library with desk in middle
Courtesy of Southern Living

Backdrop Choices

When it comes to the back of your cabinets and shelves, the options are endless. Whether you're looking for a subtle backdrop or a bold statement, a little detail is easy to incorporate.

Check out three easy ways to make the most of this often overlooked space.


close up of shelving accessories
Courtesy of Southern Living

Colorful Personality

Staid rows of books can be dull when what you're really after is a pretty vignette. Give your arrangement extended shelf life by addressing the back wall first.

Even the least skillful among us can wield a paintbrush to great effect. For shelves, paint the back in a bold color that coordinates with the room’s decor.

Tip: First, remove the shelves. Use painter's tape to mask off the inner sides of the bookcase. Allow the paint to dry, remove the paint, and replace the shelves. This will make your favorite collections and books really shine.


shelves with a green background
Courtesy of Southern Living

Striking Display

If you long for color but want a more subtle result, opt for a natural favorite: green. Here, it is used to highlight a collection of black tole (hand-painted tinware) trays.

You can find trays in antiques stores, secondhand shops, and at garage sales. Pieces with weathered finishes work well for this look. Trays add a patterned background for highlighting other items. Lean the trays against the back of the bookcase, or set them on plate stands.

TIP: Black and green make great partners. The look is elegant yet inexpensive.


close up of shelf with plate
Courtesy of Southern Living

Pretty Paper

To add pattern to the back of a bookcase, opt for wallpaper. Choose a design that coordinates with the rest of the room. Look for wallpaper that has a small repeating pattern, because larger patterns will get lost behind the books and other accessories. For more texture, try lining a bookcase with fabric or grass cloth instead.

Tip: If you rent or don't want to commit to one color or pattern, apply paint, wallpaper, or fabric to a sheet of 1/4-inch cabinet-grade plywood or foam-core board, cut to fit inside the bookcase. This way, you can change out the look for different seasons.


2 built in shelves
Courtesy of Southern Living

Country Charm

For a warm and casual look, add pine paneling to the back of your bookcase.

Step 1: Remove the existing shelves, and measure the back of the bookcase. Attach panels edge to edge with wood glue, and position them so that the end-grain alternates from panel to panel. This keeps the wood from curving in one direction over time.

Step 2: With a router, create evenly spaced insets in the panels. Apply stain to highlight the grain of the wood. Using a glue gun, attach lengths of rope in the insets. Slide the paneling into place, and replace the shelves.


close up of built ins
Courtesy of Southern Living

Finished Pine Panels

The natural grain of the panels provides the perfect backdrop for fishing and hunting memorabilia as well as nature-inspired accessories.

--Adapted from Southern Living Easy Decorating

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