The Tale of an Ugly Bookcase

When I was growing up, my mom was (and still is) a pro garage-saler.  She would get up early every Wednesday morning (because that was when garage sales started) and head out with her sister.  To this day, she can hardly drive by a “Garage Sale” sign without stopping to check it out.

While I don’t have quite the propensity for garage saling as my mom does, I do enjoy it and certainly recognize the value of it.  My mom has scored some amazing things over the years – from furniture, to brand new area rugs, to kitchen appliances, to home decor, and so on and so on – for next to nothing.  In fact, I still have a number of garage sale pieces in my house that my mom scored years ago. 

Full disclosure, though, sometimes her garage sale finds are rather unsightly.  But while they may not look pretty, they always serve a great purpose.  Case in point…this bookcase.

Learn how to make an old, ugly bookcase look new and gorgeous

My mom picked this up at a garage sales years ago.  I am an avid reader and a bit of a book hoarder.  This bookcase was cheap and super sturdy, so my mom grabbed it for me.  It has followed me through multiple states and homes, and it has definitely served it’s purpose well.  It’s always nice to have a small bookcase that you can tuck into a corner, or small space, of a room.  However, when we moved into our current home, I decided it was time (well past time, really) for a face-lift.

The photos aren’t the greatest, as they were taken years ago, way before I started this blog, but you’ll still get the idea.

I knew that I wanted to paint the bookcase white, and put some sort of paper covering on the inside back wall.  So, I went to Target to see if they had anything that would work, and of course, they did.  Target has everything, right?!  I chose the Devine Color Chantilly Peel & Stick Wallpaper in Buck.  I loved the classic feel of the pattern, and I thought the color would be a nice contrast to the white.  

The first thing I did (okay, so my husband actually did this part) was take the back off of the bookcase.  I didn’t actually realize the bookcase was built this way when I decided to jump into this project, but it made things SO much easier.  The main frame and shelves of this bookcase are solid wood, but the back is just a single piece of plywood-like material that is attached in one sheet.  Major time, and headache, saver.

A step-by-step for how to repurpose an old bookcase

The wallpaper that I bought was not quite as wide as the bookcase.  So, first, I lined up the edge of the wallpaper with one edge of the bookcase and unrolled it down the length of the back in one piece.  I thought it would be easier to do it this way, rather than cutting a large piece off to try to apply.  I can’t hardly work with a one-foot square of Saran Wrap without getting it tangled, much less a 3-4 foot piece of contact paper.  Then, I measured the width of what was still exposed, and I cut a strip to cover it.  Truthfully, I didn’t get the two pieces lined up exactly perfect, but once the whole thing was done, you really couldn’t tell.  

I don’t remember having any trouble with bubbles in the paper, but if you do, something small and flat (like a credit card) is all you need to help smooth them out.  That was it for Part 1!

A step-by-step for how to repurpose an old bookcase. Go from drab to fab in just a few easy steps!

Then, we painted.  My dad has been in the construction business his whole life, and the only paint he uses is Sherwin Williams.  He always recommends using oil-based paint when painting on wood.  It is a bit trickier to work with than latex, if you’ve never used it before.  It leaves an amazing finish, though, and it’s much more durable than latex-based paint.  So, while I don’t have any photos of the actual paint we used, it’s very likely that we primed with Sherwin Williams Pro-Block (oil-base) and painted with Sherwin Williams Pro-Classic (also oil-base).

Now, a lot of you DIYers may gasp and be tempted to shut your computer off when I say this, but I’m pretty sure we didn’t prep this bookcase at all.  It didn’t have a lacquer finish, and it was pretty rough to begin with.  So, I’m fairly certain we just took a paint brush to that sucker and went to town.  Again, I don’t remember exactly, but my best guess is we did one coat of primer and at least two coats of paint.  The bookcase was quite dark to begin with, which often requires a fair amount of paint to completely cover – especially when it’s white paint.

Learn how to repurpose an old, ugly bookcase and make it look new and gorgeous

Once the painting was finished, we reattached the back and voila!  So. Much. Better.  

Learn how to turn on old, ugly bookcase into this. Step-by-step guide.

I love how it turned out, and it has held up really well.  It currently houses a large portion of my children’s books.  Even with them constantly pulling books (not-so-gently) off the shelves, the paint (and wallpaper) still looks fantastic.


Sharing is caring!


    1. It was such an easy transformation. You should try with your bookcase, and let me know how it goes! Thanks for looking!

  1. I absolutely LOVE this! I actually picked up an old chair that my neighbors left behind when they moved. (Is that legal? Hmmm.) I was so proud that I repurposed it. It feels so rewarding breathing new life into something old. I LOOOOVE the bookshelf. Definitely my style!


