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Bookcases Upcycled with Paint and Wrapping Paper

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You don’t need to buy a brand new bookcase, you can upcycle your old furniture with a simple color change and some wrapping paper. Learn how painted bookshelves can make a big difference and can transform your decor space into a more pretty and modern place.

Distressed dictionary stand next to bookcase painted in white. Shelves are decorated with clay pot, flower pot, books, bottles and a clock.

Painted Bookcases for a Fresh New Look

I was happy to visit my sons in New York in 2017. While there I made a number of changes.  In fact, it is safer to say that I wreaked havoc. I made sure to repurpose and upcycle a whole bunch of things. 

But my biggest job was the dining room bookcases upcycled with chalky paint and gift wrapping paper.  ​This was the mess in the dining room of my son’s apartment.  And it could only have gotten better after I painted the bookshelves with my chalk paint.

Brown book shelves decorated with. books.

I had meant to simply organize the books but it looked just awful. Too much dark wood and too many colors. You can see on the right that one of the bookcases has a blue background.  It does serve to break up the wood a bit. But I wanted to paint! Painted bookshelves can really transform a space.

My dad was not too happy about this turn of events.  He asked me why I wanted to put myself through such a headache.  After all, it was the dead of winter and here I was wanting to paint. I started by moving the bookcases apart so there was space between them to fit something else.  I had a plan in mind.

What I Used to Paint the Bookshelves

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How to Paint Bookshelves

Using the white homemade chalky paint I had made for the dictionary stand, you can read all about how I made the homemade chalky paint here, I set to work. I should point out here that these are cheap bookcases, nothing special. These are not even wood, they’re particle board covered in laminate imitation wood grain.  It would have been impossible for me to ruin them.

Starting to paint the bookcase white.

Here is what the wall looked like once the bookcases were removed.  I positioned the dictionary stand in the center.

Positioning the dictionary stand against the wall.

The bookcases were painted, sanded and waxed, just like the dictionary stand. All in all it took three coats of my homemade chalky paint to cover them well. And as before I only sanded at the end of the painting process not in between or before the chalk paint. Because I’m lazy that way? No, because I didn’t want to remove the laminate. Also between coats of paint it was not necessary since they were not at all smooth, thanks to my chalk paint.  

This whole process took me a few days because I wanted to let the paint dry thoroughly in between coats.  It was winter after all!

I then flanked the stand with the two bookcases like this. Well, in the picture you can see one of them.  

That’s when I had an idea. I wanted to add a bit of interest to this all white painted bookshelves.

Placing a white painted bookcase next to a stand.

 I had bought a pretty roll of gift wrapping paper which looked like birch. Now you all knowI never use wrapping paper to wrap gifts in.  No, I repurposed it and placed it on the inside of the bookcases as a backdrop to add visual interest.

Adding a birch wall paper to the back of the bookcase.

The interesting thing about these inserts is that they are removable.  Yes that’s right because just like with everything else in my life nothing should be permanent.  If I get bored I simply remove the inserts. You know i do this all the time, as with my recent Framed Heart Craft and my Card Displayer

Close up of birch wrapping paper.

It was very easy to do.  I measured out the back of the bookcase and cut pieces of cardboard to fit in perfectly.  Then I cut the birch paper and folded it over the cardboard and taped it on the back. Below you can see a piece of blue cardboard that is folded over for extra strength and the birch paper taped to the back.

Taping the birch wrapping paper.

​It was super easy to do and four out of the six inserts were the same size.

Close up of the added birch wrapping paper added to the back of the bookshelf.

Now isn’t this more interesting than the plain white backs of the painted bookcases?

dictionary stand flanked by 2 painted and decorated bookcases.

And then I had fun styling the bookshelves. I added a brass candelabra.

Shelf with candelabra, books and glass bottles.

I also added a clay cooking pot that I had bought over from Greece. Let’s not forget my coffee with tea light.

Close up of shelf decorated with clay pot, a plant, books and a clock.

​I even added a vintage gas lamp that I found in my dad’s basement.  Yes, he has one of those too!

Bottom of the bookshelf decorated with a vintage gas lamp, books, milk pourer, and glass jar.

Here you can see a small sampling of my son’s books. The little milk pourer is unusual.  At least I think that’s what it is. Correct me if I’m wrong.

Close up of a milk pourer,, books and a glass jar.

And for all of you who have been following me on Facebook, you know what that blue thing is.

