Painting Backs of Bookcases

Painting the backs of bookcases can bring a fresh and captivating look to your living space. Whether you’re aiming to create a bold contrast, a subtle backdrop or an artistic masterpiece, this often overlooked canvas offers a world of creative possibilities. Here are some of the ways I’ve done it:

Duxbury Garden home before
Duxbury Garden Home (before)

This is a terrible before image from the living room of my Duxbury Garden Home project. And below is the after. Since there was very little other contrast between the wall and trim in the space – the painted backs of the bookcases really added a great finishing touch to the room and made the displayed items really stand out.

Duxbury Garden Home painting back of bookcases
Design by Linda Merrill | Photo by Michael J. Lee Photography

My Modern Coastal project was another fairly neutral space. There was only 1 set of bookcases aside the fireplace but by painting just that one set – it balanced out the color across the room.

Painted back of bookcases in a modern coastal home
Modern Coastal home renderings by Linda Merrill
Linda Merrill Design colorful modern coastal living room sofa console
Modern Coastal Home design and photography by Linda Merrill

Here are some other examples of painted back of bookcases I created using AI assisted design:


I like carrying the bold background color across the wall including the space above the fireplace. As it does with the items on the bookshelves, the painting and accessories on the mantel have a night back ground to pop against.


Painting or wallpapering the backs of bookcases can have a transformative effect on the overall aesthetics of a room. This creative approach offers several benefits that can enhance the visual appeal and ambiance of your living space:

  1. Visual Interest and Depth: Adding color or pattern to the back of a bookcase instantly adds depth and visual interest. It creates a focal point that draws the eye, making the bookcase a more captivating element in the room.
  2. Enhanced Décor: A painted or wallpapered back panel can serve as a backdrop to display your books and decorative items more effectively. It provides a contrast that makes the items on the shelves pop, creating a more dynamic and curated look.
  3. Room Cohesiveness: Coordinating the color or pattern on the back of the bookcase with the room’s existing décor can tie the space together. This can help achieve a more cohesive and harmonious interior design.
  4. Accentuate Style: The choice of color or wallpaper pattern allows you to accentuate your personal style. Whether you’re going for a minimalist, eclectic, modern, or traditional look, the back of the bookcase can reflect and reinforce that style.
  5. Versatility and Flexibility: Painting or wallpapering offers flexibility in design. If you’re someone who enjoys changing up the room’s aesthetics periodically, a painted or wallpapered back panel provides a relatively easy and cost-effective way to refresh the space without completely overhauling the room.
  6. Economical Update: Revamping the back of your bookcases is a budget-friendly way to update the look of a room. You can achieve a significant visual impact without the expense of major furniture purchases or renovations.
  7. Personal Expression: Whether you choose a bold color, a subtle hue, or an intricate wallpaper pattern, the back of the bookcase can be a canvas for personal expression. It allows you to infuse your personality and creativity into the room’s design.
  8. Illusion of Space: Lighter colors or reflective wallpapers can create an illusion of more space and brightness, making the room feel larger and more open.
  9. Customization: Painting or wallpapering the back of a bookcase gives you the opportunity to customize your furniture and living space. It’s a chance to tailor the bookcase to your preferences, making it a unique and personalized feature in your home.
  10. Aesthetic Impact: Ultimately, the back of a bookcase is a vertical surface that’s often overlooked. By taking advantage of this space, you can significantly elevate the overall aesthetic impact of the room, turning a functional piece of furniture into a design statement.

Whether you choose to paint or wallpaper the backs of your bookcases, the process allows you to experiment with colors, patterns, and textures to create a harmonious and stylish environment that reflects your personality and design sensibilities.

(Pin for future reference)

Painted Backs of Bookcases Pin

16 thoughts on “Painting Backs of Bookcases”

  1. Awesome advice Linda! That’s funny – I did not think of false wall but the same carpenter did actually put a false wall and ceiling in our weird 1930’s pantry that was super deep and had a ceiling that went to nowhere! Thanks so much, you’re the best. Now to figure out a wallpaper because I think I’m psyched to wallpaper the bookcase. :) Have a great day.

  2. Such a great topic and highly effective design tool! I love your great real life examples (the Duxbury Garden Home project has long been a favorite!) along with the terrific Canva AI images!

  3. Perfectly placed color makes a great difference! You balanced out that modern white space with the extra detail in the bookcase, really gives the room an unexpected wow factor.

  4. I love this blog post Linda, it is the perfect example of how color that is painted in a small area can make a very BIG difference in a house! A great post with great images, a win-win!

    • Thanks Lisa! Still working on word prompts and Canva is more limited than MidJourney for AI images but I don’t find I can use Midjourney at all for some reason – even with instructions!

  5. I loved this post, Linda, and seeing how much just painting the back of a bookcase can do to give a room a sense of complete cohesiveness. Thanks for all of the examples!

  6. Your paint colors are beautiful and so are your designs Linda and your post has inspired me! Question, I have a built-in bookcase that I had installed when the children were young. It was back in the day when I had the giant computer on a desk in the corner of the room and we needed a giant printer for their homework. I wanted at least the printer to be a bit out of the way and less intrusive looking. Back then, with the introduction of the internet, parents were warned to have the computer in plain sight to moniter the content that the children were pulling up. So I had the shelves made very deep to accommodate the printer (the shelves are 16″ deep and the case is 32″ wide inside). I’ve always thought that I was in the mood to paint or wallpaper the built-in, especially now that a printer is no longer in the case. If I paint, would I just paint the back wall and not the sides of the bookcase? If I wallpaper, would I just wallpaper the back wall and not the sides? The trim around the built-in and the built-in itself is white. I think that I have delayed in painting or wallpapering because of the depth of the shelves. P.S. Our walls were not deep enough for such a deep built-in but the carpenter installed it so that the back of the built-in juts out over the stairway leading to our basement which is on the other side of our room. He was so clever!

    • Hey Mary Beth – Craft on the part of your carpenter! I would paint both the back and sides in a lighter color but if you wanted to go darker and bolder then only the backs. Same with a wallpaper. If you don’t need the depth – which can be tricky to fill well – you could be false back walls in to bring them back to a more standard depth?

  7. Hello Linda, Wow, this is like a miracle–your post and all the photos popped up immediately and with no overlapping or other problems! Even better, I loved the theme of this post. Your back-painted bookcases are all beautiful examples. In addition to all the advantages you pointed out, I think that this kind of painting can subtly introduce an interesting color into a room without an elephant-in-the-room giant burst of color (which is fine if you plan it, but sometimes can just take everything over). Finally, wood stains and finishes can come in many colors and effects, and so could be considered along with painting. In Cleveland I had an antiqued-fruitwood china cabinet that seemed to enhance any object placed upon it. One final thought is that dark bookshelves could have their backs painted a shade or two lighter, to avoid that dark cave effect.

    • Hi Jim – I’m so glad you’re finally able to read my posts again! No idea what changed but I’ll take it! Great thoughts on wood backgrounds and not going to dark – you’re so right about a cave effect!


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.