Doing double duty, floating bookshelves offer a stylish storage solution for your favorite titles and a backdrop to showcase your most prized possessions. (Think everything from leather-bound first editions, Marvel Comics, and signed artisan pottery to your 1950s vintage camera collection—step aside iPhone 13.)
Whether your floating bookshelves function as a feature wall above the sofa, a curated background for Zoom meetings for inspiration while you work, or a home for your Parisian cookbooks when you’re in the mood to bake croissants and baguettes, the lighting you use to illuminate your floating bookshelves dramatically impacts the aesthetics of your home’s design scheme.
“Lighting plays a huge [role] in design,” says Mina Lisanin, a New York City Interior Designer and award-winning product designer of “Linea,” a decorative metal accent with a built-in LED light for book shelving and credenzas.
“Lighting can dress up a simple bookshelf and create a warm ambiance similar to a hospitality touch one would find in a luxury hotel lobby with dim lighting,” Lisanin says. In the same way, the appropriate lighting can give floating bookshelves a sense of warmth and an [inviting vibe].
To help Shelfology readers choose the best lighting for their Aksel and Tromso floating bookshelves, Lisanin shares some lighting tips and ideas that add drama and beauty to any space.
“A touch of metal gives a floating bookshelf a decorative touch and a sophisticated look when contrasted with light wood; I’ve seen that a lot lately,” says Lisanin. To achieve that look, Lisanin recommends pairing a white oak wood floating shelf with decorative metal accessories, or a cool, colorful vase for a pop of color.
Primary Types of Lighting
A single room can use lighting for a bevy of purposes: reading a novel, working on a computer, doing creative projects, preparing meals, and relaxing with family and friends. Having the right lighting for each occasion and activity is essential.
Here are the main types of lighting and their uses:
Ambient lighting: Ambient lighting illuminates a large area such as an entire room or shelf in a bookcase. The light emitted is uniform and evenly lit.
Task lighting: Task lighting is typically used for reading, preparing food, writing, or working at a desk. Lighting for tasks tends to be brighter to focus on the task at hand like writing a check or dicing veggies.
Accent lighting: Accent lighting draws attention to specific objects, artwork, and architectural details. This type of lighting is commonly used to attract interest in bookshelf displays.
When styling your floating shelves, choose ambient lighting or accent lighting. The following types of lighting sources are recommended for floating bookshelves.
8 Great Lighting Sources for Floating Bookshelves
As the name suggests, downlights direct light downward. These ambient light fixtures illuminate a large area rather than a focal point, which would require accent lighting. One popular type of downlight we see in many contemporary homes is recessed lighting. Recessed lighting fixtures come with dimmers that help to control the intensity of light emitted from the fixture. Many downlights have a tilt feature that allows you to freely adjust the light toward the area you wish to illuminate. A recessed light installed in the ceiling near a bookshelf can be aimed at the top or middle of a shelf to accentuate a specific area, like your boxed set of Jane Austen classics.
To control the amount of light shining on your floating bookshelves, use a dimmer.
2. Puck lights
If you’re looking to highlight a focal point like a sculpture, trophy, or a treasured wedding photo, consider puck lights. Puck lights are accent lights shaped like a hockey puck that are installed on an upper shelf to shine down on the object below. To vary the quantity of light on your focal point, purchase a puck light with a dimmer. Dimmers can also help to prevent older book covers from fading or discoloration, unlike high-wattage bulbs with UV rays that can wear books over time.
Position puck lights above the spine of your books to make it easier to read book titles.
3. LED Strip Lighting
LED strip lighting provides an affordable way to showcase your favorite books and decor. This lighting source provides an even ambient lighting source that produces a luminous glow.
Just peel off the adhesive and apply the strip light directly to your bookshelf or put them in aluminum channels for a more finished and elegant look. You might need to do a little soldering and use a hacksaw or miter saw.
“What I like about LED strip lighting is that it gives your bookshelves a continuous linear line throughout, '' says Lisanin. “You can place strip lighting on your bookshelves vertically or horizontally; in a sense, you have more customization options,” says Lisanin. But you’ll likely need to hide the battery pack in the back of your shelves.
Choose LED lighting strips for an economical way to illuminate an entire shelf.
4. Picture Lights
Picture lights come in wired and wireless options. They are great light sources if you have a cool piece of art or a cool artifact to highlight that piece, rather than illuminating the entire shelf, says Lisanin. “Picture lights come in different finishes [to complement your decor].
“I love using a bronze picture light for a sophisticated touch; it can also give off a warm light without [damaging] the art.” Make sure to measure the thickness of your floating bookshelf to ensure the picture light fits.
Choose picture lights to highlight a photo, painting, or souvenir from your travels.
Decorative Lighting and Accents
5. Flameless Candles
Nothing says romance quite like the warm glow of a flickering candle with the lights dimmed low––whether you're curling up with a page-turning romance novel or cuddling with your significant other listening to smooth jazz.
Flameless candles not only set the mood; they look great on floating bookshelves–– and you won’t need to worry about melting wax, the wicks burning out, or the flame causing a fire when you leave the room. Some flameless candles are made with vanilla-scented paraffin wax which makes them smell like real candles. The only difference: they’re ignited with a remote.
While reading by candlelight, use a book light for more light.
Historically, lanterns have been used in America for events such as Paul Revere’s famous midnight ride, the Underground Railroad, in saloons, and by sailors on sea voyages who lit lanterns with whale oil. Today, lanterns enhance the interiors and exteriors of many homes.
These lighting fixtures can coordinate with an array of design and architectural styles, including rustic, farmhouse, vintage, country, cottage core, transitional, contemporary, and more.
“I love lanterns,” says Lisanin. “They can be a fine, unique, and inexpensive opportunity to give shelving some light, and they don’t need to be built-in to bookshelves, just plug and play.
7. Miniature Table Lamps
Miniature table lamps aren’t just for tables anymore. These petite lighting fixtures that run on batteries double up as lighting sources and decorative accents for bookshelves and home libraries. “I’m seeing a lot of cute little battery-operated table lamps, very tiny, mini ones; you could easily add them to any floating bookshelf,” says Lisanin. “[These beauties] come in a wide variety of colors and finishes, and can be a simple way to add lighting without the need for wiring.”
8. Fairy Lights
Originally sewn into fairy costumes in the theater––and worn on fashion runway models today––fairy lights, AKA fairy string lights, make a show-stopping statement on floating bookshelves. These tiny solar-powered and battery-operated LED lights are connected by thin, flexible wires, and come in a variety of colors. Some include timers and plug-in adapters. Place fairy lights inside mason jars, glass vases, or candle holders and watch your shelves glimmer and glow during the winter holidays––or any time of year.
Floating Bookshelf Lighting Ideas Revisited
No matter where you plan to hang your floating bookshelves, you’ve got some great designer-approved lighting options and tips on how to illuminate your favorite books and keepsakes.
“Just have fun with it," says Lisanin. "There are a lot of options out there; there is no right or wrong way to light up your favorite shelf to give it a high-end looking decorative touch."
For more ideas, check out our lookbook.