Monday, March 21, 2011

The Little Bookcase That Could

It's finished!  Back in October, I bought this super cute retro bookcase at a thrift store for $6.  I didn't know where I was going to put it, but I knew that with a little work, it would fit perfectly in our apartment.  Now, 5 months (I'm lazy) and $25 later, I have the bookcase I always wanted!


After.  The stuff on the wall isn't staying so don't judge that part!

After 4 1/2 months of the bookcase sitting in our living room untouched and forgotten about, I finally decided to fix it up.  I hated the original glass doors but also didn't want my messy books exposed so I chose to add my own wooden doors and cover them in wallpaper.  That's when I came across this AWESOME vintage wallpaper on Etsy that became the basis for my bookcase transformation.

All in all this was an easy project that can be done in a weekend (allowing time for paint to dry) and costs very little, yet has a big impact.  So grab a bookcase of your own and get to work!  Here are a few basic tips to get you from A to Z.

1)  Size your doors.  Measure the glass doors that came with the bookcase and have your wood cut to the same size.  Make sure you get the thinnest wood available to slide in the grooves of the bookcase.  Panel board (about $6 at Home Depot) was the thinnest thing I could find that was also sturdy.  If you're adding hinged doors, measure the outside dimensions of the bookcase.

2) Choose your covering.  Wallpaper, is perfect because it's heavy duty and can take more wear and tear.  You could also paint/stain the doors or use decals.  I got 2yards of wallpaper from Vintage 73 on Etsy for $17.45 including shipping.  It took about 1.75yds to cover both doors.  You can also buy your handles now too, although I decided to get my handles after so I could see what the bookcase was going to look like first.

3) Start painting!  If necessary, sand your piece down first.  I don't usually sand furniture unless it has surface imperfections that I don't want.  I just use a good primer like Killz.  Primer can go over most any surface and gives the paint something to grip on to.  Glossy surfaces usually work better when sanded down, though a good primer will also do just fine.

If you have extra paint leftover from other projects, trying mixing it to create your own custom colors.  Not only does it save money, but it also makes the piece more personal.  To make my color, I took bright orange (the same orange used to paint my bench) and added red, black, and a drop of brown to make it a little deeper.  The yellow I used inside is leftover from an old accent wall.  If you're buying paint, don't get tricked into buying more than you need.  For something this small, a sample size would work (about $3 at Home Depot for Behr and Martha Stewart).  

4) While the paint is drying, start your doors.  If using hinged doors, you can simply start painting, applying the wallpaper, etc. If doing sliding doors, you'll need to sand first.  Even though I got the thinnest board available, It still was a little too thick to slide in the grooves.  So I attached the sanding bit onto my Dremel and went over the top and bottom edges of the doors multiple times until they were thin enough to easily slide on the bookcase.

If you're using wallpaper to cover the doors, put the doors on the bookcase and trace along the top and bottom to mark how long your wallpaper should be.  If your wallpaper goes to high/low, it will make it hard for the doors to slide on the track.

You can faintly see my blue line on the top.  This is where my wallpaper needed to go up to.

With your door prepped, start painting or attach your wallpaper using wallpaper adhesive (review coming tomorrow).  I tried regular duty spray adhesive and it did NOT work!  The wallpaper kept peeling.  Don't forget to paint or cover the sides of the wood so they're not exposed.  I painted mine orange to match the bookcase.

5) Make sure to use protection.  Even if you decide not to protect the outside (I didn't), you should at least protect the shelves, otherwise the paint will start to scratch when you move books and objects around. You have sevearl options from sealers and polycrylic to simple things like clear contact paper.  Guess which one I did.  The contact paper of course!  Not just because it was the easiest solution, but also because I like to change colors and designs a lot and sealing it would only create more work for me later on when I decide I hate yellow!  Contact paper comes in many prints and colors so it won't be hard to find something that works for you.  The clear worked well and is undetectable.

You can't even see the clear contact paper on the shelves.  And yes, I still have Babysitter's Club books!  I refuse to get rid of my old books...I'm sure one day my kid will love them!  The Dr. Seuss books are from when my husband taught kindergarten :)

6) Put your doors back on or attach them using hinges.  Add your knobs/handles too.  I personally liked my doors better without the handles.  If you're looking for a good place to find vintage knobs and pulls, I HIGHLY recommend Violet Slippers.  She has over 400 knobs and handles in every design imaginable.  I bought a pair that I ended up not using but I'm definitely saving them for another project.  I think I favorited half her shop!

7) This last step isn't required but is nice.  To finish off the top of the bookcase, I lightly sanded it with a 400 grit sandpaper.  It now has the smoothest finish!  Again, you don't HAVE to do this but depending on how the furniture will be used, you might want to consider a final sanding.

8) Now it's time to enjoy!  I couldn't be happier with my project.  Now to fix the wall above it...

If you have a DIY you'd like to share, email me at india (at)


  1. That looks really cool! I'm glad you breathed new life into this wonderful piece! Nice job!

  2. It looks so great. You are really creative!

  3. Thanks guys! I owe it all to the awesome wallpaper that I'm still drooling over :)

  4. This little bookcase could and it did.