Thursday, November 17, 2011

Brag Book(shelves)

So... I like to read.  And I have a lot of books.  Somewhere along the way, I collected a set of five cheap, mis-matched, particle board book cases.  I got three of them at a Container Store clearance sale, and two of them at an Office Depot clearance sale (I swear I got those two for $20.  For the both of them.)

Anyway, they did the job, but they didn't look especially great.  I shoved them all together in our back room and tried to pretend it had a "built-in" look. They did the job of corralling my books in one place (and displaying a crapload of framed photos) but when I looked at them with a critical eye?  They did not please me.  I wasn't sure what to do about it, though.  I mean, I love the books, and the look of full bookshelves.  Buying nice, real wood bookshelves looked like it would be more than I wanted to spend, and the truth was these bookshelves were serving their purpose.  I just wanted them to look purdier.

THEN I discovered Pinterest, and not ONLY did I suddenly want everything in my house to look cuter, I also wanted to DIY it into looking that way (behold the power of Pinterest).

So I did some research (by which I mean pinning), and I did some measuring and scheming, and I consulted with my in-house handyman about how confident he felt in his ability to use a miter saw to cut corners, and we decided to tackle this project.

Haphazard, mismatched bookshelves.  The three in the middle are from the Container Store, the two on each end are from Office Depot. All of them were purchased at least five years ago.
I had a vision of crisp, white built-in bookshelves, complete with crown molding and trim.  I also had a budget of $100, but truth be told, the entire project (counting all paint, primer, supplies, and trim) blew right through that budge and ending up costing us a total of somewhere around $250.   Still MUCH less than the cost of a single built-in unit!  And the whole project took about a week from start to finish, since we were working on it when we weren't working on our real jobs.

First, David took the shelves out and moved the bookcase frames and the shelves all out to the garage, where I primed everything with an oil-based primer.  I used Zissner's from Lowe's (because it was recommended on Pinterest).  It was kind of stinky, but actually not as bad as I feared.  I used a foam roller that I could just toss when I was finished, because I didn't want to mess with using mineral spirits for clean up.  I did all the priming and painting with the doors and windows open so it would be well-ventilated, but I also wore a mask.  And I wore my favorite old pair of yoga pants which I would still wear to yoga if I hadn't ripped out the butt of them (my mom sewed them for me, but they're still not really serviceable for downward dog) and my Thespians t-shirts from high school ("Act well your part, there all the honor lies" - Alexander Pope).  Oh, and because I wanted to avoid oil-based primer in my hair, I wore a very cute bandana doo-rag.  I assure you, I looked adorable.

I did two coats of primer, and then two coats of paint.  It took longer than I wanted to, but it turned out pretty well, considering that I was skeptical about how well I'd be able to paint particle board.  I also got to listen to NPR's Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me TWICE, as they play it on Saturday and Sunday.

Once everything was primed, painted, and dried, we lined the shelves back up on the wall.

We decided to alternate the three matching cases with the pair of slightly smaller bookcases because I thought it would make the whole piece look more cohesive than having the two skinnier bookcases stuck on the ends.  David boosted the height of the two smaller cases a little bit by building a sturdy platform for them to sit on that raised them an inch or so off the ground.  The idea was to make the height even enough that we could cover the discrepancy with trim (you can see the unevenness in the above photo).  We had to be careful, because we couldn't raise the bottom so high it would show above the baseboard trim, but we needed to make it high enough that the trim across the top would cover everything.  Plus we needed to think about how we'd put the shelves back in so that we could try to make the variation in the levels of the shelves look deliberate.  It really took a LOT of brain power and some use of the tape measure.

A few years ago, I had taken the cardboard backing of the old shelves and covered it in wrapping paper in an effort to spruce it up.  But since I wanted these to look like real "built-ins," I decided to leave the backs open so the wall would serve as the back of the bookshelves.  I actually cleaned the wall with a magic eraser because it was kind of grody back there, having been hidden by the bookcases for five years.  We ended up removing the baseboard so the bookcases would sit flush against the wall, and we also attached all of the bookshelves to the wall, for extra stability.  It was definitely worth the extra trouble to get it all lined up and nice and even.  

And (after I primed and painted all the trim), David busted out his trusty nail gun (seriously, that thing makes me flinch every time he uses it) and we attached trim around the top, around the bottom, running down the corners, along the sides that meet the wall, and we used a small piece of trim 1.5" wide to run down the front in between each bookcase so you wouldn't see the seam.  Oh, and I also used some white spray paint I had on hand from the frame project to spray paint the little plastic clip-things that hold the actual shelves in place (remember: these are cheap bookshelves!).

