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Library wall makeover?

Kelly Nelson
2 months ago

This is a new home and we have this enormous bookcase. I would prefer to have more wall space but my husband loves it so it's here to stay. BTW, he unpacked and "arranged" the shelves. Very sweet of him, but I will be working on it when he's occupied elsewhere. :) My question is - should I paint the shelves? I feel like this warm mid-tone wood is distracting. I'd love to paint it the same wall hue (BM Simply White), but in satin. And maybe even paint the back wall of the shelves a contrasting color - there's a lot blue and coral in the furnishings. A friend suggested putting mirror glass in some of the larger openings and showcasing some art glass. I don't know. Another idea is to stain the wood a dark shade, like the antique pieces and our fireplace mantels. I like a serene and non-cluttered vibe, with the focal point being the floor to ceiling windows and view beyond.




Comments (51)

  • kandrewspa
    2 months ago

    I like the color of it also as it appears to go with your floor.

    Kelly Nelson thanked kandrewspa
  • nickel_kg
    2 months ago

    More books ... like a thousand more books ... and fewer gee-gaws ... and it'll be fabulous! I love the library ladder.

    Kelly Nelson thanked nickel_kg
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  • PRO
    Patricia Colwell Consulting
    2 months ago
    last modified: 2 months ago

    IMO if uncluttered is your vibe take them out hubby or no hubby. To me these were doen to hold books not decor and what on earth will you display and dust on the shelves only reachable with a ladder. I love the ladder so maybe try moving the clutter on the bottom shelves to spread all that stuff out to fill all the shelves sparsely that might work

    Kelly Nelson thanked Patricia Colwell Consulting
  • HU-457756048
    2 months ago

    I like them in the abstract as I have had scads of books before downsizing and always drooled over photos of library rooms. Aesthetically, I agree with Patricia that if most of the shelves, especially uppers, aren’t filled with books, then it’s a misinterpretation of this type of shelving and will just like a mess. Not to mention, now that I’m older my practical side says, who gonna climb up that ladder, so realistically books will just be for show unless you’re a true collector ( I would include other types of collectible media that fit on shelves also- )where owning them is the goal.

    Are any of the shelves adjustable? I noticed that there are some larger spaces. If you are keeping the wall full in some way, perhaps you could create several large spaces for art, possibly calm art! Or some kind of spacing that’s more symmetrical. Usually “ balance”, not so much symmetry, is a goal for shelf arranging, but this is a whole lotta shelf to balance.
    Other types of collections that might work here are a repetition of wooden boxes or similar.
    So book lover that I am, I might nonetheless find this particular installation not helpful in goals for storage and/ or display.
    But, it doesn’t seem like something you have to decide right away.

    Kelly Nelson thanked HU-457756048
  • Kendrah
    2 months ago

    I vote for painting them white because they are a lot of look. Having them only half full if they are white will look much better because they will sort of disappear.

    Kelly Nelson thanked Kendrah
  • CNH 320
    2 months ago
    last modified: 2 months ago

    I like the wood but I think white would look better if you're mainly going to be putting art pieces and display items because I feel like you would see the items better. I also like the idea of painting the back different in spots. Maybe pick a few different colors and do it randomly? I'm sure you could test it some way before actually painting to get an idea of what it would look like. Personally I would fill it with movies and tv series but just because that's what I like. I don't have room for a lot now and because of being able to stream stuff it's not necessary to have physical copies of everything so it works out but if I had this space I would have tons more. Haha.

  • Jilly
    2 months ago
    last modified: 2 months ago

    Congrats on your new home!

    I think you have a great feature there and I’d fill it with books … with maybe just a few pieces of art.

    It’s a lot, I know, but as you get settled in I’ll bet you start liking and having ideas for it. :)












    Kelly Nelson thanked Jilly
  • PRO
    BeverlyFLADeziner
    2 months ago

    I would not paint the shelves but I might look to find a matching faux wood wallpaper to use in the back of the shelves to make them look more expensive.


