Quality bookcases can be quite expensive, and inexpensive ones can be very flimsy and unsturdy.
I was recently in need of a new bookcase, and I didn’t want to spend too much on it. I still wanted a case of higher quality, though, since my last one fell apart on me. (To be fair, I probably piled way too many books on it.) I bought a previously used bookcase from my local second-hand store with the intent to give it a vintage makeover, and I am quite happy with how it turned out. Here is my process as well as some tips for you to DIY your own bookcase.


I went to a Salvation Army store and found a great bookcase that someone had donated. When you pick one out, don’t worry what color it is or if it has any nicks or scratches on it because you will fix all of that later. Look at the bones of the shelf — the size and the shape that you want.

Before Bookshelf

First you need to lightly sand your bookcase and clean it off. You can purchase sandpaper or a sanding block, and just remember to always sand with the grain of the wood, not against; also, start with more coarse paper and then move on to finer grit sandpaper. Besides smoothing imperfections in the wood, sanding the bookcase will also allow the paint to stick to it a little better. I wanted to create a distressed look, so I picked a darker paint as the base coat and a lighter paint as the top coat.

Light Green PaintDark Green Paint
I picked a dark green and painted the bookshelf. I did not bother painting the back of the shelf because I planned to put contact paper on it.

dark green shelf

Once completely dry, I painted a light green over the dark green. Then, once all the paint was completely dry, I used sandpaper on the edges of the shelf to take off some of the light green paint. This allowed the dark green paint to show through some and give a vintage, distressed look. You can even paint an area on the back of the shelf to test the sandpaper out.

bookshelf testlight green shelf

Next, I applied some contact paper, which is like sticky paper that is usually applied to the inside of drawers. It’s available at Walmart, Target, and most home improvement stores. If you can’t find any paper that you like, gluing scrapbook paper to the back of the bookshelf could create the same vintage look; in that case, I would use spray adhesive to glue the paper for a fast drying/non lumpy look.

contact paper

To measure the contact paper, I laid the paper out before removing the adhesive backing and used an X-Acto knife to cut the paper to the right size. Then, I removed the back and was careful to avoid bubbles by applying the paper with patience and care. Use something flat to smooth the paper out. If any large bubbles are still left, you can use a pin to create a small hole, which will let out the air and allow you to smooth the paper down more.

finished bookshelf

You are almost done! The final step is to fill your new bookcase with lots and lots of books.

final shelf



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