Skip to Content

How do you color coordinate bookshelves?

Decorating bookshelves with a cohesive color palette can pull together the look of a room and make your book collection aesthetically pleasing. Whether you want your shelves to blend into the background or stand out as a focal point, thoughtful color coordination is key.

Evaluate the Room

Before choosing colors for your shelves, take stock of the existing decor. Note the wall color, furniture tones, and any accents. Decide if you want the shelves to complement the room or provide contrast.

Cool wall colors like grays, greens and blues allow the shelves to pop in warm tones. Warm walls like tans, reds and yellows pair well with cool-toned shelves. For high contrast, go light on light or dark on dark. If your room has no predominant color scheme, you have the freedom to choose any palette.

Select a Base Color

The base color sets the overall tone for your shelves. Consider an already present color in the room. For example, blue shelves would coordinate with blue decor. If you want the shelves to stand out, choose a color not found elsewhere in the room.

Neutrals like white, black and natural wood tones are easy to match. Bolder hues make the shelves a focal feature. Go for bright colors like red or yellow only if the room decor is minimal. Darker saturations of any color add coziness to a room.

Add Accent Colors

Once you’ve selected a base color, consider one or two accent colors. Contrasting or complementary hues enrich the palette. Accent with paint on bookends, display items or shelf backs. Here are accent color ideas for common base colors:

  • White shelves – Accent with black, natural wood, bright primary colors
  • Black shelves – Accent with metallics, yellow, bright green
  • Wood shelves – Accent with teal, rust red, deep purple
  • Red shelves – Accent with gold, navy, dark green
  • Blue shelves – Accent with orange, yellow, silver

Add Patterns and Textures

Patterns and textures add visual interest to solid colored shelves. Consider these options:

  • Wallpaper – Use removable wallpaper to cover the back of shelves or bookends.
  • Fabric – Wrap boards in fabric for a soft backdrop. Felt and velvet are book-friendly options.
  • Paint techniques – Brush on stripes, polka dots or geometric shapes.
  • Wood finishes – Stain, paint or decoupage wood surfaces for texture.
  • Wall decals – Stick shapes, botanical prints or messages on shelves.

Organize Books by Color

Arranging books by color creates a spectrum that’s aesthetically pleasing. Start by sorting books into color families. For a subtle look, group just a few shelves by color. For high impact, organize the entire case this way. Here are tips for organizing by color:

  • Use the book spines as your guide rather than covers.
  • Sort into color families (reds, blues, greens) rather than specific hues.
  • Neutral spines can go on ends to transition between colors.
  • Small shelves look better with 3-5 colors. Larger shelves can hold a full rainbow.
  • Balance warm and cool tones as you move down shelves.

Display Decor Items

Fill empty spaces and tops of shelves with decorative accents. Match colors and materials to your shelf scheme. Consider displaying:

  • Framed artwork or prints
  • Vases, bowls or trays
  • Small plants, flowers or wreaths
  • Sculptures or figurines
  • Candles, lanterns or lights
  • Bookends or book straps

Avoid clutter by limiting accessories to a few impactful pieces. Change them out seasonally to keep your shelves looking fresh.

Use Colorful Lighting

Colored lighting casts a cohesive glow over shelves. Try these options:

  • Backlight shelves with LED strips.
  • Install sconces with colored shades.
  • Use adjustable bulbs in lamps.
  • Set up an uplight behind shelves.
  • String fairy lights along tops or fronts.

Choose lighting hues that complement your color scheme. For example, yellow lights enhance blue shelves while purple lighting pairs well with green. White lights keep the focus on pops of shelf color.

Add Color with Books

Books themselves can provide color on the shelves. Try these techniques:

  • Group sequels or series by cover colors.
  • Intermingle books horizontally by spines.
  • Stack books with colorful edges facing out.
  • Lay books flat to display covers.
  • Bookend shelves with volumes that match the color scheme.

Aim for splashes of color throughout open shelving. Enclosed cabinets let you create a hidden rainbow effect inside.

Use White or Wood for a Neutral Palette

For a lower-maintenance option, keep your shelves a neutral white or natural wood. Then add pops of color with:

  • Book jackets in hues like red, orange and lime green.
  • Decorative objects like colored vases, trays and sculptures.
  • Bright artwork, prints or photography.
  • Painted back walls in light blue, sage green, pink or coral.
  • Patterned wallpaper, fabric or contact paper.
  • Coordinating colorful lamp shades.

The neutral background lets the books and accents shine. Group items by color for an eye-catching effect.

Do’s and Don’ts

When coordinating shelf colors, keep these tips in mind:

Do Don’t
– Choose 2-4 coordinating colors – Use more than 4 colors
– Consider undertones (warm/cool) – Pair clashing undertones
– Balance light and dark values – Go all light or all dark
– Repeat accent colors throughout – Only use accents in one spot
– Keep high gloss/metallic accents minimal – Cover everything in shine
– Change displays seasonally – Leave displays stale

Color Palettes to Try

For inspiration, here are some cohesive bookshelf color palettes to consider:

Base Color Accent Colors
Navy Gold, ivory, mint green
Olive green Natural wood, black, orange
Light gray Peach, yellow, robin’s egg blue
Coral Sage green, mustard yellow, navy
Forest green Rust orange, cream, brown


Coordinating the colors on your bookshelves creates a pulled-together look for your book collection. Consider the room’s existing palette and your overall style goals. Select a base color and complement it with 2-3 accent colors. Add visual texture with patterns, lighting and displays. Organize your books aesthetically using color. With a thoughtful color scheme, your shelves become a stylish focal point rather than just storage.