    Kelly Nelson thanked BeverlyFLADeziner
  • Kelly Nelson
    Original Author
    2 months ago

    I never thought about that - but yes, with wood on the back, they would look more substantial. Thank you for the suggestion! I'll look for paper and try out a few.

  • PRO
    HALLETT & Co.
    2 months ago

    Leave them as they are or paint them the trim color. No mirrors or accents are needed, you need the ‘stuff’ to be the accent.

  • maddie260
    2 months ago
    last modified: 2 months ago

    I like them. If anything, I'd stain them darker and fill with books! Otherwise, they will just blend into the floors. I think if they were stained darker, filled with books, and a few objects (not many objects- bookshelves are for books-IMHO), they would be just gorgeous and the standout in your room!


    Adding: I should have read further. You don't have to STUFF the bookcases with books-ha! And, can still keep it simple and non-cluttered with art pieces that you like. I do think a darker stain would help them a lot, though!

  • PRO
    BeverlyFLADeziner
    2 months ago
    last modified: 2 months ago

    I colored in some of the backgrounds so you could get an idea of the apperance.


    I found these on Aliexpress




    Kelly Nelson thanked BeverlyFLADeziner
  • njmomma
    2 months ago

    Love the bookcase! It’s makes the room. It is majestic and should be filled with books and art. Your husband loves it, therefore I vote for him to dust it😆

    Kelly Nelson thanked njmomma
  • ptreckel
    2 months ago

    Take a photo of your entire wall. Blow it up. Graph it out. Then….start playing with the shelves ON PAPER. Spaces between them, etc. Are you a person for whom symmetry matters? Asymmetry can work, too. But know yourself. I am a retired academic historian. I could have filled that wall, top to bottom, with my books…plus a few more shelves! Don’t just go out and buy books by the yard, or the color. Please! Or turn them page OUT. But if you don’t have this many lineal feet of shelving, then you need to figure out where you might tuck some of your prized pieces of art, or sculpture, or glass. Small will look dinky. Your display items have to be to scale. Good luck! I can’t wait to see what you choose to do!

    Kelly Nelson thanked ptreckel
  • RedRyder
    2 months ago

    Making the wall all one wood color (using the wallpaper that Beverly posted) will make it visually easier to work with.

    You have to give yourself time to figure this out. It’s a huge wall of shelves! Some artwork, mixed in with books and decorative items that are important to you (sculpture, vases, etc.) can make this the focal point of the room. I think @ptreckel gave you the absolutely best idea, along with @BeverlyFLADeziner’s.

    Keep us posted. This can be amazing.

    Kelly Nelson thanked RedRyder
  • PRO
    BeverlyFLADeziner
    2 months ago
    last modified: 2 months ago



    It seems apparent that Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent simply assembled individual groups of items and then placed them in the center of most of the bookshelves.


    It takes on a very tailored, almost museum quality to the wall. Very graphic and appealing IMO.

    Kelly Nelson thanked BeverlyFLADeziner
  • HU-457756048
    2 months ago

    There are very different “ looks” to be had. One is the full- on library wall with real books not selected for color- some people have the collections already; wouldn’t really suggest you go buy a couple hundred books you don’t really want.
    The Designer style shelves above are carefully chosen for color - notice all the white/ cream including book covers, so a neutral palette. It would not look the same if your treasures and books were a host of different colors. Not necessarily wrong or bad, but different- less calm and orderly.
    But if you were hankering to collect a certain type of pottery that could be part of the plan.
    I think I’m trying to say that while you are considering the wallpaper background or possibly painting, I would collect some of these inspiration pics in different degrees of color neutrality, high vs low contrast, warm or cool, repetitive vs variety, and get a bead on what suits your goals for the feel of the room, furniture/ rug color preferences or likely purchases, your likely “ collecting “ goals or tolerance.
    Of course the giid thing is that over time you can change or evolve the look, but some kind of vision might help it feel like a fun project vs an anxiety wall.

    Kelly Nelson thanked HU-457756048
  • wishiwereintheup
    2 months ago

    I am so jealous! Wish I had a full wall of book shelves along with a ladder and lighting. Would then have sufficient space in a single room for all my books.

    The color of the wood fits with the floor. I wouldn't paint it.

