Park City Home Weekend Warrior: Bookcase Makeover |

Park City Home Weekend Warrior: Bookcase Makeover

A guide to giving your books a happier home

Bob Payne
Beautiful bookcases can go a long way.

Only a few of the most passionate book lovers are likely to have a room devoted entirely to a library. But most people who consider themselves even moderately literate have a bookcase. It doesn’t take more than a weekend to make it more functional as well as more attractive.
Examine your subject
 Your first task is to empty the bookcase and decide if it’s worth saving. If it’s made of cheap particleboard, with a cardboard back stapled on, consider junking it and beginning your weekend with an outing to a home store.

Same goes for a bookcase that looks as though it barely survived a basement flood. If you opt to go shopping, look for a bookcase with adjustable shelves that are no more than 24” long, to prevent sagging.

If you want to keep the bookcase you already have but it needs some TLC, give it a wipe-down with a damp sponge or rag, and determine what basic repairs might be necessary. Perhaps nicks and dings need filling with wood putty. Or a sagging shelf needs attending to, which may be as simple as flipping it over so that gravity and time can do the work of straightening it.

Or, with a little more skill, you can correct the sagging by attaching what’s often called a lip to the shelf’s front edge. Commonly, the lip is a 1″ X 2″ strip of wood, the length of the shelf, which is glued or nailed in place.
Add some oomph
The most effective makeover is probably a coat of fresh paint. Start by giving the surface a light sanding, and then a coat of primer. Go easy on the sanding, especially if the shelves are particle board covered with a faux-wood laminate, which is really just glued-on paper. And for surfaces that the books will sit on, remember that while paint may dry to the touch in a few hours, it may take a week or more to fully cure. So, by the time you can return everything to the shelves without fear of dinging the paint and leaving an impression, you may be a two-weekend warrior. When painting — or, more importantly, staining — make sure you have plenty of ventilation.

To achieve a sense of depth, consider painting the inside back wall of the bookcase a color that contrasts with the shelves. Or take it a step farther with a back wall of fabric, patterned wallpaper, or a stenciled design.
If the bookcase is a basic box, you might dress it up by adding trim to the facing. This, however, may require a miter saw and the skill to use it.

Available in manual (for the simplest jobs) or power models, the miter saw allows you to cut the angles that the trim work may call for.
Edit your collection
Once the bookcase is refurbished, look at the books themselves and get rid of anything that’s just taking up space. Do you still need the Cliff Notes for “Madame Bovary”? Or the 1985 edition of “South-East Asia on a Shoestring”?  If your bookcase was home to assorted knick-knacks, decide which you want to keep on display. That ceramic sombrero ashtray you picked up in Puerto Vallarta before you gave up smoking? The photo of your 2013 office holiday party?

Replace the books by organizing them in a way that suits your personality. If you are of a more practical bent, divide them by subject matter or author. If you are more visually oriented, it’s okay to arrange books by color as long as, for the sake of book lovers everywhere, you don’t sheathe every volume in a blank white dust jacket, or, worse, turn every spine inward.

Books should be brought to the front of the shelf instead of pushed to the back. Stacking some books horizontally will create visual interest, and will help you accommodate volumes that are too large to stand vertically. Horizontal stacks can also create short pedestals for the occasional framed photo or piece of art, which do a nice job of breaking up a solid wall of books.

If you have gotten this far and still have castoff volumes piled on the floor, probably because you are suffering from the pain every book lover feels at the thought of parting with almost any tome, you might ask a public library or local charity if they would like your giveaways. Or (slightly) more profitably, try disposing of them online at a used-book website such as, where, for example, a hardback edition of John Milton’s “Complete Poems and Major Prose” in mint condition will fetch you a lofty $1.20.

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