now-and-future tomes and read them, comfortably stretched out toe to toe.

Living room library from 1966 - Vintage home decor and furniture

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Vintage square wall cubby bookshelves (1968)

And how can you not love the swinging seat/sofa in the middle of this ’60s living room? 

Vintage home decor from 1968 - Swinging sofa and bookshelves

An orange oval library with built-in sunken seating area (1973)

“The library is an introspective room,” says architect Paul Rudolph. “It is darker, more contained than the living room.”

It’s Bittersweet, an oval space, accentuated by its ceiling decoration, a burst of glitter done with mirror.

It has a carpeted platform sweeping all around, which serves several purposes, and makes the top bookshelves easily accessible, works as seating, and also creates storage space — for magazines, records, the television, and even some luggage underneath (for a large family moving from house to apartment, storage strategy was very important).

Mr. and Mrs. Edersheim share a big working in this room and spend quiet moments together here, or they may serve predinner drinks for a few people — there is a small bar to one side.

An orange oval library with built-in sunken seating area (1973)

Pretty home bookshelves and staircase (1981)

The light at the top of the stairs is the culmination of a dramatic 31-foot-long flight of steps in the Southern California residence of the architect Charles Moore, who designed the apartment complex from which this unusual space is carved.

The library/living room is dominated by a wall of books framed by a Victorian dormer arch. 

Without question, architect Charles Moore’s new space for himself is one of the most unusual he’s ever created.

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The Southern California building it is housed in is rather non-descript: dun-colored stucco of no particular design excitement. Thus the surprise that waits behind the front door is all the more astounding.

As one turns left in the cramped entry vestibule, one is thunderstruck by the looming presence of a monumental staircase.

One’s eye races to the top of the steps, where it stops before an over-scaled arch, which gives this daring space its special impact. This is like something out of the prints of Piranesi — or “Piranesi gone wrong,” as Moore wryly describes his own playful handling of architectural elements, exaggerated scale, and forced perspectives in the style of that 18th-century architectural fantast.

Pretty home bookshelves and staircase from 1981

A wall of books

The real space of the place is in the steep avalanche of steps. At the top of the stairs, there is indeed a room: a library/living room “roost” (to use the architect’s own term) is dominated by a vast wall of books, framed by a Victorian dormer arch.

At close range, the arch gives the room the feeling of a proscenium stage — an appropriate image for the home of an architect who has consciously designed spaces to give them the magical feeling of stage sets.

That theatrical feeling leads one to think of this apartment in terms of a movie, too.

Imagine a hilarious Mel Brooks take-off on a Hollywood gladiator epic, in which the opening credits, accompanied by portentous trumpet fanfares, go on and on and on, until one realizes that the credits are the whole movie. That would be the cinematic parallel of the Moore apartment.

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