Ideas for Painting Bookshelves

Colorful bookshelf designs brighten any room.
Ideas for Painting Bookshelves
Tom Greenspan
December 21, 2022

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Let's face it, bookshelves are just a functional item we have in our homes to store books, nothing less and nothing more. But, is there a way to freshen tired-looking bookshelves that can bring them into the theme of the room?

Bookshelves are one of those items that can be overlooked, so in this article, we will tell you how you can freshen up a dull bookshelf or even make it the focal point of the room that will surely spark some conversations.

Learn how to:

  • Upcycle 
  • Use bold colors 
  • Use items destined for the dumpster and create beautifully designed book shelves
  • The bottom line

If you are ready, let's dive in.

How can I make my bookshelves look better?

Here are three tips that will give style to your bookshelf without doing more than a little arranging.

  • Try adding a complementary color to the back of your bookshelf. Bold colors work well.
  • If you stack some of your books vary the sizes to create a more interesting look
  • Use bookend and display your books in order of size, the regimented look is neat and tidy.

Ultimately if your bookshelf has been neglected over the years while the rest of the room has received some TLC you can give your bookshelf a makeover and bring it into the 21st century.

You may have style and flair, but do you know what paint will give the best results? Some conventional paints, when used on wood, remain slightly tacky, which will ruin your books and make them lose their value.

Before you start painting, find some scrap timber and paint over it with the intended paint and color before you start painting in earnest. The best type of paint is Acrylic. It dries quickly and provides a nice finish. Not many interior designers know this fact.

1. Create a beautiful teal color home office

If you want to create a classic and elegant home office then the color really is an amazing choice. When combined with classic striped wallpaper and brass down lighting this simple bookshelf becomes an amazing piece of furniture that will dominate the office or study with a sense of classic design.

The addition of the chair at a small writing desk is masterful, have you noticed the books are arranged in order of size and color? It may not be the best way to arrange books but for aesthetics, it works sublimely.

The scattered ornaments are intriguing and make good use of otherwise empty shelf space.

How to create this look?

Painting a large bookshelf such as the one depicted is not as challenging as you may first think. Break the bookshelf down and flatten the previous paint coat, you can do this with fine-grit sandpaper or even a harsh 3M scouring pad or similar.

You can then paint with the teal color, teal is one of those colors that works well and fits in with a classic design.

The use of the brass downlights is an important feature and is easily connected to the top pelmet of the bookshelf.

Search for suitable doors and draw furniture, the ones used here are understated and work well with the design.

How easy is this look to achieve? It's very easy and a great DIY project. The important thing is to get the paint finish right. It may be better to spray this finish rather than use a brush, spraying gives a very even texture and even with a matte finish.

You can add the striped wallpaper after everything is painted and before you start assembling and dressing the bookshelves.

2. Affordable and contemporary bookshelves

You don't need a bookshelf that spans a whole wall filled with classic novels and encyclopedias to make something that looks fabulous in your home.

This bookshelf can be found in many homes and even at the flea market for a buck or two, but, the possibilities are endless with just a small amount of thought and half a tin of paint, upcycling furniture is a cool way of making something great for not a lot of money.

This gray tone is akin to the color of the navy ships so let's go with battleship gray as it's very versatile and can match with neutral tones in a room perfectly.

A perfect-sized bookcase for a small study or child's room.

How to create this look?

This is an easy one and can be attempted by anyone with basic skills, remove the shelves and rub-down the bookshelf with sandpaper, to provide a good key for the paint.

The backboards can be washed down with a diluted version of the paint, using a cloth to apply the paint as it needs to be added sparingly. You could even scorch the back of the bookcase to provide some contrast.

Dress the bookshelves with monochromes and some greenery for freshness and neutral colors until you have it filled with books.

How easy is this look to achieve? It's simple and uses upcycling. If you can find this style of bookcase in a market, you will enjoy the experience and will be motivated to look for cool pieces that can furnish your home in style.

If gray is not your color it's not a problem, you can achieve the same look with contrasting blue or light lime green. Experiment.

3. Blue in books are out!

If you think you can't make an artful piece of furniture from a pine bookshelf, then think again. In most homes, this bookshelf will be eyed for the garage for car parts or even the dumpster. But with the use of bold color you can achieve something wonderful that anyone would be proud to own.

The tree-tier bookshelf is painted in a shade of ocean blue while keeping the shelves natural timer is a remarkable testament to just what can be achieved for the modern home without spending too much hard-earned cash.

The sculptures and greenery add to the overall ambiance of the bookshelf.

How to create this look?

If you don't have this style of bookshelf then find one at the local Sunday flea market, there are many available.

Select the depth of blue you want, the dark shade of ocean blue is striking and should be emulated if you have a neutral room to place the bookshelves.

You can search again at the flea market for unusual sculptures that are abv to be reinstated to their former glory by a quick clean.

The addition of greenery will enhance the overall appearance and give some welcome contrast.

How easy is it to achieve this look? In this instance, the choice of paint is the key to the magnificence of the bookshelves. Go bold and deep, dark works best, black would kill the appearance so this blue works very well. 

