Love the look of high-end lighting from a designer living room, but can’t afford it? Here are some inexpensive bookshelf lighting ideas.

I added lights to our bookcase that totally look built-in. Except they aren’t. They are plugged in instead. Sharing the easy tutorial other bookshelf lighting ideas here.

bookshelf lighting ideas

Have you ever had a project that turned out SO MUCH BETTER THAN YOU EVEN IMAGINED?

You know.

You are sitting there in your living room looking at incredible living room pictures on Pinterest and you look at your living room and get inspired.

And then?

You look at your budget.

And sigh.

And then you get creative and imaginative and get an idea for something that might work? Something that might give you the look of the inspiration room for 1/10th of the cost? And you cross your budget fingers and toes and hope for the best.


Bookshelf Lighting Ideas

Let’s go all Julie Andrews and start at the beginning.

It’s a very good place to start.

Here’s a picture of the built-ins in the family room before.

My mother had them built years ago.

I love them, but this room doesn’t get much natural light and except for a couple of hours a day, it can be pretty dark in here. Also, the bookcases didn’t really have any moldings and the shelves were kind of boring and needed a little molding.

And light.

Did I mention that the bookcases needed light?

I fell in love with those beautiful swing-arm lights that so many rooms have over their bookcases. And then? I priced the lights. And having them installed.


And then I found plug-in brass lights.

They were a much more affordable and they just PLUGGED IN.

I wondered if they would work.

I studied the bookcases and planned out how we could make them fit.

1. Add board to top of bookcase or built-in

First, we added a 10″ board to the top of the bookcases.

This gave the lights a place to attach to.

Then we extended the molding from the rest of the room around the top of the board on the bookcases.

2. Frame out bookcase to match top

Next, we added 1″x 2″ boards to the front of the shelves.

This gave the bookcase a more custom look.

You can see how the bookcase molding attaches at the top.

3. Paint the bookcase or built-in

Here’s a close-up of the molding attached to the front of the bookcase shelves.

We didn’t caulk it (but you can if you want to).

We just attached it and then primed and painted the entire bookcase.

4. Attach the lights

Here’s the entire bookcase after it was painted.

The plan for the lights (you can see bookcase lights here).

We wanted to attach them to the front of the bookcase and then thread the cord through the back of the shelves.

So we cut a hole in the board, screwed in the lights and then let the cord run down the back of the bookcases and just plugged them in rather than hard wiring them.

Here are the bookcases after we finished painting them and attaching the lights.

And here’s the same area WITH THE LIGHTS ON.

Can you believe the difference?


I think we need another look.

bookshelf lighting ideas living room

Here are the lights off.

bookshelf lighting ideas family room

And here the same angle with the lights on.


bookshelf lighting ideas bookcases

Here are the bookcase shelves so you can see how we threaded the cord through.

I’m actually going to add a few books on the other side to hide it, but I wanted you to see what the cord looks like.

Some of the bookcases were easier to hide the cord than others.

bookshelf lighting ideas chair

Here’s a close-up of the cord.

It’s clear so you don’t really even notice it.

And when I put a few books in front of it, it will disappear.

bookshelf lighting ideas styling with chair

We had to drill holes in the built-ins in places to make sure we had enough plugs.

You can see where we’ve drilled a hole here.

The lamps just plug into the wall.

bookshelf lighting ideas timer

And then?

To make life even easier?

It was a little challenging to turn the lights on and off because the switch is at the top of the bookcases, so I have the lights on the bookcase plugged into a timer.

It just turns them on in the morning and turns them off at night.

bookshelf lighting ideas with built-ins

Here’s the view of the lights on last night with the kitchen lights.

Isn’t it amazing how such a simple project can make such a difference in a room?

Even the room was happy.

I snapped this picture last night when the sunlight started dancing across the room.

It heard there were new lights in the room.

And it wanted to say hello.

PS You can find bookcase lights here.

And one of my favorite timers here.

I also have a Pinterest board full of lighting finds.

PPS Have you ever adding lighting to your bookcases before?  I’d love to hear your story, glory. 🙂

disclosure: affiliate links are used in this post.

Want to know how to decorate your home for free?
Click here to get my FIVE BEST secrets.


  1. Image for Judy Judy

    Hi Karianne, I love this look! I'm glad that the lights come in brushed nickel - that's my favorite metal finish. I can already think of some ways in which I could use these after our downstairs gets a painting makeover. My favorite way to control lights these days is wirelessly. TP-Link sells LED bulbs that have wireless access built in. The Kasa app allows you to set a schedule from your phone, control how bright you want them, and they even work with your favorite Smart Assistant! We experimented with a few and now I'm planning to put them in some capacity in every room. Keep the inspiration coming!

  2. Image for Sharon Smith Sharon Smith

    Oh my goodness, Karianne! It's 1 o'clock on a Monday and while I have vacuumed the upstairs, I am lazy and am still in pjs. Scrolling through FB, emails, etc. I always try to not read your posts right away, because I like to save them for last as I just love them. And there you were lighting (pun intended) up my world. I have a small built in shelving unit and the bottom of it has an outlet in it. I love decorating the shelves but at night, it's dark in that corner. And there you are giving me the perfect solution, My shelves are even built with an opening on the back. While your lights won't work, I now know what I can do. I have lived here for 6 months and never, ever thought of that way of lighting them up. A very worthwhile lazy Monday! You are brilliant, my friend!


    I love the lights!!!!! They make such a statement in the room and add so much light!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Brilliant job!!!

  4. Image for Donna Bray Donna Bray

    Another amazing idea Marianne! I love the lighting and may I add the molding to the front of the bookcase shelves.♥️ I do not have my bookcases built YET so no stories here. I do love your sense of humor. I smile or giggle Everytime.

  5. Image for Jean from Georgia Jean from Georgia

    Question regarding the wiring. I think the electrical wire came out the bottom of the lamp, so how and how did you get this out of the back side of the lamp and thru the wood? I have oak builtins and have plugs already there. Just need to know how you got the wiring from the lamps thru the wood at the top of your shelves. Thanks so much

  6. Image for Nancy Nancy

    They look so good! What a great way to add them to a bookcase! I'm about to install some plug-in sconces on my wall. I too want to hide the chord. I think I'm going to use on of those fancy things that lets you turn your lights on and off with a remote or with Alexa. I love the timer though too! Nancy

  7. Image for Nancy Nancy

    They look so good! What a great way to add them to a bookcase! I'm about to install some plug-in sconces on my wall. I too want to hide the chord. I think I'm going to use on of those fancy things that lets you turn your lights on and off with a remote or with Alexa. I love the timer though too! Nancy

  8. Image for Sarah Sarah

    Thrifty Decor Chick just blogged about how to add lights without running any electricity, just LED pucks controlled by a remote. Check out her way, it’s much easier and requires no drilling, cords or having an outlet nearby.

  9. Image for JC JC

    Love this look? So where exactly are they plugged in with the timer? Great idea, so you don't need to be scaling the bookshelves to turn them on!

  10. Image for Jean from Georgia. Jean from Georgia.

    My lamps arrived yesterday and I cannot wait to install them. I am planning to drill thru the trim at the top of the shelves., remove the electric wire that plugs into the outlet and pull it out of the base of the lamp so the the wiring goes directly out of the back of the lamp instead of thru the bottom hole in the lamp and then run the wiring thru the back of the shelving so no wiring will be visible. This might take me a couple of days and more than a few trips up and down the ladder, but it will be a fun project. Say a prayer for my knees.

Comments are closed.