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Sonia’s bookshelf | Before and After

Unlike me, Sonia is a person who loves to own books.

pottery barn bookshelf

Me? I like to read books and then get rid of them, which is why the library is my favorite thing. You can read books without storing them!

On the rare occasion when I need to buy a book, I almost always immediately resell it on eBay.

Anyway, I’d gotten her a Pottery Barn bookshelf (pictured above) off of craigslist a few years back, but it was a pretty small bookshelf and the shelf heights were not adjustable. That made it hard to store things like tall binders.

So, I went on a mission to find a bigger, paintable secondhand bookshelf.

I perused Facebook marketplace for a while, and then rather randomly, a free bookshelf popped up on a local freecycle-ish group I’m in.

Thomasville bookshelf in gray chalk paint

It was partially covered in gray chalk paint, which was probably pretty lucky for me. The half-finished chalk paint made it just ugly enough to not get snapped up right away!

It did have a little bit of damage in a few places, but not enough to discourage me.

bookshelf corner damage

Sonia and I went to pick it up with our minivan. And it’s a good thing we have a minivan because holy moly, this bookshelf was quite a big bigger than I’d imagined.

Luckily, it fit in the van. Mad props to my Sienna for its hauling capacity; I have fit a whole sofa in there, a huge dresser, and now an enormous bookshelf.

Goodwill dresser in Sienna minivan

Mr. FG and I hauled the bookshelf into the backyard so I could start refinishing it.

bookshelf before sanding

Remove shelving

First, I unscrewed all the shelves and removed them because I knew that would make the sanding and painting process so, so much easier and quicker.

Sand all the surfaces

I used my Bosch orbital sander for this, always! And I hand-sand things like corners or trim work, since the orbital sander is no good there.

I gotta tell you, chalk paint is kind of a bear to sand off. And I was even lucky with mine because the previous owner had not put the wax topcoat on.

I cannot even imagine trying to get the wax off, and this project has taught me that I should not take on finished chalk-painted items in the future.  

Too much work!

sanded bookshelf

The stripes of clear wood are from the previously-installed shelves. That part escaped the chalk paint!

Wipe every surface down to remove dust

Sanding dust gets everywhere and paint/primer does not like to stick to dust.

So, I used a damp rag to get all the dust off.

Brush/roll on a coat of primer

I used Zinnser 1-2-3 primer, which is the same stuff I used on all my projects. It’s water-based, but it holds up really well, the same way oil-based primer would.

And water-based means easy cleanup!

Caulk any gappy areas

When you paint wooden furniture white, any small gaps between pieces suddenly look like obvious dark lines.

So, it helps a lot to run some caulk in those areas. Then the furniture ends up with a nice solid white finish.

I use DAP latex caulk; I’ve tried cheap no-name caulk and it is terrible. It’s not worth the savings at all!

Brush/roll on a bazillion coats of paint

I used my trusty Benjamin Moore Advance paint, satin sheen, in Cloud White.

I use a small microfiber roller and a couple of small paintbrushes when I paint furniture.

A big wall roller would be unwieldy, but the little roller works great for the flat surfaces of furniture. And the paintbrushes are great for the edges. 

painting mess

I do multiple thin coats of paint, with time for drying in between. Thin coats are more durable, and it’s easier to avoid runs and a gloppy finish if you do thin coats.

Patience is a virtue here! 

mid-project bookshelf painting

Gosh, I just love the lines of this bookshelf. Can you even believe it was free??

Remove the paint from the hardware

Chalk paint is pretty hard to remove even from hardware. I tried boiling water and several other DIY methods, but I eventually ended up just using an SOS pad and elbow grease.

chalk paint on hardware

Let everything dry for a few days

The Advance paint doesn’t fully cure until a few days have gone by, and since bookshelves get a fair amount of wear and tear, I wanted to be careful!

Thomasville bookshelf with white paint

The three adjustable shelves were drying on sawhorses.

Once it the finish was nice and hard, Mr. FG and I carried it up to Sonia’s room, installed the shelves, and Sonia got to work filling it up.

The after photos

white painted bookshelf side view

white painted bookshelf

Since the shelves are adjustable, we were able to make one of them high enough to house Sonia’s records.

Records on bookshelf



The bookshelf is so big, even Sonia has not managed to fill it up entirely.

(She probably just needs a little more time. 😉 )

white painted bookshelf

Oh, remember that damaged corner? I just painted it all white, and it’s almost invisible here on the carpet.

bookshelf damage

So, I think I will just leave it instead of repairing it.

Good enough is good enough!

Also, there’s a small portion of the trim by one shelf that’s damaged, but since it’s all white, it’s very hard to see.

damaged shelf

$0 for a $999 bookshelf

I googled the numbers on the tag, and this is a Thomasville bookshelf. It’s not made anymore, so I couldn’t get a good idea of how much it would have cost initially. 

Thomasville bookshelf model number

However, as a point of comparison, this white Pottery Barn bookshelf costs $999.

Pottery barn bookshelf

So, I feel pretty darn good about this project, even when you add in two days of labor.

bookshelf trim

Isn’t the trim up at the top so pretty?

And I bought no supplies for this project at all; the rollers, brushes, paint, and primer were all leftovers from previous projects.

So, my out of pocket cost was $0.

About the paint I used:

Benjamin Moore Advance paint is expensive (!)

This paint isn’t remotely cheap, but it’s worth it.

  • It self-levels (reducing brush and roller marks)
  • It’s water-based (easy clean-up!)
  • The dried finish is tough, durable, and wipeable

Also, when you consider how much it covers, it’s a great bargain. 

Zoe's painted nightstand

I bought this gallon bucket for $85 and it has covered (click on links for photos):

white painted nightstand with vintage accessories

I couldn’t have bought even a single solid wood nightstand for $85, and this bucket of paint has covered six pieces of furniture. Definitely worth it! 

Bassett mission dresser painted white

One of my favorite projects from this can of paint

Seriously, this paint is worth every penny.

And now my bucket is officially used up, which means my next project will require a paint purchase.

I dooooo have this ugly black Ikea bookshelf in our home office that I’d like to replace with one that I can paint white.

black Ikea bookshelf

Wouldn’t this corner look much better with a white wooden bookshelf??

Time to stalk bookshelves on Facebook marketplace, I guess!

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Thursday 21st of January 2021

Bookcases are important to librarians, but books even more so! :-D

Ohio Farmwife

Thursday 21st of January 2021

Nice job, Kristen! I was tickled you made mention of the DAP caulk. I worked at DAP in the corporate office eons ago. I liked my time there and I miss all the samples of caulk and FunTak. :)


Thursday 21st of January 2021

Dap caulk is just the best!


Thursday 21st of January 2021

Great work!! Love your befores and afters...❤️

Rebecca in MD

Thursday 21st of January 2021

Your painting projects are so inspiring. I agree, the Ikea bookcase would look much better painted white.

We used Benjamin Moore paint to paint our out-of-date oak bathroom vanities and they turned out fabulous. We also used Zinnser 1-2-3 as the primer and highly recommend it! I really don't understand why paint is so expensive.........

Erika W.

Thursday 21st of January 2021

You do beautiful jobs: skill + patience! Congratulations. It's hard to express my admiration fully in writing.


Thursday 21st of January 2021

Thank you! I think it's largely practice rather than skill, though. :) If you keep doing something long enough, you can usually get pretty good at it!

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