One Woman’s Trash Is Another Woman’s Treasure – The Tale of a Bookcase Transformed

WARNING:  No wood was harmed in this project, but if you feel it is sacrilegious to paint wood, this is not the post for you!

It was a nice sunny Saturday morning and I was chatting with my neighbor who just happened to mention that there was a group of houses having a neighborhood garage sale a few streets over.  It was already after 10:30 AM, which meant the odds of finding anything good were against me.  In garage sale time it might as well have been the following week – those things start EARLY!  But, I had a feeling I would find something great.  So, I grabbed my mom who was visiting, we hopped in the car and headed over.  (Yes, the garage sales were only a few streets over, but we didn’t know exactly where so don’t judge me for driving instead of walking!)

We didn’t bother stopping at the first few houses since they didn’t have much left, but then we came to a house where we couldn’t really see what they had for sale.  This intrigued us so decided to check it out.  As soon as we walked into the garage we saw this beautiful solid oak bookcase in pristine condition.

My mom and I looked at each other with disbelief.  I had been looking for a bookcase for my living room and it was the perfect size for the space I had in mind AND the sticker on it said $20!  It was too good to be true! The seller told us that another woman said she was interested in buying it earlier in the morning, but never came back.  The price was so reasonable I didn’t even want to try to bargain, I just told her I would take it and handed her $20.  When I started to explain that I would have to come back for it because it wouldn’t fit in my car she offered to have her husband drop it by my house.  $20 for a solid wood bookcase WITH delivery!  I couldn’t believe my luck – I was practically jumping up and down in a stranger’s garage.

However, while I was giving the seller my address, my mom decided to mention that I planned to paint the bookcase.  This is when I thought my luck was about to evaporate in front of my eyes.  The seller was so taken aback at the thought of paint touching her bookcase that I seriously thought she was going to change her mind about selling it to me.  Somehow we distracted her from the thought and she finished taking down my address.  Phew!  That was a close one!  Lesson learned; don’t tell people what you plan to do to their furniture, especially if you plan to paint wood!  Not everyone appreciates it the way I do.

Once the bookcase was officially mine and at my house, I was so excited I got to work right away.  Thankfully I had everything I needed on hand from previous painting projects which meant I was able to skip a supply run and didn’t have to shell out any additional money.  Gotta love that!

Are you ready to see how a few twists brought this bookcase from 1983 to 2013 and learn how to paint a piece of furniture along the way?

Here’s a list of the supplies I used for this piece:


Sander & sand paper (I love my Black & Deck Mouse Detail Sander)


Sponge brushes

Super smooth foam rollers and a rolling handle/frame

Angled brush (I really like Purdy brushes)


Painters trays




Finishing wax

OK, let the fun begin!

Start by cleaning your piece with T.S.P. to degloss it and remove any dirt, gunk, and grime.  (Does anyone else out there call T.S.P. “T.P.S.” because of the movie Office Space?  For some reason, I cannot train my brain to not think of T.P.S. reports and staplers whenever I use it!)

Next, you will want to make any necessary repairs.  The bookcase was in great condition, so I didn’t have to do much.  I used my handy mouse sander to smooth out a few rough spots and then wiped down the piece with a clean cloth to remove all dust.  However, if your piece is in good condition, you can skip the sanding step if you follow the painting method below.  YAY!  Who likes to sand?!?!

Next, it’s time to prime your piece.  I prefer to use an oil based primer – in my opinion it really sticks to the piece and helps block stains and oders.  My favorite is Zinsser Cover Stain  in the brown and white can.

I have used water based primer before and have been told by paint professionals that it works just as well, but I personally prefer oil based.  Plus, I have worked on pieces that I thought were solid wood, but found out mid-project that an inside wall or shelf was just particle board with a laminate finish and in my experience water based primer just didn’t seem to adhere as well.  Oil based primer and paint is super stinky though, so make sure you wear a paint respirator and paint in a well ventilated area.  (TIP: I’ve been told by paint professionals that you can use water based paint on top of oil based primer, but you cannot put oil based paint on top of water based primer.)

