A new lease of life for a boring bookshelf

Have a boring bookshelf in need of a makeover? Here’s how to give it a new lease of life in a nature-inspired transformation.

Plain wooden bookshelves can be beautiful when the condition is perfect. But once there’s wear and tear, a splash of paint can go a long way.

I like to mix up the projects I work on but my last bookshelf sold so quickly, it was too good of an opportunity to miss.

A new lease of life for a boring bookshelf

The piece

Like the other boring bookshelf makeover, this one was also my favourite price, free!

Do you also like finding free furniture? Here are my tips on how!

Original solid pine bookshelf before the boring bookshelf makeover

This post may include affiliate links so you can easily find the products I love and use myself. If you purchase these products, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

It was in pretty reasonable condition. There were some dings on the top lip and base but nothing that wasn’t easily solved.

I can only assume that the backboard was shoddily replaced at some point because it didn’t fit all the way to the bottom.

Bookshelf with backboard that didn’t fit

I bought some hardboard to replace it and it was lucky that I got it home at all. It involved quite the Tetris yoga situation to get it into my car.

The hardboard in my car

Fortunately, the piece is long enough to use for a sideboard which also needs the backing replacing, so it’s an additional cost in materials of about £6 each.

The prep

I used Dixie Belle’s Mud wood filler to cover the various gauges. It’s easy to get carried away and fill every little ding which wouldn’t be noticeable when painted over. But it’s also quite therapeutic to use.

By adding filler above the surface, there’s a smooth finish when it’s sanded back. If you can still see the lip of the ding, then it will need a second fill once dry.

Filling the dents with Dixie Mud

The original backboard broke easily with a bit of force as it was made up of thin planks. The piece was a lot less stable without the backing holding it straight, so it tended to wobble.

Breaking off the backboard

With the more fun prep stages out of the way, it was time to clean.

This piece has grooves down the side of the front and the cloth shows just how much dirt was in them. This photo was from about swipe seven of one groove, it was that dirty.

Dirt from the grooves

Even if it’s your own furniture and you know where it has been, it’s important to give it a thorough clean before refinishing. This could have been in a shed for years or had years of furniture polish built up on it.

The once clean water was suddenly less so… I washed it with diluted sugar soap and then rinsed it with clean water to get rid of any leftover soap.

Dirty water from cleaning

Back to the start

By sanding with a coarse grit sandpaper, you cut through the existing finish quickly. But you then need to continue to sand with higher grit papers until you reach a finish that is smooth to the touch. I started with 80 grit to get rid of the varnish and then used 180 and 220 grits.

Progressing through the grits is boring but the only way to effectively get an even surface. I hand sanded after the initial 80 grit pass as it’s less noisy and makes for happier neighbours!

Sanding the top of the boring bookshelf makeover

A lick of colour

When you find a product you love, it’s so tempting to use it on everything. I didn’t resist that temptation.

For the top and shelves, I went back to my trusty Cappuccino Stain and Finishing Oil by Fusion. This was after one coat.

You can also see how I used Cappuccino in my handmade gift DIY.

After one coat of stain

Evidently, I forgot to take any photos of the painting process. Minor detail! I did two coats of Lichen by Fusion Mineral Paint and a third coat on the outer sides, which are the most likely to get bumped.

Like green? Here’s a stunning green floral chest of drawers!

Fusion doesn’t require a sealer and is rock solid after 30 days of curing.

Having said that, accidents, pets and crayons do happen, so I always give my customers a small pot of paint so they can touch it up if need be.

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The paper

I found this beautiful wallpaper, Elderwood Natural by Laura Ashley during their closing down sale. If I remember correctly, it was £6 a roll instead of £40.

I didn’t have a plan for it but knew a project would come along that it would be right for.

If you like the nature theme, you might also enjoy reading the project with the bird transfer!

Laura Ashley wallpaper to transform the boring bookshelf makeover

It was wide enough to need two pieces to cover the backboard. I placed the wallpaper underneath the backboard and used an exacto knife to cut along the edge.

To match the pattern, I placed the second piece of wallpaper on top of the backboard and made two small cuts at the top and bottom to line it up.

As wallpaper is heavy paper, I used wallpaper paste rather than decoupage glue to make sure it stuck well.

I then used a brayer to roll out any bubbles or creases, starting from the middle and moving towards the edges.

Using a brayer to smooth out the wallpaper after glueing

Boring bookshelf makeover – the finishing touches

I staple gunned the backboard back into place and it finally stabilised the unit again.

It also needed a wobbly foot glueing back on which I did with wood glue. I also stained the feet to create a nice balance of the cappuccino brown at the top, middle and bottom.

The finished boring bookshelf makeover

The nature-inspired colours of the paint and stain really complement the colours in the wallpaper.

closeup of the finished boring bookshelf makeover

What do you think of the boring bookshelf makeover? We’ll see if this one flies off the shelves (ba bum tsh) as quickly as the last one… (note from the future, it did, even faster actually!).

If you enjoyed this post you might also like this chest of drawers transformation.

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Rachel started painting furniture in 2018. She created this site to share her favourite transformations and the many tips she has learned along the way.


By Rachel

Rachel started painting furniture in 2018. She created this site to share her favourite transformations and the many tips she has learned along the way.


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1 year ago

What an amazing transformation. Your excellent information as to how you achieved the end result shows the level of care you give to your work.

Cindy Rust
1 year ago

The perfect trifecta! Gorgeous paper, beautiful stain and perfect paint! Well done!

1 year ago

This bookshelf turning out beautiful! The color that you painted it in along with the wallpaper pattern makes the piece pop. Great job!

Yvonne Johnson
Yvonne Johnson
1 year ago

Free is my favourite four letter F word.

1 year ago

What is sugar soap?

10 months ago

This is a beautiful transformation!

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