DIY Old Bookshelf Facelift

Having just sat through an hour and a half long class with no air conditioning and a blistering 100 degree, high humidity heat, I can really appreciate the perks of the colder months. Yes, I’ll probably be complaining about nose-cicles once winter finally does come around, but right now I’m seriously craving the relaxing ease a good book and a blanket will bring.

And what better way to display those books than on a beautiful bookshelf? Though it’s a simple piece of furniture, a good bookshelf is a writer’s secret pleasure. Bookshelves are built to hold what we writers hold most dear, and we often take great pride in owning one of these structures.

(And they’re just so pretty to look at. Ask us why we drool over libraries…)

All images from Buzzfeed’s “49 Breathtaking Libraries From All Over the World”

Unfortunately, bookshelves of this magnitude tend to be a little (a lot) out of the typical writer’s budget. Fortunately, I have a solution!

DIY Old Bookshelf Facelift!

I recently collaborated with my dad on a little summer project — something to contain my growing collection of books — and I thought what better project to share with my readers than this? (However, I apologize for no pictures of the process. I didn’t realize I was going to be blogging about it!) So here it goes:

Bookcase Before

Bookcase After

Step 1: Buy the bookcases.

I found mine (I bought two) in the warehouse of a company that was getting rid of some old office furniture. They were a nice solid wood and had very few scratches or chips, which are very important to avoid if you’re not looking to do a complete refinish of the surface. They were a steal at $25 a piece. If you’re lost for places to look, I suggest thrift stores, garage sales, and flea markets.

Step 2: Pick a Primer and Paint

I’m not going to pretend like I’m an expert on painting and wood, so that’s why I’m just going to tell you to do the exact same thing I did: ask someone else. I went to my paint store prepared with a picture of my bookshelves so that the clerk would know exactly what I was working on. I even took a shelf off the bookcase and brought it in for him to look at. Once he gave me his recommendations, I ended up purchasing one quart of Multi-Purpose Interior/Exterior Latex Primer for about $11 and four quarts of Interior/Exterior Acrylic Latex Paint with a satin finish in 7566 Westhighland White for $6 each. (Note: Had we known in the beginning that these shelves would require that much paint, we probably would have went ahead and bought a gallon, which would have been cheaper in the long run. Note for the future!) Also, we had paint rollers and brushes already stashed around the house, so buying extra wasn’t necessary; however, if you need those supplies, be sure to add that into the overall cost.

Step 3: Paint it. Duh.

The first thing to do is to wipe down your surface. We had these stored in the garage for a while, so they needed to be wiped off almost every day. Trust me, you don’t want a dried up bug painted into your bookshelf. After that, you can begin priming. Cut in the corners and edges of the bookshelf with a brush first. This will make it easier on you when you start rolling. After that, roll. Make sure you get a nice even coat over the surface or else you will see un-primed spots beneath your paint later on.

Once you’ve primed and let your bookshelf sit for at least a day, it’s time to paint. Using a clean roller and brush, follow the same cut-in-then-roll procedure you followed for priming. This may take several days and several coats. We ended up doing about three coats on the shelves and two coats on the outer frame of the bookcase itself. Be patient. You may end up spending more time painting than you had first planned, but you will ultimately be happier with your final result.

Step 4: Seal (optional)

This step is entirely up to you. I decided that I wanted to go over my bookcase one more time with a sealant in order to protect the surface when I slide books in and out of it. For sealing, we found that a foam  brush like this (can also be found at a craft store for very cheap, close to a dollar) did the best job (though it takes a little longer than a roller). Simply use the foam brush as you would a regular paintbrush, and smooth the seal over all surfaces of your bookcase, careful not to make any bubbles. We used one quart of Minwax Water Based Polycrylic Finish in a clear semi-gloss, which cost us about $12.

Step 5: Decorate!

I had a little fun with this part. As you can see, I’ve got a few knickknacks spread out among the many books I’ve collected since childhood. I didn’t use all of my trinkets, but I tried to use ones I thought would look the most aesthetically pleasing together. Feel free to rearrange as many times as you feel necessary. I went through a few configurations before I was really happy with the end result.

Tray KnickKnack

Other Bookcase

Bird KnickKnack

And there you have it. All in all, this project took us a good month to complete. Although we didn’t work on it every day, it took a lot more time than I originally expected. But now I have two beautiful bookcases that I’m very proud of and I learned a little bit about furniture renovation along the way. If you’ve been keeping track of the numbers as you’ve been reading, you’ll know already that this project cost us just under $100, which is around half of what I would have spent for one lower-quality wood bookcase. We all know you’re procrastinating writing anyway, so you might as well get painting!

If you have any writer-related DIY projects (or any DIY projects) that you’d like to share, post about it in the comments below.


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