    Sorry, but to be honest, it does not look nice as is. Even if you thinned it out and put items on display at the top, it would look like a 1950's shadowbox on steroids.

    Assuming you and your husband are not and will not become avid readers and book collectors, I see two choices:

    1. Have another discussion with your husband about it. Explain that shelving of this type and scope is specifically designed for a book collection. Trying to turn it into a shadowbox would be like re-purposing a wet bar for someone who doesn't drink. Instead of ripping it all out, perhaps suggest removing the majority of it and keeping only the portion to the right of the door up to about the height of the door for the few books you have and your knickknacks.

    2. Keep it and hit Goodwill, thrift shops, etc. and load up on any hardcover books you can find at a bargain and fill the shelves. Some shelves can be used to display treasures, but the majority of it should be books. Don't put all books at the top and majority knickknacks at the bottom. That would look top heavy.

    Kelly Nelson thanked wishiwereintheup
  • houssaon
    2 months ago

    You can hang pieces of art over some of the openings.

    Oakland Hills · More Info


    Kelly Nelson thanked houssaon
  • bichonbabe
    2 months ago

    I would remove it. It's so massive that knick knacks will look like clutter, not to mention be dust collectors. And buying books is going to be expensive. Even at one dollar a book, you're looking at a lot of money that could be better spent elsewhere. Unless you already have a very large book collection.

  • Belahn
    2 months ago

    I would love to have that for all my books. I have a small library and painted all of my shelves black and put some of the peel and stick wallpaper behind some of them. Some of them I left the wall behind it because you don't see but a tiny crack of wall for the books. Are you planning on putting your books on these? I think they should be filled up with books and collectibles that you love. Not something that is nothing or doesn't mean anything to you. If you like the wood look, keep it because it looks ok, but I think it would look better painted. And you might want to put that ladder on wheels and a rail. I would definitely use it but I'd have the stuff I rarely return to up top.

    Kelly Nelson thanked Belahn
  • decoenthusiaste
    2 months ago

    Have you thought about a compromise? Usually works well in a marriage! That might entail removing all the high empty shelves, lowering the lights and ladder rail, and having the ladder shortened. No one is ever going all the way to the top on that ladder! Husband's arrangement hints at a lack of books enough to fill the shelves aka "library" and the large openings are good for decor Here's a good "rule of thumb" that works well: 1/3 books (standing, leaning or lying so they can hold some decor on top of the stack,) 1/3 large decor items (big enough to be identified from the seating without approaching the shelves,) and 1/3 open space. As for color/paint, You can stain, paint like trim or pop it with the coral or blue from your furnishings. As for mirrors, I think the wall is already too busy, so don't duplicate anything by mirroring it. An easy way to deal with the wall behind the shelves is to paint luan or foam core or cover custom cut pieces with wall paper. That way, you can change it out when you tire of it or trends you may have followed fade. If you find you need more storage, consider adding doors to the lower part for hiding excess stuff that causes clutter. That would also make a good way to tuck away decor so you can switch out warm and cool season items in the shelves for a fresh seasonal look.


    Kelly Nelson thanked decoenthusiaste
  • Fori
    2 months ago

    Is there a possibility that this library so appealed to your husband that it's a major reason you two ended up with this home? Let him have it. :)


    I do like Houssaon's idea of large art obscuring some of the holes. That can save you some uhhh books?




    (To me, husband's arrangements hint more at a fear of ladders than a lack of stuff to put in the shelves. Teehee!)

  • L.D. Johnson
    2 months ago

    You've received a lot of good feedback. If you had the time to remove the items (apologies to your husband), you could photograph the empty wall and ask for help with a visualizer to see what it would look like as a blank slate painted white, or solid wood tones. Are all of the shelves fixed or are some moveable/removeable? Please keep in mind that total symmetry will not be an option, since it looks like there are twice as many shelves to the left of the door than the right. But balance could certainly be attained. Will look forward to seeing what you do!

