How to Choose the Perfect Bookshelf Lighting

I love incorporating lights with built-ins, especially bookshelves. There’s just something about that extra detail above the shelving that creates so much interest. When choosing the perfect bookshelf lighting, there are a few things you need to take into account. The first thing to consider is the size of the light. You want to make sure that it is not too large or too small for your bookcase. Secondly, you need to decide where to place the light. Some people prefer to have lights on either side of their bookcase, while others like a single light in the center above. Finally, you need to choose between picture lights and wall sconces. In this article, I’ll go over all of this and show you some of my favorite lights for bookshelves.

Picture Light vs Wall Sconce

When it comes to choosing between a picture light and a wall sconce for your bookshelf, it really depends on your personal preferences. Picture lights are essentially the same as wall sconces, but they are long and narrow. This will take up more space horizontally. While wall sconces are typically more vertical in size, either extending up or down.

Here’s something to consider if you end up using wall sconces for your bookshelf. When mounting them above the shelf, you want to choose a sconce that shines down. If you mount them beside the built-in, you should choose a sconce that illuminates outward.


I’ve already talked a little about the placement of your bookshelf lighting. The placement will help determine what type of light you choose, and vice versa. And it really all depends on your bookshelf set up. If you have room above your shelves, you may want to place the light there. But make sure to leave enough room between the bottom of the light mounting plate and the top of the bookshelf. You don’t want it to look too cramped. If you have the room, 4-6 inches is a good amount.

If you are placing above and the bookcase has multiple columns, you may want to place one light centered above each. In this situation, consider horizontal spacing. In our living room, each bookshelf has two columns, but instead of using one sconce above each, we opted for one long picture light in the center. This all depends on the size of light that you choose.

Size of Light

When choosing a light for a bookshelf, one of the most important considerations is the size of the light relative to the size of the shelf. A light that is too small will not provide enough illumination, while a light that is too large will be overwhelming visually. In general, it is best to choose a light that is about one-third the width of the shelf. This will ensure that the light is proportionate to the shelf and provides adequate lighting.

Style of Light

Another factor to consider is the style of the light. For a more traditional look, choose a light with a classic shape, such as a cylinder, globe, or cone. For a more modern look, opt for a contemporary fixture with clean lines. Whatever style you choose, make sure it complements the overall décor of the room.

Our Top Picks

There are several choices out there for bookshelf lighting, but I’m going to share our top three favorites. I’ve included a couple that we have used in the past and are still absolutely loving.

One of our favorites is the Gaines Picture Light which we have over bookshelves in our living room. The Gaines Picture Light is featured in three sizes and finishes to choose from. Its sleek, industrial design encompasses lots of detail and will a perfect for not only illuminating but also drawing the attention of the eye.

We currently have three Glenn Wall Sconces hanging over our mudroom lockers and love both the functionality and look of them. The Glenn Wall Sconce comes in five finish options. It is the perfect mix of accented traditional details with the clean shape of contemporary design.

Another wall sconce that we have used in the past is the Mitzi Lupe Wall Scone. This wall sconce will compliment your modern decor while adding a dash of transitional flavor. It comes in three beautiful finishes for you to choose from.

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