Built-in bookcases are a sought-after feature in homes, providing storage and display space. But often, these potentially beautiful features are bland, boring, and builder-basic. It makes sense, really- not everyone has the same taste, so builders just paint these built-ins the most unoffensive color (or lack thereof) possible- white. While white built-in bookcases can be a great look in the right room, they are not right for every style. Take a look at some suggestions for updating your built-ins from an experienced interior designer.

Paint for contrast

paint your built-in bookcases

MJN & Associates Interiors


The bookshelves and fireplace mantel above started out white and lacked presence, despite taking up so much wall space. Thanks to their new darker hue, the bookcases help define the space and add architectural interest, with rich black paint providing a value contrast with the wall color.

Paint to match wall color

bringing out detail in built-in bookcases

decorative painting by Kass Wilson


Sometimes instead of aiming for contrast, it’s better to help built-ins blend in by painting them the same color as the walls. These built-ins didn’t come into their own until they received a beautiful decorative finish by Kass Wilson. The boring, washed-out white broke up the room while obscuring the details of the shelves. Painting them and the surrounding walls a warmer color gives the room instant ambiance, and dark glazing brings out the fluting and the unique arched shape of the bookshelves.

Paint the backs

adding color to built-in bookshelves

via Pinterest


Want to make your built-ins the focal point of the room and highlight your collection or display? Paint the back a different, contrasting color! The blue paneled backing on the shelves above is a perfect way to draw attention to the space while also adding some coastal interior design style.

Add fabric or wallpaper to backs

how to decorate built-in bookcases

via Pinterest

Sometimes all it takes to give a space some personality is a bit of pattern. You can line the back of your built-ins with a fabric that matches your decor, or even mix and match a few different, coordinating designs.

At MJN & Associates Interiors, we love helping our clients bring out the personality in their homes! Contact us today to discuss your residential interior design needs.