Bookcases for a Home Office: Traditional White vs. Industrial

Along with all of the small home projects that are constantly going on around here, we try to tackle one big project a year. For 2012, it’s a redo of our home office. Our home office is in the space that used to be our dining room and it is riddled with ugliness – the walls are red (I’m so over red walls even if this was still my dining room!), it has a wimpy chair rail, and the wood floor is the only one in the house we haven’t refinished so it has a horrible orangey tint. The only lighting in the room is the old chandelier that we are constantly bumping our heads on as we get up from the “desk” (actually our old dining room table). I can only share the “before” heinousness with you until I have a rockin’ “after” photo to go with it. It’s. That. Bad. I’m going to jump into this project once my girls are back in school which is (yikes!) next week! Let the planning begin…  

My husband spends more time in our home office than I do (I’m more of a laptop on the couch gal..) so this is one project that he wants lots of input on. Oh joy. While we both agree that we’d like to have a large bookcase along the length of the back wall, we disagree about what the bookcase should look like.  Ideally, I would like to have a large custom bookcase, such as Emily A. Clark’s wall-to-wall bookcase in her gorgeous home office:

or something similar but with doors on the bottom to hide the printer and other office uglies:


I also love this look of two bookcases on the ends with an open space for a mirror or art in the middle.  A major plus of this arrangement is that it doesn’t limit the room to being a home office in the future:


I haven’t yet gotten a bid for a custom wall-to-wall bookcase, but I know it would be extremely expensive so I’m thinking about other options. I’m intrigued by the idea of ready-made bookcases that are made to look custom because (1) it would be much less expensive and (2) we could take the bookcases with us if we ever move. One of my favorite ready-made options is Pottery Barn’s Logan Modular Wall Unit, which allows you to combine different pieces to create the arrangement and size that works best for you.  Unfortunately, it’s still a pricey option at about $5,000 for a unit that fits our space: 

Ballard Designs’ traditional Tuscan Bookcase Set is another option – it can be arranged with a deeper, larger center piece such as this:

or as a Flush Bookcase Set:

We have a Ballard Designs Outlet just 20 minutes away so I know I could get these bookcases at a fraction of their original cost.  What’s holding me back?  The color.  There is no option for white – since the closest color is a very yellowy cream, if I bought these bookcases, I would want to paint them which would be a LOT of work!

I also like Restoration Hardware’s Library Bookcase Wall Unit but I’m not sure that I want to go with the weathered oak look:

My husband is very into the Restoration Hardware look and thinks we should consider using two 1950s Dutch Shipyard Shelving units, which are made with solid walnut and antique iron and come with a moveable ladder for reaching the top shelf: 

He also likes Arhaus’ Colton Library, which is very, very similar: 
Another Restoration Hardware option he found is their French Library Shelving, which is a reproduction of a mid-1940s eastern European library bookcase that is made with aged iron and distressed hardwood. I love the character that the front handles and lower bar step add to the shelving: 

While I like the Restoration Hardware and Arhaus shelving units, I think they’re a bit trendy and I’d still like to go with more traditional, timeless white bookcases.  Whose side are you on – mine (traditional white) or my husband’s (industrial shelving)? Opinions please!
Update!!! Here’s the bookcase that we ended up going with:


  1. says

    I’m on your side Kris and love the traditional style better, the other is a little too rustic and open for me. I love Emily Clark’s office too but think the second photo with some “behind doors storage” is the way to go!

  2. says

    I think the rustic “steampunk” bookcases are a complete design commitment – you need the house to go along with it – meaning high ceilings, great windows etc… and the rest of the decor to go along with them.

    I had a whole 16 foot long wall of bookcases built with molding to match the rest of the house – new Craftsman style – for less than it would have cost me to buy the same at PB or Ballard.

  3. Anonymous says

    I’m eager to know your decision and to see the outcome. We looked at most all options you considered but have not committed yet. (I think we’re moving ahead with custom white bookshelves with lower cabinet doors to hide ugly things. I also have very inexpensive whit bookshelves in my daughters bedroom from IKEA with glass front doors on the outer pieces. The middle unit is open. They were very inexpensive and covered 9’+ of wall length.

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