Consider These Upcycle Ideas Before Tossing An Old Bookcase

Bookcases are an essential piece of furniture for any avid reader. However, even if you're part of the 56% of the population that owns fewer than 50 books (via YouGov), you may still have a bookshelf, as they're incredibly useful when it comes to displaying décor in general. After some time, however, repeated moves, regular wear and tear, and even simple changes in taste can encourage you to leave your previously-beloved bookcase on the curb in favor of a newer model. You might even like the look of your piece but don't know what to do with it, as perhaps you don't have enough books and decorations to fill all the shelves. 

If any of this is true for you, before you send your old bookcase straight to the trash, consider giving it new life in your home. Because of how simple the basic bookcase design is, there are plenty of unique ways to use this piece of furniture around your home and garden, and we've listed 25 ideas below. With a bit of elbow grease — and a few changes in perspective — upcycling an old bookcase can fill plenty of other gaps in your home furnishing needs, help to reduce the amount of waste you create, and even save you money on potential future purchases. If you want to update the look of your piece, consider giving it a new coat of paint or adding some decorative details like a wallpaper backing before repurposing the item in your home.

1. Coffee bar

Home coffee bars have been taking off in popularity as a more morning-focused alternative to the bar cart, and they're a great way to add some luxury to your daily routine. Instead of spending unnecessary money on a cart, however, consider transforming an old bookcase into a coffee station instead. Place your go-to coffee maker, grounds, frother, syrups, and mugs on the shelves, then finish everything off with a few of your favorite décor pieces. If you want to avoid the messy look of wires running to your machine, you can also drill a small hole in your bookcase's backing to better conceal the power supply.

2. Sports equipment station

If you or someone in your family has a hobby that requires a large amount of equipment or specialized apparel like golf, it's not uncommon to shove it all in the back of a closet or the dusty corner of the garage to get it out of the way. If you have an old bookcase lying around, however, it can make a great base for a more dedicated display that you'll want to show off rather than disguise. Turn the bookcase on its side, then use half for your equipment like clubs, rackets, or bats and the other half for smaller items like shoes, balls, and gloves.

3. TV console

Most of the furniture available from lower-cost stores like IKEA and Walmart is fairly minimalist in design. While it's likely to help cut down production costs and make it more marketable, it also has the benefit of ensuring that these pieces can be used in several different ways. A simple, thin bookcase like the IKEA Billy Bookcase is a super common piece in first apartments or dorms lacking storage space, but it can also easily be transformed into a TV console by turning it on its side. You can then add some decorative baskets to disguise any clutter, extra remotes, or old DVDs.

4. Dollhouse

Raising kids is expensive, but some of that financial burden can be avoided by getting creative with what you have on hand. Dollhouses are all about using your imagination, so buying something expensive and intricate is a bit of a waste of money for most kids. Instead, consider turning an old bookcase into a dollhouse. Each shelf can act as its own room or floor of the house, and furniture pieces, artwork, windows, and doors can all be created yourself out of simple, repurposed items. With this approach, you can even get your kids involved in the building and decorating, giving them more say in the final product.

5. Plant display

Adorning your bookcases with a couple small houseplants isn't anything out of the ordinary, but if you're willing to sacrifice some shelving, your existing piece of furniture can turn into a greenery-focused centerpiece. Remove a couple of shelves from your bookcase so you can comfortably fit your tallest plant, then get to work sourcing a grow light that will fit inside your bookcase. This will act as both a light source for your plants and as a way to make your display more visible. Use the remaining bottom shelves to hold books if you still need some storage, or store extra pots, soil, and gardening tools below.

6. Kitchen storage

It seems like, no matter how large or well-organized your kitchen is, it can be difficult to find space for all of your dishes, cookware, and utensils. An old bookcase, however, can offer the perfect solution and help you take advantage of an otherwise-unused wall. Simply bring your old bookcase into the kitchen, giving it a coat of paint or re-staining it match your existing setup, and load it with some of your most-used items. For even more concealed storage, consider adding on a door to the front with some hinges to create a look that will hide clutter and allow you to focus less on organization.

7. Crafting storage

Crafty hobbies, from jewelry making to woodworking, often involve a substantial collection of small tools, building materials, and other supplies that can be a bit of a hassle to store. If you're running out of space in your home arts and crafts studio, a bookcase might be just the thing you need. An old shelving unit can easily be transformed into storage space for all of the materials you need to have on hand. Specifics will, of course, vary considering what you want to stow away, but consider bringing in some labeled baskets to better divide the shelves and reduce the amount of visual clutter you see.

