Decorate Living Room

How I updated my built-in bookcase

Today I am sharing how I updated my built-in bookcase.  This is a serious subject for me as it has taken me the better part  of 9 months to actually finish.


Let’s start at the beginning. When we closed on the house, this is what the living room looked like.  It had brown walls and cream trim.  There were only two recessed lights in the living room.  The room was dark, dingy, and not relaxing to be in at all.

After we moved in, we lived downstairs.  We lived like this for the better part of 6 weeks while the carpet upstairs was removed and the new hardwood floors were installed.  Why did it take so long?  We got measurements for the floors as soon as we had a closing date.  I ordered the flooring, but it took nearly 2 months for the materials to come in and then it took a little while to get an install date with our flooring contractor.  Looking back, I should have bought a different floor.  Live and learn.

This is a shot of our make-shift bedroom in the living room. The photos are a little grainy as I didn’t have my nice camera at that time.  It is hard to see, but there is a laptop sitting next to the TV.  We were streaming television from the laptop.  Not only where we living downstairs, we didn’t have cable!


We eventually moved upstairs and got settled in.  Around this time last year I finally got to decorating the built-ins.  At this point the walls were still brown and the lighting was bad.  The lighting accentuates the fact that the space needed to be brightened up.

We had a contractor in the house in November to help us with renovating the sun room.  The sun room was turned into my office.  Click here to read about the design plan and here to see my office reveal.  While the contractor was in the house, we had him add additional recessed lighting to the living room and the kitchen.  After our contractor left, I felt inspired to keep working.  We painted the living room with a light color called Subtle Touch by Behr and painted the trim white.


The room was brighter from the new lighting.  The room was more relaxing with a fresh coat of paint.  I was really excited to spruce up the built-in.  I took everything off the shelves.  This is how it looked:

This was the pile of stuff cleaning the built-in left on the floor, coffee table, and sofa.  Our things were everywhere!  Fall was coming to an end and it was time to start decorating for Christmas.  If there was ever a good time to do this, it was then.

The Process:

Updating the cabinet and shelves was a pretty easy process.

  1. I took everything off the built-in cabinet and shelves.
  2. I removed the doors from the cabinet and placed them out of the way.
  3. I then sanded the cabinet and shelves to score the surface.  The built-in had been painted with oil based paint so this was a necessary step.
  4. Next I cleaned everything really well.
  5. After the surface was prepped, I primed the built-in cabinet and shelves.  As mentioned above, the built-in had been painted with oil based paint.  I used a white acrylic paint as my primer. I applied two coats to ensure I had the surface really well primed.  
  6. I lightly sanded to ensure a smooth painting surface.
  7. I cleaned all the new sanding dust in order to have a clean surface to paint.
  8. I let the primer dry overnight and started on painting the cabinet and shelves the next day.  I painted each surface with the same paint we used on our trim. I let the paint cure for a week before putting anything on the cabinet or shelves.  
  9. I lightly sanded with a 120 grit sanding block in between coats.  This removed the fine brush strokes that my brush created in the paint.  I also cleaned really well after sanding.

This is a view of the cabinets after they were painted.  I was still working on the shelves.  You can see them on the brown paper on the floor.  I worked slowly so the paint would go on smooth.


This was our built-in from November 2016 until June 2017.  Yes, I said it: June.  The decor on the shelves changed a little from month to month, but for the most part, this was it.  I started this project in November.  I finished the cabinet and the shelves and lost all enthusiasm for the project.  They were beautiful, but I just didn’t have it in me to keep going.

In June, we still had not painted the cabinet doors.  I got tired of seeing all the crap in the cabinet and put the doors back on. Check out those beige doors on that beautiful white cabinet.

August came and I had had enough.  I really wanted to purchase a new rug for the living room, but didn’t see the point of doing so while that cabinet still looked so rough.  I also was in talks with the hubby about painting the kitchen and the bathrooms.  He wasn’t hearing any of it until I finished a few of the projects I already had outstanding.  That meant that the built-in had to be finished.

This is what I did:

  1. Removed the doors from the cabinet.
  2. Took the hardware off of the cabinet doors.
  3. I sanded and primed the doors just like I had the cabinet and shelves.
  4. I painted the doors with a self leveling paint to ensure maximum smoothness.

When I was priming and painting, I skipped buying the expensive risers.  I put my old economics and regulation study guide to work.

I let the paint cure for a week before putting the hardware back on.  We hung the doors and now it looks great!


I am sad that I took so long to finish this project considering how well it came out.  It did take an entire weekend for me to finish the cabinet.  A second weekend for the shelves.  And yet a third weekend for the doors.  The only caveat being that the third weekend came 9 months after the second one!

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  1. […] Most of the living room – You can see the bookcase renovation details here. […]

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