See how the trim makes it look like one seamless piece?  Honestly, it turned out even better than I expected.  I was not quite sure whether David's handyman skills would match my Pinterest-inspired vision, but he did a fantastic job.

We bought a board to go across the top of the entire case ($20, but worth it), to add to the feeling that it was one solid piece of furniture, and to provide a smooth, even surface for displaying the old family photos I love so much.  I was really pleased with the way it all turned out in the end:

And the view from the dining room:

In this photo, I think it kind of looks like the floor is discolored in front of the bookcase, but it's actually just the glossy white being reflected in my gleaming floors.  I'm sure by now that reflection is muted by dog hair and grime.

The shelves are still what I like to think of as "comfortably cluttered"--I couldn't bear to put away many of the framed photos I have (although I did pare down the display), and the books are (nerd alert!) organized by time period and genre instead of size or color.  Victorian novels?  Right here.  British Modernism?  On the shelf above twentieth-century American literature.  Harry Potter?  Front and center, just above the four-volume Norton Shakespeare, and to the right of our travel books.  So yes, I chose practicality and sentimentality over aesthetics.  But I'm still pretty thrilled with the result.  It looks like a real bookcase, instead of like a bunch of cheap crap I bought while I was in grad school!  (By the way, the basket on the bottom shelf holds CDs (about half of our collection), because even though I only listen to music on my ipod, I'm still unwilling to part with the CDs I bought in high school and college.  It's a mild hoarding problem.  I get it from my dad.)

Once again, for your viewing pleasure, the before and after:


One of these days I'll tackle the other side of the room (where my desk is).  For now, I'm happy to curl up in that comfy red chair and troll Pinterest to get inspired for my next project...


  1. Bazinga! ;)

    This might be my favorite project reveal of yours yet! And I had no idea (despite my pinterest stalking) you were even tackling such an awesome project.

    That looks fabulous. Also, I have an obsession with baskets and random things stuck in bookshelves and have always envied those with built-ins. We don't have built ins, but we do have a pretty kick-ass fireplace with enormous mantle.

    Anyway, you are incredible and your handyman husband, too!

  2. Wow!!!!

    What a difference...I am jealous of your shelves. Nice work!!!

  3. AWESOME! I love it! LOVE pinterest too..wondering how I could find you...hmmm.
    My husband and I sprung big bucks for our library but you make it seem worthwhile to get the cheapies and do all the hard work for such a great result. Funny about your organization...My books are organized into, Non-Fiction by authors last name, reference, textbooks, and children's section.
    You did an AWESOME JOB!

  4. OMG that looks so awesome! Wow! I can only recreate Pintrest food and even then, not picture worthy. The books on my shelves are so awkward because I study Planned Parenthood and abortion-- some of the titles make guests do a double take for sure. And then in my free time, I read only the schlockiest of schlock, and my husband is a John Grisham fan. Weird books is what I am saying.

  5. Glad to see someone else has an slight DIY addiciton to pinterest.

    You transformation is very impressive. My favorite part is your personal organization system!ha!

  6. You did an amazing job! and I laughed reading about the yoga pants and the downward dog part. I use hospital scrubs when I paint, the same old pair that I use time and time again. It is very functional.

  7. My dream house has lots of built in bookshelves. And window seats.

    Your project looks fabulous and very professional! Good work! I also like the cute basket on the lower right shelf and the frames sprinkled throughout.

  8. Bravo! I'm impressed, it looks great!

  9. That is SPECTACULAR. I need to show this to Ryan because we have a space almost exactly the same size and I want to do built ins there and I thought something like this would work but he didn't believe me. Thanks!

  10. Looks amazing Brooke! I love it and you and David did a fantastic job! :)

  11. wow, wow, wow. you guys did an amazing job. hail pinterest!!!

  12. Wow! That turned out really well!

  13. I am so jealous, these are awesome!!
    Built in shelves on 2 walls in our living room and 1 wall in our bedroom are on our someday to do list, but unfortunately pretty far down. First up is a shower in the master bathroom. I can't wait for them though! I hope they look as good as yours do!

  14. Nice job guys! Considering we would charge $3K for that same built in bookcase, $250 is pretty good. :)