8. Entryway table

With a bit of TLC, a simple bookcase can be turned into a stunning entryway console. Begin by removing the shelving, then flipping the unit so it sits horizontally. If possible, reinstall the existing shelving into the unit in this new orientation. Give everything a fresh coat of paint if desired, then add on a tabletop to the top of the unit to make it feel a bit more intentional. After everything has dried and set, decorate your new entryway table with some of your favorite décor pieces, frames, and lighting to finish the whole look off and fill in some of the empty space.

9. Desk with storage

If an old bookcase just doesn't feel functional anymore, consider incorporating it into your home office setup as a part of a desk. If you have a smaller cabinet on hand — or even another bookcase that's the same shape and size as the first — a tabletop can be suspended between the two to create a functional work area with storage. If you attempt this build yourself, however, it's important that the shelving on the bookcase you use is stable and able to support the necessary weight. A particle board unit assembled with plastic pins likely isn't the best candidate for this upcycling project.

10. Cat tree

Cats are notorious for climbing on, damaging, and generally wreaking havoc when it comes to furniture, so why not give them a piece of their own? As it turns out, a more open bookshelf can become the perfect base for a makeshift cat tree. Clear off anything you have stored, then place some cushions on the shelves to make them a bit more comfortable for your furry friend. If you're up for a more involved DIY, you can also coat the surfaces in a layer of carpet to give the cat more traction when climbing up and increase their overall comfort.

11. Minibar

Sure, bar carts are great, but why limit yourself to a station on wheels when it's likely going to stay in the same spot anyway? An old bookcase, especially one that's shorter, can act as a fantastic substitute. Use the shelves to hold bottles of your favorite liquors and liqueurs, display your most-used glassware, and provide a convenient location for items you frequently use when hosting, like pitchers, cocktail napkins, and coasters. If the top of the bookcase is a convenient height, this can also be transformed into a more functional surface to cut garnishes and mix cocktails with the inclusion of a cutting board and simple bar set.

12. Nail polish display

Having a large collection of nail polishes can give you significantly more flexibility when giving yourself a manicure, but they're essentially useless if you can't see all of your options when you're making your final color decision. Instead of just tossing all of your bottles into a bin, take a page out of the professional's book and display your polishes on a bookcase, similar to how they're shown off in the salon. If you find that the shelves are too deep and you can't see every bottle, a few multi-tiered spice racks can help to mitigate that issue and ensure everything is visible.

13. Mini mudroom

Not everyone has the luxury of a mudroom, but that doesn't mean that you have to put up with dirty footprints being tracked through the house. If you have a bookcase that you no longer care much about, consider bringing it outside as a space to drop off dirty shoes, wet umbrellas, and muddy toys before your family members make their way into the house. Keep the bookcase as-is if you're just looking for a simple way to repurpose your furniture, or add on hooks along the side for wet umbrellas and rubber liners to the shelves for easier cleaning to take it up a notch.

14. Plant bed

For how simple in design they are, raised plant beds can get really expensive. Luckily, a bookcase laid down flat on the ground is essentially the exact same thing. You can leave the shelves in or remove them depending on preference, then line your bed with a layer of fabric from the garden supply store to increase its durability while still ensuring excess water can escape. Fill the spaces with soil and get to work planting, and you have a DIY raised plant bed for a fraction of the effort it would take to build one on your own. 

15. Collection display

If you're a collector of anything, from figurines to flags, you need a place to display the items you've amassed. A simple bookcase — or two... or three — is one of the best options available. Fill the shelves with all of your favorite items to keep everything in one place, make sure they don't get damaged in storage, and ensure the hard work you did sourcing each and every one of these pieces doesn't go unnoticed. You could even paint the shelves a dark color or add some puck or LED lights to them to make for a more dramatic, museum-like display.

16. Clothing storage

Homes that are lacking in closet space can cause some major organizational issues, but a little DIY can go a long way. With the addition of a couple rods, an old bookcase can become an extension of — or a replacement for — a closet, especially for small baby clothes. If you're not ready to break out the drill to permanently install these rods, a tension curtain or shower rod can also do the trick in a pinch. Add one or two of these running horizontally to hang shirts and dresses, then keep a few shelves on the bottom to hold shoes, bags, and folded items like pants and shorts.

