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How to Decorate Bookshelves

by Nina Makofsky

Well decorated ladder bookshelf

Things You Need:

  • Paint
  • Paintbrush
  • Lighting
  • Storage containers
  • Decorative Items
  • Books

In the arena of home decor, nothing seems simpler than decorating bookshelves. However, you do not need to settle for bookshelves stuffed haphazardly with books. Consider your bookshelves art galleries with the potential for hosting rotating exhibits that showcase your favorite artworks, souvenirs, family heirlooms, flea market finds and even stylish storage containers. Your bookcases may serve merely as functional background furniture, or they may create a dramatic focal point or decorative accent in the room.

Decorating Bookshelves:

  1. Prepare your bookshelves for decorating. Remove all of your items from your bookcases and give every shelf a thorough cleaning.

  2. Consider painting or finishing your bookshelves. Stain wooden shelves a light shade for a breezy Scandinavian modern or country look, or a dark stain for a more classic or stark minimalist look. A coat of antique whitewash or an icy pastel imparts a shabby-chic tone, while bright orange, lime green or sunny yellow adds some funk. Go crafty and try a two-tone job, such as indigo paint on the book case frame and light periwinkle blue on the inside backing of the shelves. You can line the backing with wallpaper, gift wrap or fabric to give your bookshelves some texture. However, be aware that bolder patterns can diminish any accessories you plan to display.

  3. Consider lighting. You have a few choices in this regard. In-cabinet mounted lighting, which illuminates the whole shelf, works best if you want to display a collection of art or objects and make it a focal point. For a more casual approach, drill a small hole in the back of a shelf and feed a table lamp cord through it. Also, frame book shelves with wall sconces or table lamps, or suspend pendant lights or miniature spotlights overhead.

  4. Accessorize your bookshelf. Begin with functional pieces, such as storage baskets, buckets or containers for hiding small objects and daily detritus. You will want these containers within easy reach but not so low down that people can see into them while seated. Stacking book cases with books seems like a no-brainer, but you can choose from a few approaches. You can display big art books with cool covers or collectible books jacket-out, like paintings. This look works well for kitschy covers, too, like pulp fiction classics. Some people organize book covers by color, size or theme. You can do groupings of books set off by bookends or you can make book stacks.

  5. Add decorative elements. Bookends can range from simple storage containers to sculptural pieces. Paintings -- either propped against the back of the bookshelf or displayed on a miniature table easel -- look perfect in combination with books. Use a couple of hardcover books as a pedestal for a small statue or line up larger pieces on top of the book shelves. Candles and candelabras can break up shelves predominated by the geometric shapes of books and paintings.


  1. Keep bookshelf decorations fresh by rearranging and editing them regularly.

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