How to paint a bookshelf

I’ve wanted a pretty white bookshelf in my room for a long time; a place to put some special things, my favorite books, out of the reach of grubby little fingers. And at the end of the post I have another little project to show you that I’m sure what to do with. Maybe you can help.

But first the bookshelf. My goodness particle board bookshelves are expensive! I shopped around online and didn’t find any actual wood shelves in my price range. So I decided on Craigslist. I found this one for $40. It’s seven feet tall and well-constructed, so I’m happy with it.

White bookshelf in the bedroom

White bookshelf before and after

It was a little beat up, but that’s ok. I wanted to paint it white anyway. Some of those spots on the before picture were from me sanding and then I realized I forgot to take a before picture!

All white bedroom with couch and bookshelf

bookshelf styling

styling a bookshelf

I love these brass praying hands. They were my grandmother’s — as well as the bird and pear below. I will always remember the bird sitting on the mosaic coffee table in her house. Didn’t she have great taste?

styling a bookshelf with brass

I’m crazy about photos and keeping memories. That gets in the way of my minimalist streak, so I keep things to six boxes or so and make photo books to save space. But these two albums I have kept because they are special.

minimalist wardrobe capsule green moto jeggings striped shirt cream cardigan and booties-

my Italian romance

One contains photos from the two trips I took to Italy before we were married. Marcello had to stay in his home country until our fiancé visa was approved. We ended up having to move the date of our wedding because it wasn’t approved in time!

antique photo album

The other one is an antique photo album. I found this during the same waiting period before we got married. I had been very sad, missing Marcello, wishing we could be together during our engagement, stressing over the decision to change our wedding date. I bought it thinking it would be fun to put our wedding photos in.

When I got in the car with my friend and examined it more carefully, it had a photo in the back from 1907. It was taken of a family in Rome, in front of a church. My heart sped up and I couldn’t speak. Marcello and I got married in 2007 (exactly 100 years later) at a church, and Marcello was living in Rome during that time.

God gave me a great present of hope and assurance that day. It would all work out. And it did.

antique photo album from Rome

Craigslist bookshelf painted white

So now you’ve seen the shelf and why I wanted a special place for some of my treasures. This is how I painted it, plus another little project I’m not too sure about.

How to makeover an old bookshelf

It started a little roughed up, but not so bad.

cheap sander gets the job done

1. First I sanded the whole thing.

I sanded out the nicked edges and did the shelves separately. I did a good job on the edges and spots that will get more wear and tear, and then did a mediocre job everywhere else. Can’t beat this little sander for $17.

making over an old bookshelf

2. I got some cheap manual labor and did a vinegar/water wash.

painting an old bookshelf white

3. I painted the case, shelves and even the metal base with enamel.

I painted it in three coats with Cabinet Coat, the same thing I painted my kitchen cabinets with. I rolled most of it and then used my favorite angled brush for the rest.

save your roller with plastic wrap instead of washing

Save a brush trick

My favorite brush-saving trick is wrapping them in plastic wrap. I wrap them and stick them inside a plastic bag overnight. If you are going to continue the next day, my opinion is this works better than washing them out and leaving them to dry. Mine always harden that way and leave streaks. Plus I’m always looking for a shortcut.

White bookshelf in the bedroom

The project I almost like

And now for the project I’m not sure what to do with.

Treasure chest of prizes for kids

I have this very cool trunk I bought years ago at an estate sale. I use it as a “treasure box” to keep kid prizes in. You can see the inside here. The problem is that I don’t have a good place to put it. I thought if it were a little taller I could use it as a little coffee table in our room.

So I bought these spindles at Home Depot and the corner fasteners.

mixing paint for leg spindles

I used leftover samples to paint them. This was a brown sample that looks like it belongs in a baby diaper so I added some black acrylic paint to darken it. I think the color blends well with the trunk. I wanted them to sort of disappear.

Ok, now I’ll show you the after.

trunk converted to coffee table

I don’t love it. I think the spindles are too tall. It looks like it belongs in a Beauty and the Beast movie and will come to life and start running in circles. Doesn’t it? What do you think? Cut them shorter or take them off all together and figure out another spot for it?

11 thoughts on “How to paint a bookshelf

  1. We had an old steamer trunk like that when I was growing up! Never did anything with it other than put a piece of glass on top so it could be a level surface as a side table. My mom still has it and keeps odds and ends in hers.

    I bought a super similar one off of Sean’s cousin as he and his wife were moving to Hawaii and were seriously downsizing. I keep it in Eleanor’s room (which thanks to a murphy bed is also a guest room) to store blankets and bedding. On top we have a lamp and a copper wire bin of toys. Haven’t done any work to it though!

    I vote cutting a third off of the spindles at the very least. Then he’s less “leggy.” :)

  2. Your story about the antique photo album made me tear up. What a sweet memory.

    My MIL made an old trunk into a coffee table. She used round bun feet (Google it) which seemed to be a good choice to balance out the proportions. Just a thought!

  3. I take my ‘hat’ off to you Kate, I will give a hand at helping out when painting is being done, but I do not paint! You did a great job, well done and the bookshelf looks stunning, white is a great color it looks a treat and expensive too. I love the copper ornaments and Grand had good taste, those ornaments are sought after today, you are truly blessed to have inherited that and it is a good “keep-sake”, bringing back fond memories, enjoy. The album is unique as well as the story. Do treasure that photo, it is a lovely story. My opinion for the trunk, take a photo and load it on the computer and play with various colors, perhaps you can chalk paint it and highlight the strips and take off the locks and spray paint them with metallic paint in a brass/gold/silver color, it is a great trunk for storage of any kind. Truth be told, I do not like the legs, sorry. Perhaps you can place small wheels on the bottom, when it is loaded it would be easier for you to move around. Lovely projects, you are a busy gal.

  4. Paint the trunk!!! How great would it look white with some gold accents (the legs perhaps). I think you don’t like it because it seems to heavy (visually) in your beautiful white room. I would sand the trunk and paint it white, then maybe turn the top into a padded bench, using ticking stripe fabric.

  5. Steph, her room sounds super cute. I need to see a pic! Yes, you’re right, I need to chop off at least a third. Maybe even ditch them all together. You know, so it doesn’t walk over to my bed at night and try to kill me.

  6. Anne, you and I must be cut from the same cloth. I tear up at things all the time. I used to think it was a disadvantage to be so sensitive, but I felt the Lord tell my heart clearly that it might hurt, but I can hear from Him easier :) Anyway, yes bun feet would have been the way to go! Better proportions for sure.

  7. Hi Elize! You’re more creative than I am; what fun suggestions you have! And I agree, wheels would have been a good idea! I think I had better find another spot for this guy :)

  8. Ooooooh, Jessie, I like the way you think. White and gold. I’m in. And then you said ticking stripe and it’s like we have the same brain. I love all those things, haha!! P.S. I was very brave and used a semicolon in the first sentence. Did I use it right?

  9. Does the Cabinet Coat have a hard, durable surface for items that are site on iy–that is, do things stick to it, or is hard like formica? Thanks!

  10. It’s an enamel, so it’s hard, not sticky. It’s important to make sure it has a surface to stick to though. So sanding, or now I’ve also started using bonding primer for things like tile or other slick surfaces. A polycrylic coat on top helps too :)

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