How to Add Bookcase Lighting to Any Bookshelf (without an Electrician!)

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Intro by Robin
Steps by Ed

bookcase lighting

When we built our IKEA hacked wall-to-wall bookshelves, we knew we wanted to add bookcase lighting.  We love the mood that bookcase lighting brings - warm light that highlights our books and our built-in bookshelves.  😍 The lighting adds so much character and ambiance to the room.

And the room needed as much help as possible!  Have you seen the before?  It was an empty peachy-beige (Peige?) box.  In a basement no less.  There was nothing attractive about this space.

The other challenge that our bookcase lighting solves is, well...lighting.  This room had 7 potlights from when we first built the room 14 years ago.  It was WAY too much light for this small space.  And they were in weird spots.

The potlights could only be placed in the ceiling where there was no joist or ductwork running through.  There was no way to line up the bookcase and the potlights in a balanced way.  

So we scrapped all but two potlights in the room (which you can see in our faux brick wall post).  Picture lights over the bookcase were the perfect solution!

Now, we're no electricians.  Ed's done some wiring - but we wanted to make the installation of these lights as simple as possible.  For our sake - and yours! Simple DIYs actually get done - and on budget.

What follows are four simple ways to add a bookcase lighting to any bookshelf - or anywhere else - without hiring an electrician or complicated wiring.

bookcase lighting how to install

How to Add Bookcase Lighting to Any Bookshelf 

(without an Electrician!)

Adding Bookcase Lighting Method 1: Battery operated picture lights

This is a great option for its sheer simplicity.  There are some attractive battery-operated picture lights - especially if your aesthetic leans toward modern.

We didn't choose this option because we wanted to wire our three library lights to operate together on a dimmer.  With this option, each picture light would have it's own remote to turn it on and off.

But, if you're adding just one light - say to a single bookcase - this option is perfect.

Adding Bookcase Lighting Method 2: SMART outlet

We are intrigued by this option and while smart outlets aren't super-cheap - they do cost a lot less than an electrician making a house call to wire things up.

Now, this relies on WIFI and usually a smartphone App or a SMART home hub to control the lights, so if you don't want to always be asking Siri or Alexa to dim the lights, this might not be perfect. Also, you'll want to keep the SMART outlet accessible so you can reset it when the WIFI invariably needs a refresh.

You could basically follow the rest of our tutorial below, but instead of needing to hardwire a dimmer switch to an outlet, you could simply plug a SMART outlet into any standard plug and then connect it to your library lights via power-bar.

Adding Bookcase Lighting Method 3: Remote controlled light bulb or light socket

This requires your lighting to have enough bulb space to fit a SMART bulb and you'll need as many of these bulbs as you have lights.  But if you don't have a good way to access the SMART plug, the lightbulb option is always going to be accessible, so that's a win.

In this version, you simply install, plug in and switch on all the library lights you want, then put SMART bulbs in them can again connect to your WIFI/SMART Hub to control the brightness level (or light temperature or music or whatever other stuff your SMART bulbs come with.

This option might be the second easiest (after the battery operated lights), but it could easily be the most costly if you needed to do a lot of lights.

Adding Bookcase Lighting Method 4: Wire plug to a dimmer (takes entry level wiring skills)

This is the route we went. It takes some basic electrical skills: we're talking being able to add an outlet to an existing circuit and swap a dimmer switch for a regular one.  Not super hard, but also not everyone's cup of tea either.

Here's how we did it...

Materials List:

  • Picture Lights (You can find the one we chose at Amazon and Home Depot - comparison shop! The one we chose have plugs - this is key for simplicity)
  • Power bar to connect them to if you are hard wiring to a dimmer circuit, (or SMART outlet with Wifi dimmer control)
  • Finished MDF panel - we found 1/8" fit well
  • Framing wood
  • to consider: Smart Switch with Dimmer

Step 1: Install the Bookcase Lighting in the locations that best suit your room.

  • Don't worry about the ugly mounting bracket and wiring - we'll be hiding all of that soon.

bookshelf lighting how to
We centred our lights on the cases, as close to the top shelves as possible. 

wiring bookshelf lighting
At this stage, I also verified the wires would reach a common location to plug them in. 

Step 2: Connect your wiring and check that the lights work. 

bookshelf lighting dimmer switch
We added a grounded outlet connected to our dimmer switch. The lights themselves then plug into a power bar. All of this is accessible from the adjacent room for any future wiring issues. 

bookshelf lighting power
Once complete, test the lights to make sure the dimmer function work. The decorative part of install in about to get pretty permanent and you'll want to troubleshoot the wiring issues now.

Step 3 - Add any bracing or additional support for attaching the decorative moulding and trim. 

We added a 2x3 across the top of all 3 cases to help with the Crown Mold we had planned.

We also added small pieces of blocking to support the MDF panel that will hide the wiring and Library Light Mounting bracket, which isn't the prettiest part of it...

Step 4. Fit and Cut panels of MDF with a groove to hide the wiring and mount.

bookcase lighting trim
This is the toughest part - Measure and drill a large hole where the Library Light post will end. Then use a saw to cut out the groove. Test fit carefully as the slot now becomes a weak point in the panel.

bookshelf lighting trim
Slide the panel in place and nail it to the blocking with finishing nails.  Don't worry about that groove - you're going to hide it with Crown Mold and Trim. 

bookcase lighting crown moulding
Add your crown moulding. 
Notice the groove still over the light - we're hiding that next.

bookshelf lighting crown moulding
Cut a piece of 1/8" MDF to cover the gap between the light base and the crown moulding.  Caulk and paint.

bookcase lighting
Et Voila! Elegant DIY lighting and Billy bookcase built-in (here's the how-to for that).

Other projects in our Basement Guest Room-Library:

  • Green Vertical Shiplap Panelled Wall treatment - which cost us almost nothing

bookshelf lighting diy

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  1. I love this post! We have a stained glass piece in our home and installing a light above it like this one will help it stand out and shine! Thank you.

    1. That sounds gorgeous! It will really sparkle with the light - Thanks for your sharing your idea! :)


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