We Bought a Farmhouse

stories of renovation, home decor inspiration & sprinkles of country life

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A Built-In Bookcase Makeover

So I have a blog post planned that talks about things we've changed our mind on after living in the house for a few months. Our built-in bookcases in the living room were one of those things. When we first saw the house, we both hated the built-ins because they weren't done very well. One side was okay, but the other was, and is, a nightmare. After getting a lot of opinions on what to do, I finally caved and decided to paint them the same color as the trim (which isn't painted yet, but it's happening). One day, I just woke up and decided this was my next project, and I just went for it. I had been itching to put out some knick-knacks and books to make the living room feel more homey, and I knew once I painted this one side of the bookcases, I could finally unpack some of those boxes and put our out our tchotchkes.

I focused on this one side of the fireplace because the other is a weird/built-in, totally asymmetrical, desk situation that needs some more planning. I'll get into that in the future. My brain hurts thinking about it. This side, however, was pretty even and ready to go - it just needed some spackling and sanding.

We used the Advance formula from Benjamin Moore (the same one we used for the kitchen cabinets) because I knew heavy things would sit on the shelves, and we needed a durable paint that wouldn't stick to our books. The color we picked is Bavarian Cream, also from Ben Moore, and it's the color we used for the trim in our entryway - we also plan to paint this room the same color as our entryway, but that's a whole other issue that may involve new drywall, sooooo, I'm not dealing with that right now. Even painted, they don't look quite as nice because they're up against a similar color, but I'm so excited to see them pop against the beige color once the walls are painted.

Anyhoo. I don't have the greatest before pictures, but here we go:

Seriously, the cream color just looks so much more clean and bright and happy, amiright?

When I started, I decided to spackle in the little shelving peg holes. I feel like when those are visible, they look more IKEA and less sophisticated, and that actually made a huge difference. Even though in the end, we decided to keep the pegs (which you'll see in a second), covering up the rest of the holes felt soooooo good.

I also sanded down the entire surface before priming, and this is where I ran into a fail - I didn't sand enough. The wood had previously been treated with some sort of coating (what that coating is, though, I can't be sure). I didn't think about it too much when I started because we didn't have this problem with our kitchen cabinets, but when I started to apply the primer, it wouldn't stick in some areas, and it started to separate.

After several moments of panic, I decided to try a second coat of primer, and that actually totally covered and evened out whatever was happening with the first layer. Phew!

We needed two coats of paint, too, which was really frustrating, and even now, I can still see parts of the wood underneath poke through a little. Over time, I'll touch up any exposed areas that need it, but for now, I'm just happy to put stuff in there and call it a day.

One of the most frustrating things about these bookcases is that whoever built them wasn't exactly the most skilled or detail-oriented. The doors on the bottom portion are horribly uneven. Josh was skilled enough to where we was able to fix them a little, but they still kind of gape in the middle, and not all of them are exactly the same size. Soooo, I had to take a deep breath and just decide to be okay with it. Which I am now.

We also decided to add knobs to the doors to make it look a little more put together. I found these bronze leafy/floraly ones online, and I was so stinkin' excited because they totally went with our switch plates. I'm finding it's these stupid little details that get me the most excited.

And finally, the only other thing we changed was removing a shelf in the bottom middle cabinet. I liked the idea of having one of the cubes more open to accommodate taller vases and frames. I still need to play around with it, but this is kind of where I'm heading with it for now.

So while they're not organized exactly how I want them (we still need to unpack a few books and add some picture frames and knick-knacks), and the floor board trim underneath it isn't painted, at least they're functional now! And it's made such a huge difference in the space. Love it.

But now I'm dreading working on the other side. Sigh. That's like a whole other thing.


  1. What a awesome make over :) I love it so much! I so want this living room in my dream house haha!

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