Transform Plain Shelves with These Before-and-After Bookcase Makeover Ideas

stylish entryway catch-all with dividers
Photo: Jason Donnelly

Bookcases handily provide both storage and display space for books, collectibles, and other accessories. Although these furnishings are highly functional, they often feature basic silhouettes and finishes that lack personality. Transform a boring bookcase or armoire that's been hiding in your basement for years with a fresh look and added utility. These before-and-after bookcase makeovers demonstrate how to add new style to a bare-bones piece.

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Before: Basic Bookshelf

plain white bookshelf white chair
Marty Baldwin

Small updates are often all it takes to transform old furniture into something special. Classic but cookie-cutter, this traditional white bookshelf holds so much more potential than its lackluster appearance lets on. A little shelf styling and pretty patterned paper helped punch up the plain furniture piece.

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After: Basic Bookshelf

patterned wrapping paper in back of bookshelf
Marty Baldwin

Geode-inspired wrapping paper makes an eye-catching addition to this once-basic white bookshelf. Use a utility knife to cut the patterned paper to fit the height and width of the bookshelves, then adhere with double-sided tape. Vases and quirky knickknacks add depth, while wicker baskets stash magazines and movies on the bottom shelf.

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Before: Basic Blonde Shelving Unit

basic blonde bookshelf

This basic blonde-wood shelving unit lacked pizazz. With its plain wood finish and simple shape, it provided an ideal starting point for a variety of bookcase makeovers. Check out four stylish ways to upgrade this piece on the following slides.

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After: Open Shelf Design

stylish entryway catch-all with dividers
Jason Donnelly

Craft a stylish entryway catchall to collect boots, bags, and dog leashes for grab-and-go ease. First, determine your shelf layout, ensuring that the shelves will line up with the bookcase's predrilled holes. To create dividers and shorter shelves, cut sections equal to the vertical spacing between shelves. Screw the divider to the end of the shortened shelf, then install the connected pieces inside the bookcase. Repeat with remaining shelves. A new coat of white paint makes the interior stand out against the exterior's navy blue paint job.

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After: Cut Corners

corner bookshelves shared crowned molding
Jason Donnelly

Two bookcases wrap around the corner to host tableware and collectibles in this dining room. Connect the adjacent legs with a screw, then secure the bookcases to the wall with L brackets. To apply the crown molding, measure the perimeter of the joined bookcases, and cut the crown molding to fit with 45-degree miter cuts. Attach molding with pin nails. Adhere textured wallpaper to the back of the shelves for a custom look.

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After: In Good Spirits

bar bookshelves angled shelving
Jason Donnelly

Gather glasses and bottles of wine, liquor, and mixers in this boozy bookcase. Make nonparallel 45-degree miter cuts to the short ends of one of the extra shelves and angle it inside the bookcase, using screws to secure one end to the middle shelf and the other to the unit's side. Do the same for shorter shelf segments. Cover shelves with adhesive cork to prevent items from shifting, and install stemware holders to the underside of the shelf.

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After: Supporting Role

petite bookshelf desk combination
Jason Donnelly

A petite storage-desk combo works when office space is scarce. Smart organization and a consistent color scheme of gray and brass keep this open storage from looking cluttered. Stash and stow documents in style with felt pockets. Nailhead trim on the shelf edges gives a sophisticated metallic finish.

08 of 24

Before: Redesigned Display Case

oversized bookshelf bird cages color backdrop
Robert Brinson

An oversize bookshelf (made from two separate units) provided a space to showcase keepsakes and vintage books. A deep blue backdrop added depth but lacked one-of-a-kind character. A bookcase makeover brought new personality and purpose to this shelving unit.

09 of 24

After: Redesigned Display Case

bookcase with orange wallpaper backing kids room
Brie Williams

Formerly at home in the living room, one of the quirky bookshelves finds new life as a storage staple in the family's nursery. Fresh white paint and orange patterned wallpaper on the back of the bookcase update the unit. Colorful accessories emphasize the playful theme of the reading nook.

