Built-in bookcases are a custom touch in any family room, library, or living room, giving the room architecture, storage, and well…a place to put all our, ahem, “collectibles.” Stuff, as my teenage daughter would say. Usually lots of stuff.
Based on my experience I’d like you to consider one idea before you load up your brand-new built-ins right after the contractor has departed. Consider putting a textured wallpaper or an actual paint color at the back of the cabinets or bookshelves! It will make a world of difference, and you’ll be happy with the results, I promise. Seldom does the semi-gloss white trim paint that adorns a whole built-in cabinet look crisp and stunning when it’s glaring across the back of the entire bookshelf.
Pictured below are some examples of my clients’ built-ins where we put wallpaper or fabric as the interesting, but understated “backdrop” for the collectibles they chose to display. My favorite backdrop is grasscloth wallcovering. The blue Phillip Jeffries grasscloth Soho Hemp, 5508, Color Broadway Blues (https://www.phillipjeffries.com/shop/CARD-NAT-SOHOHE/5508/) shown in the photo is a perfect fit for behind the display shelves of this transitional living room. If you use this technique make sure you pay particular attention to the width of the paper in your selections since you don’t want to have any seams from the wallpaper. The Color Broadway Blues grasscloth was perfect since it came in rolls that were 36” wide, which was wide enough for a seamless application.
The next photos are of family room from my client and their beautiful slate gray built-in cabinetry. We put another Phillip Jeffries paper at the back, one that has a metallic/texture combination that is small scale (Metallic Paper Weave 3531 Chromium, https://www.phillipjeffries.com/shop/CARD-4-METWEAVE/3531/). The wonderful thing about this product is that it is an “engineered” grasscloth, so even if there are seams they don’t show very much, or at all.
My client was planning to do more styling on her bookshelves after I took these photos (during the same trip that I installed the faux roman valances I had fabricated), so I am sure the bookshelves are a lot more dressed now. Just gorgeous custom cabinetry, I know she was pleased.
When deciding on a suitable paper or color for the back of shelves, remember that the backdrop should not detract from the “main event.” Sort of like when you take close-up photographs; the background should be fuzzy and the object in front should be the crisp focal point. Your objects should pop like that. A busy wallpaper, especially a larger geometric, will fight your collectibles.
The next photo shows a current project of mine where we are currently selecting the wallcovering for the backs of the bookshelves. When you compare how the white of the shelves in this photo compares with the blue in the first photo you can see what a difference a colored background can make. I’ll update you with an “after” photo when we’re done!
Finally, here’s a photo of a project of mine where the client wanted to accent the gray scheme in red, but in an updated way. We chose to use red very prominently in the area rug (not shown), fabric on the backs of the built-ins, and the same fabric as edging on the cornices. A bold accent color can go a long way. When selecting where you will put the accent color, a bookshelf gives you the opportunity to feature that color in a ceramic or art piece, which will delight the eye as it searches around the room for the accent. As a general design rule you should always strive to use an accent color in at least 3 places in a room; preferably at different heights.
As for styling those new bookshelves with object and books, it looks easy. But it’s not. It takes time and lots of good “raw ingredients” are needed to make your built-in shelves look effortless, stylish and perfect. Unless you’re hiring your designer to style your bookcases, I would recommend you take a first pass yourself, and then invite over trusted friend to make a second pass.
There are lots of websites available that can give you good rules and tips for actually styling a bookcase or bookshelf, so I won’t go into details on that here. Just remember a few key tips as you gather your items to create your masterpiece:
I invite you to browse through my wallpaper vendors to see if you might want me to order some swatches to consider for the back of your bookshelves. Here’s a previous blog on wallpaper to get you started:
You might also want to check out my blog for a super cool idea of how to turn a stack of books into art. This is genius! https://www.centerstageinteriordesigns.com/blog/hospitality-industry-rocks-design
Whatever you do I hope that you have a good experience with your new bookcases. They really do pack a huge decorative punch in a room, and should be thoughtfully and deliberately planned.
Here’s wishing all of you a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday weekend! Needless to say, I’m thankful for each and every moment, opportunity, and the wonderful people I meet in my both my professional interior decorating and personal life.
Barbara Phillips, interior designer and owner of Center Stage Interior Designs, has delivered impeccable window treatments and design services to both residential and commercial clients in Massachusetts since 2001.