    1. Thank you so much! I actually almost picked up two chairs that my neighbor had put out at the curb a few weeks ago. I didn’t though because I wasn’t sure where I would put them, and I have been desperately trying to purge my house. Congrats on flipping the chairs! It is such a great feeling! Thanks for stopping by!

    1. Hahah! I think everyone has an old bookcase like this. It took me years to get around to doing something about it, so don’t give up. 🙂 Thanks for looking!

    1. I know what you mean about seeing things on Pinterest and wishing for real-life testimony! This one has held up really well in the few years since we’ve done it. Thanks so much for stopping by!

    1. Thanks so much! I love the paper as well. I actually still have some left. I should probably figure out a way to use it… Thanks for looking!

    1. Thank you so much, and thanks for pinning! Hopefully, you can get your bookcase updated and looking fabulous, too!

  2. That bookcase looks so much better! I’m impressed that you even took before and after pictures before blogging! Thanks for sharing at the #happynowlinkup!

    1. Ha! Yeah, I think I just wanted to document the process in case it worked. 🙂 Plus, I wanted a side-by-side comparison after it was done. Thanks for looking!

    1. Thanks so much! It really was easy to transform. You should totally give it a try on yours. Let me know how it goes! Thanks for looking!

  3. This is gorgeous! I wish I had the patience to do something like this! My mom actually “refunks junk” in her spare time and teaches people how to do this as well. I haven’t become brave enough to join one of her classes, but if something like the yardsale bookshelf can come out to the beautiful white bookshelf you made, I am all in!

    1. Thank you so much! You should totally try it. It really wasn’t hard at all. If you find a piece like this that doesn’t need much prep, it’s not hard to slap a couple of coats of paint on. Thanks again for the wonderful compliment!

  4. Amy, this is a huge transformation! And it looks great. That dark wood really made that area look dark and dreary, the white sings with the paint color.

    I really love the backing paper that you used, damask is one of my favorites. I’m sure that your books look nicer placed on this light and airy shelf!

    1. Thank you so much! Yes, it was pretty dreary before, huh? Ha! At the moment, it’s holding my cookbooks in the dining room. I really need to thin my cookbooks out though, so you can see more of the background…since that was a pretty major part of the transformation. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  5. This looks fantastic! Great job! Now where are my supplies so I can fix that ugly bookcase in the living room… 🙂 #happynowlinkup

    1. Yes! Go for it! It really wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. And I’m no longer embarrassed to actually have it sitting out in my house now. 🙂

  6. I love this project!! I would definitely do this to a bookcase. In fact, I think I have one in storage that could benefit from this treatment. Beautiful!

    1. Thanks so much! You should totally do it. Bring it out of storage and make it so pretty, that you couldn’t possibly put it back in storage. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

    1. Thank you! I love the wallpaper, too! I need to come up with some way to use the rest of it up. I just came across it yesterday, as I was clearing out a closet. Thanks for looking!

  7. Super cute. Love that you repurposed one of your mom’s garage sale finds from years ago, that is almost like double repurposing. If the people who sold it could see it now, well, they would not recognize it and would probably want to buy it. Then you could tell them, hey, this was actually yours once! 🙂 I love those peel and sticks. I bought some from Target to do my bookcase, but mine is a built in. I have had contact paper on it for years and no one even knows. It looks painted. Great job!

    1. Haha! It’s probably true that they would never recognize it! I love the peel and stick as well. I’m thinking about doing my pantry next (which is actually just a large cabinet)! Maybe I’ll post about it in the coming month. 🙂 Thanks so much for taking a look!

  8. I love a good DIY makeover…the white and background are just smashing together and I’m sure really brightens up your book corner. I’ve chosen your bookcase makeover as my feature for this week’s Friday Favorites Linky Party, thanks for linking up!!

    1. Oh my gosh! Thank you so much! I’m so excited – I just wish the pictures were better. And thanks for hosting every week!

  9. I love the look of your book case. Now I must say your simply brillant because I would of cut each one out to stick in there not realizing to pull the back off! LOL haha. Happy to visit today from Friday Faves.

    1. Haha! Pretty sure my husband was the one who noticed that. Thank goodness he did! Thank you for taking a look!

    1. Haha, it was quite the transformation! I love it, too, even years later. And I actually have another piece that I’m thinking about using a similar backing on. 😉 Thanks so much, Mary!

  10. Love the wallpaper you choose for the back Amy. I’m still try to find where you didn’t get it aligned exactly perfectly. It looks absolutely perfect to me. The whole bookcase looks classic and so much prettier than it was before

    1. Ha! Thanks, Michelle. I can definitely spot it, although it’s not nearly as noticeable when the back is actually attached to the shelves. 😉 It was definitely a much needed makeover!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.