How to Style a Bookcase - Part 2

Continuing on the topic from yesterday's post on bookcase styling, today I want to stress the importance of prepping the shelving unit before anything goes in it. There are a few stylistic and functional adjustments to consider:

1) Paint or wallpaper: will paint or wallpaper enhance the bookcase? If you have a built-in unit and want to keep it neutral, then add some flair by painting or papering the insides of the shelving compartments. It can add depth, contrast, and visual interest. Mirrors in the same area can create a cool effect too. Here are some examples from from Lonny:

Image via Lonny Magazine, design by Victoria Thompson

Image via Lonny Magazine, design by Lauren Gold

Image via Lonny Magazine, design by Ellie Somerville

Image via Lonny Magazine, design by Pereira Associates

2) Lighting: would the bookcase benefit from additional lighting? Picture lights along the top or sconces on the supports of the unit can highlight the shelves and provide ambient light to the room. Mini lamps are another option if you have electrical outlets in the unit...Jonathan Adler's Tiny Teardrop Lamp is perfectly sized for this.

Here is the bookcase from yesterday with Urban Electric's Melissa sconces...

This Balmore library unit made by Flamant has built-in swing arm sconces...

And a few more examples from Lonny...
Image via Lonny Magazine, design by Blair Clark

Image via Lonny Magazine, design by Lulu Powers

3) "Architectural" details: does the bookcase have interesting millwork or any special details? Some bookcases are stunning and require absolutely no modification (like the one above designed by Blair Clark) while others can benefit from a little nip-tuck. To amp up a boring unit, consider adding some trim molding, beadboard (to the back), or O'verlays.

O'verlays are fretwork panels designed to amp up case goods. They are great for cabinet doors...

Or you could use them on the supports of the unit. Here is what Ikea's Expedit bookcase could look like with O'verlays Greek Key by the foot around the perimeter...

So before you fill it with books and accessories, think about making minor adjustments to the bookcase. The overall look of the bookcase can be majorly improved with paint/wallpaper, lighting, and trimwork and any changes definitely need to made before starting the shelf styling process!

Have you altered a bookcase or TV unit with any of the elements above? Between client projects and my own house, I've done them all except the O'verlays. But I'm looking forward to trying those out soon!


  1. I love the look of the painted back of a book case. Great examples.

  2. I have a post scheduled for tomorrow about styling bookshelves based on a convo I recently had. I'm going to have to edit it and link back this two part post because it's very informative.

  3. Great posts! I'm not a big book collector -- part of me thinks that I won't read it twice, so why keep the book -- but I stumbled upon some of those classics at the book store and fell in love. They aren't just books, they're art!

  4. This series has been so helpful. I used to have tons of books but with my constant moving around.. I decided to get rid of most of them. Now, that I have a house, I'm kicking myself. *sigh* But the bit about buying lots from Ebay has been fruitful. I have two lots on their way to me. Yay!

    One quick question, where did you find those fab circle cabinet pulls? I love that they are big and I think they would look great in my family room.