Bookcase Makeover + Pro Design Tips

In a nutshell, our house is one gigantic project.  It is nearly 40 years old and everything is outdated and pretty much hideous.  Slowly but surely, things are coming along and I plan to share most of our renovation projects soon.  Recently, we replaced all of the flooring in the front portion of our home (the kitchen, family, and dining rooms have to wait for a few walls to be knocked down, beams to be built, electrical work, etc).

It’s been so fun to finally start making our house a home, starting with the living room.IMG_2352I’ve especially enjoyed putting our bookcase together.  Over the years, I’ve had many guests comment on our various bookcases and their desire to decorate their own in a similar fashion.

CONFESSION: Years ago, I hired an interior designer to help me decorate some bookcases.  She gave me some great tips that I still incorporate when decorating almost any area of my home.

Before we get to the design tips, I wanted to share the much needed makeover our bookcase recently underwent.

Meet our IKEA entertainment center from a few houses ago…OLDIEThere she is, in all her HEMNES glory (sorry, inside joke I’ve got going with my hubs).

Years later, we are in a new house and actually no longer want an entertainment center at all.  I planned to get rid of the whole thing until I saw what my sister had done with hers.  If you have an older sister, you are aware of the rule that you must copy everything she does.  She chalk-painted hers and so then must I.

I decided to get rid of the center pieces and combine the two end bookcases.  I attached them to one another with the included hardware along the top seam to form one unit.

For the paint,  I used the same color I’ve used on all our bathroom vanities, Annie Sloan’s French Linen.  It is the best color ever.  In fact, my new slogan is: When in doubt, French Linen.  Just kidding, it’s totally not my slogan.  But it IS a great color.

Side by side comparison.2017-05-02

At the time, I had no intention of starting a blog.  Therefore I have no process pictures, but I do have some tips.


 You will need to remove all the shelves and paint them separate from the main piece.  I did not sand or prep in any way.  I simply removed any dust with a quick wipe down.  Begin by cutting in all the corners, seams, and edges with a brush, just as you would when painting a room.  Next, paint all the flat surfaces and the shelves.  Use a small foam roller to avoid brush strokes.  I laid the shelves out on the floor on a drop cloth and painted one side first, then when dry, flipped and repeated on the other side.  I felt like the dark was a bit hard to cover and used three coats of paint.  I also strongly suggest using the recommend wax coat when chalk-painting.  It leaves a nice finish and protects from chipping, staining, and fading.

I can’t lie, painting those bookcases was a pretty tedious process, but well worth the results.  I think it took about 5 days of painting (during nap-time)  before the whole thing was complete, but I love the updated, fresh look, and would definitely do it again.

Now.  Back to the interior design tips.


First up…booksmelYes, that is correct.  I actually paid a person to tell me that my bookcase needed books.

My thoughts on books:

  • Stick with a theme.  Is this a functioning bookcase?  A children’s bookcase?  In our case, this particular bookcase is mainly for our vintage book collection.  If it’s not old and falling apart, it doesn’t belong here.  Decide what types of books will be kept in your bookcase and stick to the plan.
  • Put your best books up high (hardbacks or vintage) and everything else below (paperbacks, magazines, photo albums, and children’s books).
  •  Arrange books in similar groupings: by size, color, shape, etc.
  • Display and stack your books in a variety of directions.  When stacking or lining up books, always move from largest to smallest.

Next on the list?

Clearly, any plants inside of a bookcase will receive little to zero sunlight.  I always save myself the trouble of even trying to keep something alive stick with faux plants and succulents.

The third requirement…

Think mirrors, jars, vases, or bottles.  I used glass candle holders, antique glass bottles, a mirrored letter, and of course, the glass over our pictures.

Next up…

Wood gives a warm homey feel to any design space.  I incorporated a wooden frame, wood beads, and my old wood trunks.  Oh!  And my little pink wood chair which is basically my favorite thing in my house.  Notice, I put it out of reach of my two little girls whom find great pleasure in trying to cram their booty’s into that tiny little seat.

The next bookcase necessity..

Some sort of metal is a must.  Go with whatever other metal elements are in the room you are decorating.  If you are uncertain, look at your light fixtures for some guidance…chrome? brushed nickel? copper? I wanted to keep this particular bookcase pretty soft and light and avoided any dark or heavy metal objects.  The only metal I used was my chrome encased mirrored letter and the accent metals on my leather frames and wood trunks.  I guess I sorta maybe need more metal.  Crap, I broke my own rule.

And last, but not least…

I went with matching rhino book ends, a few Lladro figurines, and a white ceramic pitcher vase.

Now that you are educated on the 6 elements every bookcase (or in my opinion EVERY AREA of design) should include, let me add a few more of my own tips!

Whenever I am decorating any area, I always think back on the good old days spent in high school art class.

REPETITION:  It is pleasing to the eye to view similar shapes, colors, textures, etc.  For example: Matching bookends, matching ceramics or statues, a row of similar vases or plants.  Find something you like, and then repeat it elsewhere in the bookcase.  Simple as that.

BALANCE:  Do your best to keep larger more prominent items toward the bottom of the case and smaller, daintier things up high.  Notice my large wedding album and trunk on the bottom…and the small candles and figurines on top.

TEXTURE AND SHAPE: Be mindful of the shapes you are creating.  Books and picture frames are both typically angular.  Make sure to incorporate rounded and softer edges.  Treat each shelf as it’s own space with a variety of shapes and texture.

My final word of advice to achieve a perfectly decorated space: PERSONALIZE!  Add the things that make you happy; things that remind you of places and people and times you love.  If there is something that doesn’t fit in the “rules” but you love it, go for it!  My Lladro statues really don’t match the vibe of anything in our current home, but they are extremely sentiment to me and must be on display.  Make it a space that you want to be near, filled with things you love.

I hope this wasn’t too wordy and I’ve inspired you to create something fun in your home.  If not a bookcase, maybe a mantle or table top.  I challenge you to create a happy space where you can display the collections and treasures that make your heart happy.

Happy decorating!

Updated photo as I am constantly rearranging things:jeanandbruno (1 of 1).jpgSide note: We are always on the lookout for fun old books.  We’ve had some success at Goodwill or Salvation Army, but Ebay is usually the best bet.

6 thoughts on “Bookcase Makeover + Pro Design Tips

  1. I love that you are doing this! What kind of wax did you use after you painted? How many coats did you put on?

  2. I LOVE THIS! Thanks, Mel.❤️ This is really amazing. Now I want to know what “rules” you use when putting together your trays/displays for a side table, coffee table, piano, etc. so much less space to work with. Hit me up, momma. XO!

    1. Jenn my love!!! You’re so sweet! So I really do use these same guidelines in (or on) every space…tables, trays, or whole rooms too. Of course you can always fit them all in if it’s a small table or tray, but I try to incorporate all these elements.

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