17. Shoe storage

If you find that your home boasts almost too much closet space, on the other hand, consider using bookcases as a way to better display and store the items that can't be hung on hangers, like shoes and purses. If your collection is minimal or your space is still on the fairly-small side, one regular-sized bookcase will likely do the trick and simply help to spruce up your existing organization. If you have a large walk-in, however, a few of these bookcases lining the walls can transform a fairly-boring storage space into something that feels like stepping into your own personal boutique.

18. China cabinet

The debate on whether or not china cabinets are outdated has been raging on in recent years, but there's a simple way to update that original concept to ensure you're left with the best of both worlds. More traditional china cabinets are often bulky and have an ornate style, but a simple bookcase can serve the same purpose in a much more modern way. Fill your shelving unit with all of your favorite glassware and special occasion plates and leave it as-is, or install some glass doors for an added layer of protection and polish over your collection.

19. Laundry room organizer

Creating a functional laundry room can be a major struggle, but if you have the available room, a repurposed bookcase can act as a hub for all of your laundry necessities. You could simply use your old bookcase for some extra organization if you're looking for a no fuss approach, but this is also an excellent opportunity to invest in some fancier glass jars and dispensers if you'd rather make your laundry day Instagram-worthy. Once your shelves are full, don't be afraid to utilize the sides of the bookcase, too. A couple of hooks can create space for steamers or ironing boards that are difficult to store.

20. Mini library

One bookcase sitting untouched in a vacant corner of the home might be an eyesore. Several of the same bookcase intentionally placed side-by-side, however, transforms a space into a library. If you're feeling like your bookcase isn't making much of an impact and you'd be better off with just a vacant wall, take a moment to consider flipping the mental switch from taking away to adding on. Display all of the books you have in your home, add in a few pieces of art or knickknacks here and there, then finish off the area with a plush chair, perfect to slip into your favorite novel.

21. Living room shelving

Finding the perfect spot to place a television, especially in older homes, is often more difficult than expected. If you enjoy the look of a built-in, an old bookcase can make for a streamlined combination of storage and a TV center. Remove or create a larger space between two shelves, then place your television right into this nook. After drilling a hole or two to run the wires through the back, you'll be left with a seamless console setup that doesn't dominate the room. Unfortunately, this only works with smaller televisions, so make sure to measure everything before you commit to the idea.

22. Pantry space

No matter how large your pantry is, it always seems like you need just a little bit more room. An old bookcase can help to solve that issue. Consider using this piece of furniture as an extension of — or replacement for — your existing pantry setup. It can be placed in an otherwise-unused area of the room, then filled to the brim with all of your go-to dry goods, seasonings, and snacks. If you're confident in your organizational skills, keep the front open and accessible, but if you're looking for something more pared down, consider adding on a door to hide the chaos within.

23. Bathroom organization

The bathroom is another one of those areas that can almost always benefit from an extra bit of storage and organization. Regardless of whether you need additional room for hair styling tools, kids' bath toys, extra towels, or all of the above, a bookcase can help. Because they're typically not very deep, they can sit fairly flat against the wall and help you take advantage of all of that underutilized, awkward space that would otherwise go to waste. Fill the shelves with plush towels to add luxury to your daily routine, or simply add on some baskets to seamlessly stow away clutter.

24. Bench seating

If you have a narrow bookcase on hand, it can act as an incredibly-useful base for quite a few projects. Once such project is a convenient bench seat that contains a hefty dose of storage between what used to be shelves. Flip your unit on its side, making sure it's a piece that's stable enough to actually support the weight of someone sitting on it. Then, simply toss on a couple cushions or build a custom seat to go on top. Add some storage cubes or baskets in the space below, and you have a piece that would go perfectly in an entryway or reading nook.

25. Headboard

Choosing a bed frame or headboard that incorporates storage is one of the best ways to maximize a smaller living space, but it's nothing revolutionary. What is interesting, however, is the fact that you can do this yourself without having to purchase a new piece of furniture. Take your old bookcase — or two, depending on the size of both the bed and the bookcases you have available to you — and place it where a headboard would go, securing it to the wall. This shelving will give off the same look as a traditional headboard but with much more storage and none of the excessive additional cost.