An Ugly Bookshelf Makeover

So, we have this sort of system that’s developed at my house, or I guess rather, a dynamic. We’ll call it “Vision vs. Lack of Vision.” It always goes something like this: Husband walks in in the middle of a project, usually the ugliest part, and gives me the look. The look that says, “WTF are you doing, but I’m not going to say anything because I don’t really want to hear the loooonnnnggg justification, so I’ll probably just live with it.” Unfortunately for him, he wears ALL of his emotions on his face so: queue my long-winded justification. It usually goes something like, “It will look good…you’re not seeing my vision…trust me…when has my vision failed?” To which he usually responds with a list of the times my vision has failed. Okay, so it’s a couple times, but it’s not often. And in his defense, my “visions” can sometimes be a very long road of mess and chaos before they’re finally realized–which is why I usually start these projects while he’s at work (like the black wall I surprised him with one day ;). Anyway, today I give you a prime example of where my vision won and the husband was pleasantly surprised. When he walked in on the project intially (it was another one I started while he was at work), I got “the look.” By the end, he said, and I quote, “Damn, now I wish you’d blogged that shit because it looks really good.” #winning

How to Paint a Veneer Bookshelf

So, let me show you today how I turned a seriously ugly, old veneer bookshelf into a farmhouse style beauty that got a such an eloquent response from my husband.

Painted Veneer Bookshelf

This is where we started. Actually, it started as a pretty ugly, fake-looking-wood shelf, and when I first got it, I tried doing a really lazy paint job on it. That was obviously a fail, so it’s been sitting in the garage holding junk for the past few years.

I started out by sanding with a pretty rough sandpaper (80 grit), which would have been sufficient, had the shelf not already had an ugly glossy coat of paint on it. (Please excuse the crappy pictures. I’m horrible with befores and durings and my camera died–story of my life.)

Veneer Bookshelf Before

When sanding wasn’t cutting it, I decided to pull out the stripper. It started off pretty well. It was even looking like I was going to get kind of a nice, raw wood underneath that rubbery sticker “finish.” Then, a first for me in my history of furniture painting…

Stripping Paint From Furniture

…the whole thing was actually a giant sticker. Usually when I’ve worked with veneer, it’s a super thin sheet of wood with a glue on the back, not this, and the stripper, well, stripped right through it and it all just started peeling off. I was sort of thinking at this point that this shelf may be headed to the dump.


I ended up with some super ugly, yellow, MDF. So…like any quality project, I gave up on any more sanding or stripping and decided to just start painting. Nothing to lose at this point. Also, why are these pictures coming from my phone in different sizes? It’s driving me crazy.


So, after we learned our lesson from the stripper, we got to painting. We, being me and my trusty assistant. She makes the going a little slow, but she’s too cute to turn down.


I used Sherwin Williams Iron Ore in a matte finish. In my totally not-an-expert, but somewhat experienced opinion, when painting furniture that has a slick surface (or painting over a glossy paint), matte finishes seem to adhere and cure to the furniture better. The glossier the paint, the more it seems to scratch and chip. Also, feast your eyes on the real life state of my house during a project.


Rather than put the original shelves back in, I decided that some wood would break up the gray a little, and also make it look a little less “cheap, self-assembly furniture.” So I used some scrap 2 x 12’s I had in the garage for the shelves. I measured the length of the original shelves, cut the 2 x 12’s down to the same size, sanded and rounded the edges, and then stained them with Minwax Provincial. I ran the sander over them again after the stain had dried to give them a little bit of a worn look.

Veneer Bookshelf Makeover

Finally, I used more scrap wood I had (it’s a sort of endless supply these days) to create the back of the shelf.

First, I screwed a thin piece of wood plank I had left over from our backsplash to create braces across the back and have something to screw the other wood pieces to. And yes, the shelf is decorated during this process, I’m an impatient person ;)

Painted Veneer Bookshelf 2

Once the braces were screwed in, I took out the shelves and lined up the other pieces vertically and screwed them in from the back with 1/2 inch screws so that they didn’t come through the wood and show on the front of the shelf. And here’s that part where I’m bad at the “during” pictures–I don’t have a visual aid for you on that part, but I’ll try to update with a photo ASAP!

I originally planned on staining the wood at the back too, but once I got it up there, I was kind of diggin’ the rustic variations of the wood, so for the time being, this is how it’s staying.

Farmhouse Bookshelf Styling Farmhouse Shelf Styling

The scale of this for the space is sooo much better than what I had before. (I LOVE that piece, but it was just wrong for the space.) I’ve been trying to figure out a way to create a little bit of separation between the living room and dining area and this did the trick. In fact, my husband thinks I’m officially certifiable because the first night it was done, I told him that I could feel the separation behind me while I was sitting on the couch and it was GLORIOUS!

DIY Farmhouse Bookshelf

Veneer Bookshelf Upcycle


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