The shelves can be flattened off and given a light coat of wood varnish for that easy-to-wipe surface.

4. The epitome of elegance on a budget

How do you display your Lladro and fine ornaments? Use a bookshelf that has been upcycled.

The dove gray paint and white boarded background is a combination that is timeless. The colors match with most furnishings and melt into the decor rather than shout “here I am, look at me”.

If you think that this piece of furniture was probably unwanted and destined for the log burner or dumpster, then it shows what can be done with the use of color and some carefully selected ornaments.

How to create this look?

Dove gray is a sublime color to work with and it accents just about any decor in a way that screams im stylish.

It would be simple to recreate this piece of furniture, (it's now elevated from bookshelves) with white paint to contrast the backboard and dove gray everywhere else.

Ornaments would be optional, and some nice black and white photos would be a sensational look for these bookshelves.

How easy is it to achieve this look?  To use this color, you will certainly need to have a little more prep than other colors.

Using a hand electric sander to remove imperfections from the cabinet and shelves.

5. No one said you had to use books!

If you are at the end of your tether with boring furnishings in your home then here is an opportunity to become adventurous on a budget.

This retro-style bookshelf is ideal for styling in your own manner, making a statement, being bold, and taking on the challenge.

The retro-style bookcase has been painted bright white to match the apartment decor, and then to bring life and design to the bookshelves chevron stripes have been added to the sides.

With the addition of complimentary pot wear the bookshelf has taken on a new life and purpose.

How to create this look?

It's another easy one. Paint the bookshelves bright white and then match contrasting chevron stickers, it’s quick, it's easy, it can't be messed up, you have nothing to lose and a couple of hours of fun to gain and a worthwhile piece of furniture at the end of your efforts.

How easy is it to achieve this look?  The paint is easy and you can assume you have the pottery items at hand.

If you can find sticky stripes then you will need to paint these, which will require some adept taping skills and the use of a protractor or set square to make the 45-degree angles perfect.

6. The circle of bookshelves

Why buy bookshelves when with a little imagination and literally in this case thinking outside of the box and in the circle you can create an original look to adorn your walls.

When tackling the ins and outs of a kid's room you have to take into consideration a lot of safety issues, can a kid pull a weighty bookshelf over that could cause an injury? It's a possibility as kids love to climb and once the center of gravity changes the inevitable happens.

Elevating the shelves makes sense; painting a circle and then placing the shelves inside the circle is a great idea and makes for the perfect look for a kid's room.

How to create this look?

Start with the longest shelf you think you need, and mark the center point. Measure the length and now hammer a tack into the center, attach a string and pencil at the correct radius, (half of the dimension of the circle) and draw your circle.

Paint within the perimeter and then add the shelves you could leave as plain wood or paint the same color.

Fix the shelves equal distances apart and add the toys and accents.

How easy is this look to create?  It may be more tricky than first meets the eye. The measurements need to be precise and the circle should be at least 3 feet in diameter to make any use of the shelves, and possibly bigger depending on what you want to place on the shelves.

Making a perfect circle with wall paint is going to be an effort but it's doable if you have lots of patience.

7. Elegance and style

Good news, you don't need to go dumpster diving for this piece of furniture, you will find it in trendy online stores specializing in bookshelves with architectural features, is it baroque? Palladian or Renaissance?

Whichever period the influence came from the bookshelf is certainly a beautiful piece of furniture.

However, so you are not disappointed, you still have the opportunity to customize the color yourself. The cream color goes perfectly in this room with neutral colors and tones.

Would it look better in a deep blue or another bold color? It's hard to think you could improve on how it looks in the image.

How to create this look?

These stunning bookshelves or ornamental showcase whichever you prefer is an item bought in from a store, so your creative juices will need to exude when you are online as this eye-catching set hits you square between the eyes.

Dress the shelves with neutrals if you decide to use books as it was intended for then use uniform heights and colors as depicted in the very 1st image in this sequence.

How easy is this look to create?  You have very little work or input other than dressing the shelves to your liking.

8. Creativity and design meet head-on!

No one ever suggested that you had to use only a single color to make something spectacular in your home!

The shelving partitions have made this built-in bookshelf have turned this dull unattractive timber gloss-painted unit into something that you may want to keep in the room.

The multi-colored soft tones of the inner compartments set out the intention of disrupting the previous status quo and may well have been a reaction to the benign austere nature of the previous cabinet.

Does the technicolor work on bookshelves? It's certainly subjective and a matter of personal taste.

How to create this look?

Take one dilapidated set of shelves and partition the shelves randomly. Paint the inners with equal random abandonment and hope for the best.

Seriously, if the cabinet was dressed it would possibly look like a million dollars, the use of pastels is a smart choice as pastels are very forgiving colors to use.

How easy is it to achieve this look?  It's easy but time-consuming, assuming each partition is the same size you could head to your local timber merchant and get the partitions cut for you.

Fixing the partitions may be tricky without the use of a nail gun but with perseverance, it's a doable DIY task.