    Kelly Nelson thanked L.D. Johnson
  • Kelly Nelson
    Original Author
    2 months ago

    @wishiwereintheup @ptreckel @decoenthusiaste @HU-457756048 @Patricia Colwell Consulting Thank you for the comments! I wanted to assure you that I would never go out and buy books "just for looks." I recently saw a social media friend spray painting hardbacks and asked her why? I had no idea this was a thing. We have hundreds of books; both academics. We are still combining households (widow/widower late marriage) and haven't unpacked everything. Despite reading mostly on Kindle these days, we have both collected many books through the decades, both professionally and personally. I just need to get everything off the shelves, bring all books to the space and start sorting. My husband has a wall to wall bookshelf in his home office that's overflowing so I can even more some of those to the living room. Then I can put his Porsche books back in his office haha. I do need to find a way to display my glass art. But perhaps, somewhere else in the great room. I appreciate everyone's suggestions and plan to blow up a photo, make a chart, bring all the books to play, and make it mostly books, with the occasional small painting hung on the outside. I'm going to sample some boards with a darker stain and check out the wallpapers. I thank you!! Keep the suggestions coming. By the way, it is incredibly difficult to merge two completely disparate styles. My husband donated as much of his furniture as I could gently suggest, but there is still so much to work around. I love him very much so it's really hard to say, "I HATE your choices." I might have to get some professional help.

  • Kelly Nelson
    Original Author
    2 months ago

    @Fori LOL actually, the presence of a river in the backyard is why he agreed to the house. We have the books to fill; he just took it upon himself to unpack a few boxes while I was away. I wish he were more fearful of ladders and electricity and chainsaws, etc... He's 69 and loves power tools and "doing it himself." I came in the other day and found him straddling the staircase to the basement - one foot on each 3" ledge, hanging a picture. Crazy man.

  • Fori
    2 months ago

    Well then, just have him fill it up! It'll look good. You can direct from below and have him move things. Bring in an extra ladder to save time. This is good gym replacement!


    Some of the slots do look designed for art--perhaps they fit something special the original owners treasured.

  • Jilly
    2 months ago
    last modified: 2 months ago

    This is a fun project for you both — you two seem very cool. :)

    I know it can be tough to mix certain styles, but with shelves like this I think there’s room for a great, eclectic, collected look. Your friends and family will know who contributed what. :D

    Please keep us updated!

    Kelly Nelson thanked Jilly
  • decoenthusiaste
    2 months ago

    Just be sure the less-perused books go up to the tippy-top, so no one has to dare retrieve them!

    Kelly Nelson thanked decoenthusiaste
  • nickel_kg
    2 months ago

    ... spray painting books ... oh my gosh where's the mind bleach?!?!

    Kelly Nelson thanked nickel_kg
  • elcieg
    2 months ago
    last modified: 2 months ago

    Hubby might love it, but from a housekeeping point of view, the shelving is unreasonable, and possibly dangerous to clean. What I see is simple carpentry. Nothing special.

    Take it all off and wallpaper for the same (safe) effect.




    Kelly Nelson thanked elcieg
  • HU-457756048
    2 months ago

    This might well be something that you deal with over time in a new blended household. Perhaps you do the wallpaper backing ( or coordinating paint) and corral and combine all your books and live with it and enjoy it for awhile- maybe years. Then a timer might come when you say, hmmm— got public library? Got Kindle? ( Got a good orthopedist? ) The main thing is to not let the shelving guilt you and boss you around whenever / if ever you both decide it’s not helping how you want to live, decorate, caretake.

    Kelly Nelson thanked HU-457756048
  • PRO
    BeverlyFLADeziner
    2 months ago

    OMG not dangerous to clean with a feather or microfiber duster on an extension rod!!!






    Kelly Nelson thanked BeverlyFLADeziner
  • Fori
    2 months ago

    Because you own books, wouldn't it be weird to replace bookcases with bookcase wallpaper?

  • RedRyder
    2 months ago

    Since you both own a ton of books, I would not paint this unit. The wood is hardier in the long run. I would be afraid the paint would not survive putting in and taking out books.

    Books will make it a more interesting feature. With nothing in it, it is rather overwhelming. Start unpacking your boxes of books and let us see how it’s progressing.

