How to refinish a bookcase: From cheap to chic in 5 steps

Granted, we all need bookcases in our lives, but do we need ugly ones? Negative. If you are currently unable to purchase brand new furniture, it is a very sensible idea to renovate a bookcase that you have used – or that is already in your house and looks worse from wear – a very sensible idea. Whether you want to restore an old piece of furniture or give a ‘modern’ piece of furniture that feels a little tacky a new stylish life, there are some hard, quick and easy steps that will help you realize your bookcase of dreams.

You could of course build a bookshelf from scratch, but if you like thrift shopping – who doesn’t? – follow in furniture flipper Christina Lipstone’s (opens in new tab) footsteps to create a fresh new look for your bookshelf.

How to refurbish a bookcase?

In most homes, storage is almost always expensive. Even if you have a large space, there is always something to store or display. In Lipstone’s case, her bookcases were desperately needed for storage. So they are an important storage item and definitely worth investing some DIY time in.

Keep scrolling for the step-by-step!

1. Find your bookcase

First of all, you want to find a bookcase that is ripe for refinishing. ‘I found these bookcases on Facebook Marketplace. (opens in new tab)‘ shares Lipstone.

Think about what you want from it, whether you want open or hidden storage, how big your space is, and so on.

“I was looking for storage options for all my staging items that I use to stage my finished furniture pieces that I sell. Buying brand new bookcases was way beyond my budget, so when I saw these on Facebook Marketplace, I knew they would be perfect!”

Bookcase makeover before and after

Credit: Christina Lipstone

2. Sand and remove existing finish

Not all finishes are good, and these bookcases gave off a very dated vibe.

‘The bookcases had previously been painted with acrylic paint. I spent weeks sanding off all the acrylic paint and removing the diamond-shaped hardware on each door.”

If you don’t want to use a sander, there are other ways to remove paint from wood (opens in new tab) furniture including heat guns and oven cleaners…

Bookcase makeover before and after

Credit: Christina Lipstone

3. Replace Upholstery and Hardware

After taking the time to sand off the paint, Lipstone moved on to changing the hardware. “I’ve added new upholstery, legs and handles.”

‘The edges of the bookcases were made of exposed MDF, so the bookcases looked unfinished. I went to DIY store (opens in new tab) and bought some primed pine and trim wood. I then cut them to size glued (opens in new tab) and nailed them in place to give the bookcases a finished look.”

You want a seamless finish, ready to paint. In Lipstone’s case, she had to fill in some gaps and smooth out the seams of the new hardware additions.

‘L filled with wood (opens in new tab) all the nail holes and caulked the seams of the new trim.’

Bookcase makeover before and after

Credit: Christina Lipstone

4. Repaint and reassemble

She then repainted the entire bookcase in a color that was much more in line with her interior style: modern boho.

Bookcase makeover before and after

Credit: Christina Lipstone

‘My personal style is a modern boho look. Keeping this one to myself, I went for my favorite color Coal Black from Fusion Mineral paint. l primed (opens in new tab) and then painted with my paint sprayer. I then added some support blocks to the bottom to add the new legs.

Bookcase makeover before and after

Credit: Christina Lipstone

5. Add Decorative Details

“Once I got the bookcases in the house, I realized the doors don’t slide smoothly, so I added wise owl (opens in new tab) furniture cream for every door runner and this solved the problem.’

Lipstone noted how the wood accents in hardware were chosen to better contrast the black and it’s those finer details that can make all the difference:

Bookcase makeover before and after

Credit: Christina Lipstone

“I bought square wood dowels on Amazon and cut them to size to use as hardware. I carefully taped them to each door.’

The results:

Two freshly painted black bookcases with wood hardware in a living room with hardwood floors and white walls

Credit: Christina Lipstone

“I estimate I spent about $350 in total. When I initially started looking for bookcases, the new price was somewhere between $300 and $700 each! I saved a lot of money buying from the Facebook marketplace and painting them myself.”

The Lipstone bookcase refinish came in at a reasonable price considering the difference, aesthetically, and the average price for a brand new bookcase (which looks this good).

“It was all so worth it. I’d like to say my style is a cross between modern and boho and I couldn’t be happier with the way it brought this whole room together. It was so rewarding to finally flip for myself and now I can enjoy all my hard work every time I pass this room!’ Adds Lipstone.

You could keep your budget even lower with a DIY bookshelf or by keeping your flip a little simpler. A quick clean, sanding and a fresh coat of furniture paint is often all you need. The key is to find an original piece that needs less repair to begin with, so less need to replace in terms of hardware and trim.

Have fun flipping!

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