You will want to paint one section at a time by first cutting into edges with a sponge brush and then rolling the section with your super smooth roller.  (Since oil based paint is more difficult to clean up, I like to use inexpensive sponge brushes to cut in.  They sell them in a “variety” pack at most major hardware stores and for the price per brush, it makes more sense to just throw it away when you are done than trying to clean out a good brush with paint thinner.  But, then again I’m lazy and don’t like cleaning paint brushes!)  When you apply your primer it will likely look uneven, with some areas looking heavier than others.  This is OK!  When you apply your paint you won’t notice.

After your primer is dry, look over your piece to see if you have any drips, brush marks, or other paint imperfections.  If you do, now is the time to lightly hit those areas with some sandpaper.  Once smooth, make sure you wipe off any dust, and then it’s time to paint!  (Remember to use a sanding respirator whenever you sand.)

Since I planned to use the bookcase as a decorative piece, and knew it wasn’t going to get a lot of wear and tear, I decided to take a risk and make use of some paint samples I had on hand by mixing several of them together.  (If you know what you are painting will get a lot of use, I would look into using oil based paint or something glossier than wall paint with an eggshell finish.)  I had what seemed like a million cans in different shades of a taupey/gray aka “greige” color that didn’t work for a room I was painting just sitting on a shelf in the garageAll of the samples I had were the same brand, the same eggshell finish, and in the same color family (just too pink, too blue, too just not right for the whole room), so I felt like I couldn’t really mess it up if I mixed them together.  I simply picked the ones that were the closest in color, poured them in a bucket, and then mixed them really, really, really well.

The samples may not have been the right color for four walls, but I wasn’t painting a whole room – just one piece of furniture in it and I knew I was going to be applying a glaze on top of the paint, which would darken and alter the color.  Best of all I didn’t let all of those perfectly good cans of paint go to waste!  If you decide to mix paint samples together just make sure you have enough to give your piece two coats of paint.  If you run out, you can’t go back to your paint store asking for a quart of whatever “suicide” paint you mixed together. (Did anyone else call fountain sodas that were a splash of every flavor available in the soda machine a “suicide”?)  Sure, your paint store can try to color match it for you, but I would only mix paints together if I knew that I would have enough.

Next, paint your piece one section at a time just like you applied primer.  Start by cutting into the corners with an angled brush (I really like my Purdy brush and don’t mind using good brushes when using water based paint since I can clean them easily) and then use a super smooth roller to roll the entire section.  After the first coat is dry, light hit any paint imperfections with some sand paper, and apply a second coat.  Make sure you apply THIN coats of paint.  It’s tempting to just glob the paint on, but if you do this it will likely not adhere as well.  Think about when you paint your nails – does your manicure or pedicure last longer and look better when you slop on one thick coat of paint or when you apply two thin coats of paint?  If you aren’t sure, the answer is always when you apply two thin coats!

 After your paint is thoroughly dry, it’s time to apply the glaze.  If you are unfamiliar with glaze, the best way I can describe it is that it is like a watered down version of paint – it will add color to your pieces, but you have much more control over how much color is applied and gives your piece another layer of dimension.  You simply brush it on and then use a clean damp rag to wipe the excess off.  My goal was to give the bookcase an aged, reclaimed wood look so I applied several layers of glaze (brush on, wipe off, brush more on, wipe off) and used a heavy hand when wiping it off so that I really pushed the color into the grain of the wood until I got the look I desired.

Your final step will be to seal your piece.  There are many different ways to seal a piece of furniture.  However, since I knew the bookcase it wouldn’t be getting much wear and tear, and I wanted to keep a matte finish, I used a finishing wax to protect the piece.  (Oil based paints and glossy paints dry much harder than eggshell latex paint, so you may be able to skip this step if you used either of those, just keep in mind the level of wear you expect your piece to get.)  I simply applied a thin even coat of wax using cheesecloth, waited for it to dry, and then buffed it off using a clean dry rag.

