You asked…about a color for your built-in bookshelves

Hello! We just added some built in bookcases and window seat to our dining room. We love them and now we are on to the painting stage – this is my problem.

I am a fan of white. Not so with my husband. My husband would like to do something other than white – but he is talking about painting the doors a different color than the cabinet than the back of the bookshelves – I shudder just writing that. Trouble is, if I don’t come up with some alternative soon – we will have romper room built-ins!

Anyways – the walls are painted Benjamin Moore cream – (though it looks really yellowy to me). The dining room opens into the kitchen, which is painted BM camoflauge and has off white cabinets. I don’t love the cream/camouflage combo but have gotten used to it. I am afraid to add yet another color, hence the white…

Any suggestions? Thanks for any insight you might offer! Laura

Dear Laura,
It fills my heart with joy to see built-in cabinetry of such excellent quality. It’s amazing, but you can see that even in the pictures. And I LOVE bookshelves in the dining room.

Alas, the Camouflage/Cream paint color combo does not fill my heart with joy. If you’ve learned to live with it, then so can I, I suppose…but promise me you’ll at least consider repainting the kitchen? Just carry that Cream right in from the DR.

Back to the question at hand. I have three possible solutions.


Because the kitchen opens into the DR, it would be totally acceptable to paint the bookshelves the same off-white as your kitchen cabinets. The books and other objects on the shelves will provide plenty of visual interest.

Even if your door and window trim is a brighter white, I am suggesting the off-white of the cabinetry. Benjamin Moore’s OC-39 Timid White is a favorite of mine.


Stain? Have you considered staining the built-ins? A nice deep rich dry not orange brown? Perhaps the wood isn’t good enough quality and I just can’t tell from the pictures, but I do think that stained bookcases would look fantastic – the most library-like effect of the 3 solutions.


Paint the shelves – all of them, not just the doors or the inside of the shelves – a rich, deep, glossy color. A deep marine blue would be breathtaking, as would a green so dark it’s almost black. (The latter only if you ditch the camouflage walls.)

Take a look at 2059-10 Marine Blue. There’s a lot of black in this color, too. But see how it’s a sophisticated color? Go too light and you will have the unintended “Romper Room effect” to which you referred.

Benjamin Moore has an exterior paint color called Black Forest Green, which I myself have used on the shutters of my house. It is gorgeous. Another fabulous option is 2054-10 Bavarian Forest, which is more of a bottle green (has blue in it).

Good luck, Laura! Keep us posted.

Picture of white bookshelves from
Living the Swell Life. Could not for the life of me find a picture of dark painted bookshelves that weren’t red. ?? If anyone finds one, I’m sure Laura would find it most helpful…


  1. ANFQ says

    OMG I love built-in bookshelves. I want them somewhere in my house. Too bad I can't think of anywhere. :(
    Oh, wait! I can! But alas, they are not in the budget.

    So pretty. And I am intrigued by the dark green color. Love it.

  2. AnnaBanana says

    I've never considered painting bookshelves a "color" other than black or white. I have 2 on each side of my fireplace that are a gross orange wood and now I am wondering if pulling an adobe color from the brick wouldn't be fabulous!

  3. Kelly, Arte Styling says

    Laura could also try a dark charcoal grey or chocolate brown. I just took photos of a clients "after" of a very similar scenario. She wasn't loving her existing white bookshelves and mantle in her family room so we matched the color to some wrought iron candlesticks she had. Black Bean Soup by BM worked really well. I'm happy to share before and afters if you're interested (or maybe I can just the darn blog post up already, like I was planning…)
    Nice bookshelves, though! And I love the little window seat. Looks great. Great suggestions, Annie!

  4. Laura says

    Oh my goodness – Thanks so much Annie!! Your suggestions are great! I'm thinking it will be a vote between timid white and marine blue (if blue loses – it may become the color of our front door) We had thought about the staining route but the shelves are made from leftover materials from a kitchen remodel and random wood to fill in the gaps. Thank you again – you are so kind to answer my question!! Love your blog and can't wait to see the your living room emerge!!

  5. Mikka says

    Hey Annie – How do you manage painted bookshelves without the books sticking to the paint? I've had problems with that in the past, no matter how long I let it dry. Is there a particular finish to use? Or a topcoat?

  6. Nicole says

    I like the idea of going darker gray for the shelves, although a very faded gray would give it a sort of French country look. White pottery and china would stand out beautifully against it. You say that the walls have a very yellow-y cast and grey and yellow is one of my favorite color combinations. Especially in the dining room, you could bring in gold metallic touches, which would be incredibly elegant- definitely the opposite of the husband's romper room idea.

  7. Nicole says

    This is sort of the look that I was thinking of (stolen off color me happy blog)

  8. Annie, bossy color says

    Guys, thank you all for the fantastic comments! And Laura, so glad to be of help.

    Kelly and Nicole's suggestions are particularly fabulous. You have lots to think about!

    AnnaBanana, go for it, chickie! But might I suggest a color to provide contrast w/ the brick rather than the adobe, which might blend in too much. You don't want to look as though you're trying to match. Dark brown would be tonal for a more smooth effect, but the adobe makes me nervous. Not that you asked, though :)

    Mikka – re: painting shelves without stickiness, I actually talked to my painter about this, b/c there's nothing worse than having your books stick. You simply have to wait long enough to make sure the paint "cures." Painting not in the height of summer helps, running a dehumidifier after painting helps, but other than that, you just have to wait several days to make sure it's really hard. I suppose you could use Satin finish instead of semi-gloss, but as a fan of high shine, you won't catch me doing that.

    Hope this helps! Thanks again, all. You are the most thoughtful blog readers & commenters out there. You make other bloggers jealous :)

  9. Jean says

    I'm a fan of using contiguous color on trim and if you have painted wood cabinetry in the kitchen you might just consider doing the same off-white on all casework.

    Have you considered a pop of color on back of shelves like a deep burnt orange so just a bit of color shows through?

  10. church furniture says

    White or rather off white looks lovely…the bookshelves or the door and the window panes…the color pretty much suits all of it.

  11. Heather says

    I just stumbled across this and am wanting to build the same exact shlves in my dining room. (We are converting to an office) this looks just like what I was telling my husband in my head! DO you have a finished picture of how the project turned out.

  12. Leslie says

    Thanks for all of these comments. Our project is very similar to this. We were thinking of stinging too, but now I am going to check out that Benjamin Moore color, timid white. I think it will be the right choice for us. I am a fan of a pretty wall color showing through so that the whole wall doesn’t dominate with while, so that is probably what we’ll do. Thanks for the great ideas!

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