For the rest of you folks, it was a craft that I made with my son years ago. And yes, it is a dragon egg.  We made it using clay and then placed way too many thumb tacks over it to give the illusion of scales.  Finally it was painted silvery blue.

Decorative dragon egg, wooden doll and candles.

In the center of the painted bookshelves I placed the dictionary stand and even added a big art book.  The storage underneath is two big cardboard boxes that have been covered in fabric. I really like the fabric for the boxes and they serve to anchor the whole composition.

Finished and painted bookcase next to dictionary stand.
Book on a dictionary stand and fabric covered storage underneath.

I chose not to distress the bookcases like the dictionary stand because I wanted a simpler look. Anyway the birch effect gives it all the glamour it needs.

Distressed dictionary stand next to bookcase painted in white. Shelves are decorated with clay pot, flower pot, books, bottles and a clock.

To finish things off, I added one of those frames that are so popular now.  I think they look kind of cool like that, so that the whole bookshelves will not be too busy.

two bookcases with dictionary stand in the middle, Bookcases Upcycled with Paint and Wrapping Paper

​I didn’t put anything inside them, just left them with a grey background. They have dimension if not lots of color, but I like that.

But I have to confess this is all staged.  I am working on a piece that will go there permanently, it should be ready soon. And then you will see how things really look in this room.

Close up of a bookcase with birch wrapping paper background and shelves decorated with books, glass bottles and a potted plant.

At this stage it is worth reminding you of the before.  The new white color really transformed the whole room.  It looks so much larger and brighter now.  Even my dad was super impressed with the end result and that is saying a lot!

Brown book shelves decorated with. books.

And that is the story of how my bookcases were upcycled with chalky type paint and gift wrapping paper. Now my dad is happy and so am I. My son, on the other hand, cannot find his books. But that is a subject for another post. “wink”.

If you’d like to see where the books went you can visit my project on the mirror and see the bookcases and the books. No books were harmed in the making of this project. 

To see where the bookcases are now click here

Are you like me, do you wreak havoc every time you visit your kid’s apartment?

Bookcases upcycled with chalky type paint and birch gift wrapping paper, #furnituremakeover #upcycledbookcases #chalkyfinishpaint #newlifeforoldthings #bookcasemakeover #paintedfurniture #birchpaper #wrappingpaperasbackingforbookcase #repurposedwrappingpaper Bookcases Upcycled with Paint and Wrapping Paper

More Upycling Project Ideas  

Upcycle a Dictionary Stand with Chalk Paint
Accidental Tri-Colored Coffee Table

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Monday 8th of April 2019

What an amazing transformation. It look so lovely now. Congratulation, you had a great Idea.


Saturday 13th of April 2019

Thanks so much Simona. If I don't like something I take out that paint in a snap!

Marjan Hoebeke-Pfaff

Monday 6th of February 2017

HAHA! Just wanted to ask you about the books - I'll have to wait then... What great bookcases they are now. You were right, you most definitely couldn't leave them the way they were - too depressing and pretty old-fashioned. Now it looks classy, absolutely stylish and bright. How often have I heard friends say they're unhappy with their home but lack the money to buy new furniture and all it really takes is some paint - muts tell them about you! Welcome home, Marjan


Monday 6th of February 2017

You will see the books soon. I have to put his books back otherwise he'll never forgive me. Haha! You know I used to think like that too Marjan. Oh I need new this or new that. But since becoming a blogger I've become fearless and willing to try almost anything. And this painting furniture... well, you become pretty good at it after a few mistakes. The bookcases were downright depressing to look at before.

Linda J.

Monday 6th of February 2017

I love what you did with your bookcase and book stand. The contrast of the wallpaper in the back of your bookcases give it an unusual, well defined look that I really like. What a wonderful transformation! Thank you for sharing your idea.


Monday 6th of February 2017

Thank you Linda for your comment. It really was pretty horrible before. And it doesn't take much to transform a room from dull to something you can live with. Even after I put the books back (because I had to give my son his books) it still looked so much better.


Monday 6th of February 2017

I saw this on fb and I was so curious to see how you transformed it! I was not dissapointed, once again I admire your creativity and your skills! Amazing transformation Mary!


Monday 6th of February 2017

Ntina that grain wood looked so fake. What was the point of keeping it like that? If it;'s not wood then there is no use in pretending. It is so much brighter now.


Monday 6th of February 2017

What a transformation, wonderful


Monday 6th of February 2017

Thank you so much Caroline.

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