 And now for the finished product!  Drum roll please…..


I love the way it turned out!  Not bad for $20 and some elbow grease, right?  (OK, a lot of elbow grease!  Painting furniture isn’t difficult work, but it takes a lot of time and energy.)

What do you think?


 P.S. I owe Christine a HUGE thank you for helping me style the bookcase.  It took hours and we moved stuff a million times, but I’m really happy with the way it looks!

P.S.S. For those of us who love to entertain and create a beautiful home, we are often inspired by ideas online, yet implementation is time-consuming. Though we hope to encourage you to try things on your own, we understand that sometimes you don’t have the time, and we would love to help. As full-service creative lifestyle designers, Simply Tangerine specializes in designing beautiful living spaces, sourcing or refinishing furniture, planning special events, and creating menus to meet personal dietary needs. We will discuss your needs, assess your situation and put together unique ideas to make your room décor, furniture, event, or menu exceed your expectations. We would love to bring a Simply Tangerine twist to your home or event. Please contact us anytime!

P.S.S.S. I don’t even know where or who to give credit to for how I learned to paint furniture.  Over the years I’ve learned a lot from many different places – employees at big home improvement stores, employees at specialty paint stores, professional painters, and bloggers (some of my favorites are Centsational Girl and Miss Mustard Seed).  I’ve just taken tidbits from here and there and found what works best for me.  Happy painting!

star rating
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

13 Responses to “One Woman’s Trash Is Another Woman’s Treasure – The Tale of a Bookcase Transformed”

  1. Jamie Peddycord says:

    Seriously? That looks great! How do you find the time and energy with kids to do this??? Love it!

    • Dawn Dawn says:

      Thanks Jamie!!!! Thankfully I have a really great husband who helps watch the kids when I get sucked into big projects like this and I just don’t get much sleep! 🙂 Cheers to coffee!

  2. Beautiful result Dawn, your hard work paid off, it looks like something you’d buy from a high end catalog! I have the same silver clock, from Pottery Barn right? It’s a few years old but I love it!
    Again, wonderful job on the makeover!

    • Dawn Dawn says:

      Thank you, Kate!!!! Yes, the clock is from Pottery Barn – I’ve had it forever, but still love it! It’s an oldie, but goodie! 🙂

  3. Susan says:

    Dawn that turned out fabulous! Restoration Hardware couldn’t sell something nicer!

  4. Georgia says:

    Dawn – the bookcase is beautiful! What glaze did you use?

    • Dawn Dawn says:

      Thank you, Georgia! Unfortunately, I’m not certain what brand the glaze is — it was left over from a cabinet painting project and the outside of the can is covered in glaze so, the label is no longer legible. (I am Queen of using whatever I have on hand!) However, I took what I could make out and used my very good friend, Google, to try to piece it together for you. My best guess is that the brand is Gemini and the color is Van Dyke Brown. I hope that helps!

  5. Debra says:

    Wow love this for sure, I will have to keep my eye out for a smaller one for my living room to redo. I have never used Glaze yet but I really like the way things come out after using it so I will have to give it a shot.

    Thanks for sharing with all of us, have a blessed day. 🙂

  6. Shelly Grady says:

    Two years later and this post popped up on my pinterest boards while searching painting a bookcase! how WONDERFUL!!!! i can not say enough how much i LOVE LOVE LOVE the look of your bookcase! mine is a little shorter, but this is EXACTLY what i was looking for! onto the project! I am such a copy cat!!! love it !!! congrats! will be following!!!

    • Dawn Dawn says:

      Thank you, Shelly! It warms my heart that we could be a source of inspiration for you 🙂 Let us know how your bookcase turns out!

  7. Elizabeth says:

    I have been thinking about painting my television cabinet, book and glass cupboards. The furniture is in dark wood and I have had enough; I get this heavy feeling looking at these pieces. As lovely and smart as they are ‘change’ is needed. Thank you for the details of painting cannot wait for the colour change in the living room. Your book case looks stunning!



Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: