How Many Different Ways Can You Paint a Bookshelf?

A limit does not exist.

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These past few months, creativity has been at an all-time high: We’ve built our dream homes (virtually, of course) and pulled together flower arrangements to brighten up dining tables–turned–desks. What’s one more project? If you’re itching for a new artistic escape, try painting your bookshelf. Depending on how involved your design is, it’s a low-lift way to spend an afternoon—and a great method for using up all those sample pots from past quarantine endeavors that have been cluttering your cupboards. Not to mention, changing up your scenery is a proven mood booster. 

Whether you’re ready to spice up bland built-ins or are in search of some way to upgrade that IKEA piece you’ve had since college, start by checking out these seven spaces. There’s a DIY idea for everyone; rookies welcome.

Elevate Floating Shelves

Ideal for: Finishing up leftover paint from your last renovation. 

The tip: So you picked up a few slabs of lumber from your local hardware store—don’t settle for plain wood. Take a page from designer Ola Zwolenik and coat each surface in a shade that matches the walls to make shelves look bespoke. 

Create a Rainbow Room

wall of built in bookshelves with rainbow colored backings
Photography by Alice Gao; Design by Front Studio

Ideal for: Packing a punch in a white-box space. 

The tip: With almost every cubby a different color, this storage wall is easily the focal point of this Manhattan penthouse by Front Studio Architects. Start at the top and work your way down to avoid any accidental smudging. 

Draw On Eyeliner

green and white bookcase behind pink armchair
Photography by Agathe Tissier-Dumont; Design by Camille Architectures

Ideal for: Appealing to the detail-oriented decorator.

The tip: Similar to Luke and Joanne Duong Bartels’ wall-tracing, this is an easy way to bring a graphic pop to your bookcase. Once you’ve given the backs of the unit a fresh lick of paint—choose a deep emerald or rich navy for maximum effect—follow Camille Hermand’s lead and go over the fronts in white to add a bold border. 

Make the Backing the Star 

emerald green build in bookcase in living room
Photography by Simon Brown; Design by Beata Heuman

Ideal for: Bringing flair to dull built-ins. 

The tip: In this Beata Heuman–designed townhouse, a Kelly green base sets the scene for a number of items, from stacks of hardbacks to a bar (which, coincidentally, is another way to make a bookshelf interesting). Pick your favorite saturated hue, and use a detail brush to perfectly cover every edge. 

Or Invert the Go-To

living room with wooden bookcase painted blue
Photography by Gillian Lawlee

Ideal for: Creating unexpected contrast in flat-pack shelves. 

The tip: On the other end of the spectrum sits Gillian Lawlee’s DIY, a cool inside-out look. If you have a stand-alone bookcase in need of a little TLC—IKEA’s Billy series comes to mind—paint the exterior and leave the insides bare. Bonus points for matching the tint to nearby door trim

Take a Love of Monochrome Even Farther

bright blue wall colors and built-in bookshelf in home office
Photography by Nina Choi

Ideal for: Turning any room into a jewel box. 

The tip: Powder room? Hallway? Study? You can make a splash in any smaller space by enveloping every surface in the same shade—in Joshua Greene and Katrina Hernandez’s home, it’s an electric blue. If you have a bit more time to spare on your project, take the same tone used on a shelving unit to the walls, cabinets, and even counters. 

Try Some Basic Color-Blocking

blue and yellow bookshelf for nursery
Photography by Johnny Fogg

Ideal for: Transforming a storage pocket into a design moment. 

The tip: In her nursery, Piera Gelardi pits mustard yellow ledges against a cerulean backdrop. It’s a tiny update (all you have to do is take out each board, paint it, and let it fully dry before sliding it back into place), but if you’re thinking of refurbishing a similarly narrow corner, it makes a big difference. 

Introducing Domino’s new podcast, Design Time, where we explore spaces with meaning. Each week, join editor-in-chief Jessica Romm Perez along with talented creatives and designers from our community to explore how to create a home that tells your story. Listen now and subscribe for new episodes every Thursday.