What Color to Paint the Back of Bookcase?

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Transforming tired bookcases into eye-catching focal points is easier than you may think. A simple coat of paint can revitalize shelving and completely change the ambiance of a room. From moody hues that make displayed items pop to unexpected colorful accents, the possibilities are endless.

This comprehensive guide explores popular paint colors for bookcases along with expert styling and coordination tips. You’ll also uncover unique techniques, like painting just shelf interiors or using wallpaper backs, that liven up any space.

The article includes practical painting guidance as well, from proper prep and products to techniques for a flawless finish. With an array of examples, decor ideas, and how-to’s, this piece is a must-read for anyone looking to give their bookcase and room a new lease on life with a fresh paint job.

Tips for painting bookcases


  1. Choose a paint color that complements the existing decor in the room. For example, pick a neutral tone if going for a calming vibe or a vibrant shade to liven up a kids’ room.
  2. Only paint the backs of the shelves if you want the displayed items to stand out more. The color will highlight objects without being overwhelming.
  3. Thin out clutter and books to feature more empty space if you paint shelves a bold color. This prevents a cluttered look and allows the hue to shine.
  4. Add coordinating artwork or accessories around the room that feature the paint color. This ties the bookcase into the overall aesthetic.
  5. Use high-quality acrylic latex paint and properly prepare surfaces for smooth coverage. Sand, clean, and prime before painting.
  6. Try unique approaches like two-toned shelves, patterned wallpaper backs, or painting the interior of shelves only. This adds visual interest.

Subtle and Neutral Tones

For a subtle change, stick with neutral tones like off-whites, beiges, light taupes, and soft greys. These colors are versatile and won’t overwhelm a space or distract from other decor. Neutrals create a soothing, welcoming backdrop for displayed items.

Styling tip: To keep the focus on decor rather than just the paint color, leave plenty of empty space on shelves. Aim for at least one-third of each shelf to remain open. Mix in some vertically stacked books with horizontally laid items and objects of different heights.

Rich, Dark Hues

Painting the backs of shelves a deep color like navy, black, dark grey, or forest green spotlights displayed objects. These moody hues provide an eye-catching background so decor really pops. Dark paint also lends a glamorous, refined look.

Styling tip: Showcase bright white and metallic decor against dark shelves. Add artwork in the same deep shade to the surrounding walls to tie everything together. Fill shelves close to capacity with books to evoke the feel of an old library.

Vibrant, Saturated Colors

Make a lively statement with saturated hues like citron yellow, grassy green, tomato red, or electric blue. These fun, youthful colors inject energy and transform dreary bookcases into whimsical focal points. Vibrant paint works well in kids’ spaces, dens, and eclectic rooms.

Styling tip: Stick to one vibrant color to keep things from looking too chaotic. Incorporate artwork, pillows, and accessories around the room in the chosen hue. Leave some shelves empty to Prevent an overly cluttered look.

Two-Toned Shelves

Give your bookcase extra dimensions with two-toned shelves. For example, paint the sides and backs of shelves a moody navy, but use crisp white on inner edges and dividers. Or vice versa – white backing with navy edges.

Two similar tones like light and dark grey or soft peach and coral work well. Just be sure both colors have the same value (lightness/darkness). Two-toned shelves have visual interest while still feeling cohesive.

Match Wall Color

If you can’t decide on a paint color, choose one already used in the room. Matching the backs of shelves to wall color makes the bookcase appear built-in and seamlessly integrated. This expands the feel of the room.

Deep, saturated wall colors work best for blending in smaller rooms. In larger rooms, match a soft neutral wall color. Ensure the rest of the case coordinates by choosing trim and sides in a similar hue.

Paint Inside of Shelves

Instead of the backing, paint the inside of shelves to transform bookcases. This technique looks great with light, bright colors like sunny yellow, robin’s egg blue, and misty rose. Use white or natural wood tone for the outside to prevent too much visual competition.

Painted interiors spotlight displayed objects and add a fun pop of color. For a beachy look, try pale blue backs and yellow shelf interiors. Or go modern with white outside and orange shelves.

Patterned Wallpaper Backs

Give your bookcase a unique look with wallpapered backs. Choose a print that coordinates with the room’s style. Florals look pretty in cottage rooms while graphic prints add modern flair. Neutral-toned shelves keep the focus on the wallpaper.

Painting Tips

  • Prep surfaces thoroughly by cleaning, lightly sanding, and priming before painting. This helps the paint adhere smoothly.
  • For best results, use high-quality acrylic latex paints. They provide good coverage and are easy to work with.
  • Use a small paintbrush to carefully paint edges and corners. Then use a mini foam roller for large backgrounds.
  • Do 2-3 thin coats of paint rather than 1 thick coat for a smooth professional look.
  • Give paint plenty of time to dry between coats to prevent drips or tackiness.

Painting your bookshelves opens up many possibilities. With some planning and effort, you can give your bookcase and space an entirely new look and feel. Have fun exploring different paint colors and styles to create your own custom focal point.

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