Painting the compartments is going to be tedious because you will need to have a couple of paint brushes of different colors on the go at the same time to make any real progress in a shart space of time.

9. Wall niche contrasted

If you have a wall niche you may feel it's a wasted feature and need to be made good use of. Well, turn your wall niche into bookshelves and jazz up the room with some unexpected contrasting colors.

When home decorating it's so easy to toe the line and be conventional in your approach, and why not, in most cases conventional achieves some great looks for your homes.

But, adding a bold accent color in a wall niche can elevate the other neutral colors in the room and add some wow factor to the room.

How to create this look?

Assuming you already have the wall niche you will need to add well-spaced shelves so you can add books and other ornaments as you see fit to represent your own style.

Assess your room color scheme and find a bold color that will match but elevate the room, a white room could easily take gar or dark blue. Darkes walls use light accents.

How easy is this look to achieve? It's not complicated, the shelves are simple to cut and fit, the key is selecting the right color, using some color cards, and then using a paint sample to place some colors in the niche before committing yourself.

10. More books than money

Some of you just love to read almost nonstop and accumulate stacks of books that outgrow bookshelves, so how can you address the situation on a budget?

Stacked painted concrete blocks with strong timber stretched along to make shelves are cheap, it makes an unconventional look and you can extend your bookshelves as much as you please.

Of course, a rugged look like this needs the right environment to work, it would never work in a painted living room in suburbia.

If you have an unfinished loft then this could be an ideal situation and it shouts volumes about your ingenuity and preparedness to adapt your style.

How to create this look?

Undoubtedly you need the right room for this look, if you don't have an unfinished vibe in your room then this look is not going to work. 

Assuming you have the room then this is simple, paint the concrete blocks whatever color you wish, and then use boards to place your books on. 

The designer missed a trick, scaffolding boards would have made the best shelving if they were available to complete the construction theme.

How easy is this look to achieve? Again, if you have the room to accept this design then it's like building a wall, easy.

11. Keep it simple keep it budget-friendly

Wooden cates have always been an attractive option for those who are financially challenged and even for those of you who just can't resist a bargain and like to be inspired.

This is pure genius and so affordable there will likely be a scarcity of wooden crates in the future!

The simplicity of the design and the use of the dove gray and pastel blue match perfectly to make these throw-away items of value in anyone's home.

Wooden crates are strong and robust and can be used for more than just books, place this design at a rear door and place your muddy boots in a contained area.

How to create this look?

Or should it be said how to crate this look? It's simple and easy to do. You need to find some decent wooden crates and sand them down if they are marked. It adds to the character, so don't discard a marked crate.

You can paint any color you wish, but dove gray with a pastel blue base does look amazingly good.

How easy is it the achieve this look? It's so easy. It's Child's play, in fact, once the crates are screwed together, and a solid block, why not let your child help to paint them.

12. If modern rings your bell, look no further

Sometimes you need more than what's on offer to create the item that you desire, which will be functional and be an expression of your ideas and style.

The simple cube and open-ended shelf represent a desire for minimalistic living and a simple lifestyle. The background colors and textures may suggest a level of austerity, but the truth is, simple design and the use of textures can be comforting.

It's unclear if drill holes and plugs are by design or if there was just a lack of filler available at the time of painting the wall.

But it's clear that this is a one-off piece of artful design.

How to create this look?

Natural timber that has been finished, perfect miter joints for the cube, and reverse open shelf.

Minimal books and a small plant, the walls are part of the design so would these modern shelves work in a contemporary setting?

How easy is it to achieve this look? It's not difficult, it's maybe worth making a jig for right-angles before proceeding, the design is quite precise with angles and the extended length of wood.

13. When is a door not a door?

When you think you have seen every ingenious design on the planet, someone comes up with something so simple you just have to have it in your home.

Upcycling is great for the environment and we should become more involved if possible. But when it comes to design this is clever beyond belief.

The panels removed for the door and shelves inserted, it just has to make you grin from ear to ear.

The self-supporting structure can fit literally in any room and be the perfect contrast and focal point of the room.

The simple lime wash leaves every contour of the wood to be admired and envied.

How to create this look?

You will need an old panel door that you can remove the panels from and repurpose as shelves, you will need to do some prying of nails and cutting on the shelves to get the angle just right. 

You can opt for a green lime wash or choose another color best suited to your own decor.

How easy is it to achieve this look? Not as easy as it appears, old doors are plentiful and you can pick one up from an architectural yard that is repurposing and upcycling building materials.

Your cuts will need to be precise for the angle of the door that is integral to the support.

The bottom Line

Painting bookshelves in your home is a must if only to freshen up the room. But, with thought, you can create spectacular pieces of furniture in a short space of time by basically using contrasting colors.

They say being bold favors the brave, it also favors the designer as incredible designs are made.

But don't forget simplicity, concrete blocks and wooden crates being functional and solving real problems of how to store books and other items in your home.

When you think about how simple and easy it is to add style and elegance to a home for not a lot of money it's surprising that more people are not taking advantage of what they have and making statement pieces for the homes from items that were destined for the dumpster.