    Kelly Nelson thanked RedRyder
  • Kelly Nelson
    Original Author
    2 months ago

    @L.D. Johnson, no the shelves are not adjustable, sadly. they are fixed. Seems crazy to me, but many of the other choices they made are worse. I will look for a visualizer app online. And any suggestions you have for creating balance would be welcome!

  • RedRyder
    2 months ago

    Kelly, you can still knock out the shelves that you don’t want so a specific space gets larger….. :)

    Kelly Nelson thanked RedRyder
  • Little Bird
    2 months ago

    How about removing the shelves over around the door? Then you still have impressive tall columns of shelves, but it won’t look as closed in. Or even remove the two columns to the right of the door, so it’s just one cohesive unit on the left side.

    Kelly Nelson thanked Little Bird
  • L.D. Johnson
    2 months ago

    Gosh, if none of the shelves are removable, it would be quite an undertaking to cut and apply all those different rectangles of wall paper. You mentioned wanting to display glass art, and I noticed your husband has a row of objects across the shelves just above the door frame. Those do look balanced (assuming something similar is on the far left, out of the photo.)

    Maybe since you have a lot of books, you could start by choosing what else to display and allow white space around all of the items you choose. Your landscape on the center left looks like it could hang over the door with a generous margin, for instance. Once you fill in some of those blanks, presumably you could distribute books in a balanced manner.


    I took a very quick shot at the BM visualizer using Simply White; maybe this will give you a rough idea.


    Kelly Nelson thanked L.D. Johnson
  • thinkdesignlive
    2 months ago

    Red Ryder said it - just unpack and start sorting, and hiring a local organizer pro could help you curate….if you find you don’t have enough to fill it entirely then you could potentially just drywall over the top area above the rail and remove the rail and ladder. Definitely don’t paint it!

    Kelly Nelson thanked thinkdesignlive
  • PRO
    BeverlyFLADeziner
    2 months ago

    Artwork can be hung over the face of the bookcase.





    Kelly Nelson thanked BeverlyFLADeziner
  • Jenny Kakases
    2 months ago

    Definitely don't paint the shelves! It looks nice like that and gives off a vibe of a nice discrepancy with the wall. place things you like AND look appropriate, as it looks to be a little bit more on the sophisticated side. I would also recommend getting some leather(black or white) furniture to go with it. chairs like lc3 or lc2 loveseats (replicas so you stay budget-friendly, personally recommend BCN designs)

    Kelly Nelson thanked Jenny Kakases
  • L.D. Johnson
    2 months ago

    Here’s a really “out there” thought. What is behind that wall upstairs? Could you drywall over the upper shelves on this side, and open the wall to access them at normal height from the room behind them? I have no idea what load bearing issues that would present, but could give you more useful storage and display.

    Kelly Nelson thanked L.D. Johnson
  • L.D. Johnson
    2 months ago

    The easier option to my wild hare idea would be to remove the top section and install it ( Or a portion of it) elsewhere. 🙃

    Kelly Nelson thanked L.D. Johnson
  • Kelly Nelson
    Original Author
    last month

    @L.D. Johnson, thank you so much for trying out the visualizer; I'm inspired to try it out!

    What is behind the upper wall is attic space, otherwise I like that idea. You also helped me realize one of the elements that make me not love the bookcase is the lack of symmetry. Perhaps I can create a focal point with some weight in the small area to the right of the smaller section. Thank you for all your ideas!

  • Kelly Nelson
    Original Author
    last month

    @Little Bird, thank you for that idea. It would give us more space for a large piece of art and break up the mass. I guess the ladder would have to service only the left side however, if I put art in that space...hmm.

  • Kelly Nelson
    Original Author
    last month

    @RedRyder, the wear on the paint is something I hadn't thought about; thank you! And yes, I might have a carpenter look at the shelves and see how easily he could remove some of the shelves.


  • Kelly Nelson
    Original Author
    last month

    @BeverlyFLADeziner I've got some of those tools!

  • Kelly Nelson
    Original Author
    last month

    @nickel_kg I'm going to see if I can find her post; I was aghast!