10 of 24

Before: Handy Hutch

dated bulky decorative amoire
Marty Baldwin

Gone are the days of big, bulky televisions, and so should be the giant armoires that housed them. Other than a few fashionable features, including crown molding and decorative panels, this dated design needed a complete overhaul. The finished look features contemporary styling and added function for modern-day needs.

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After: Handy Hutch

update amoire yellow paint scalloped kickplate
Kim Cornelison 

To modernize the antiquated armoire, add shelves to the upper cabinet and replace the scalloped kickplate with a straight board. Finish with a coat of creamy yellow paint and shiny brass hardware. Bonus: An existing hole cut out of the back can be used to power up a charging station.

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Turn a Bookcase into a Mudroom Organizer

If your home lacks a designated mudroom, use furniture in creative ways to add entryway storage. A simple shelving unit provides the perfect foundation for dropzone organization. Makeover a bookcase into a do-it-all mudroom organizer with tips from this clever design.

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Before: Built-In Library

dark wood plain built-in bookcase

Dark and drab, this custom wood shelving needed a more contemporary update. A mirrored background and boring black surface made the room feel dated. Plus, shelves packed with books and miscellaneous items looked too cluttered and cramped.

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After: Built-In Library

white built-in bookcase colorful accents
Adam Albright

Coated from head-to-toe in crisp white paint, the remodeled bookcase takes on a whole new look. A gentle green background fills the unit with a pop of color alongside sunny Roman shades. New floral-inspired hardware adorns lower cabinets, which retained their original grass-cloth wallpaper inserts. An adjustable library lamp provides soft display lighting above.

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Before: Unfinished and Fully-Adaptable

unfinished bookshelf crown molding fluted trim
Steven McDonald

Even though this bookcase is unfinished and bare, it features a strong profile and architectural details like crown molding and fluted trim, making it a perfect candidate for a makeover. Discount stores, flea markets, and garage sales are perfect places to find an unfinished bookcase that's ready to be transformed. In the following slides, see how this plain bookcase was updated in three different styles.

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After: Contemporary Concealment

bookcase ebony gel stain shade attached
Steven McDonald

Pull the shade on unsightly essentials while showing off your organized storage bins. Start by giving the bookcase a rich color with a deep ebony gel stain finish. To create the handy shade, purchase a linen roller shade to fit in the width of the bookcase then install the hardware on the inside edges of the frame. Finish off the shade pull with a decorative finial or tassel.

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After: Country Cupboard

bookcase as cupboard shutter doors
Steven McDonald

To transform this bookcase into a cupboard, add a pair of pretty shutters with a touch of country character. (We ordered these cut-to-fit shutters from DIY Shutters, but you can also search your local home center.) After sanding, priming, and painting the pieces, hang the shutters on the bookcase with cabinetry hinges. Top it off with a forge-iron shutter bolt to secure the doors closed.

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After: Cottage Cover-Up

bookcase damask background skirt
Steven McDonald

With a pretty damask print in the background and a simple skirt, this bookcase was given a cottage-style makeover with feminine flair. To get this look, start by painting the case and shelves cream. Cover the back with peel-and-stick wallpaper in a floral, toile, or damask pattern. Just remember to keep the pattern simple so it doesn't take away from the items you are showcasing in the bookcase. Mount a skirt using a small tension rod to conceal the lower shelves.

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Before: Drinks Cabinet

antique amoire metal accents
Marty Baldwin

Paint is one of the easiest ways to update furniture with a pop of color. This old armoire, which was found at a garage sale, just needed a fresh coat of paint (and a new purpose) to give it a new life. The updated piece now serves as a stylish beverage station for entertaining.

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After: Drinks Cabinet

green amoire wine rack drink center
Greg Scheidemann

New lacquer-like paint, inside and out, was the first step in transforming this armoire into a one-of-a-kind drink center. The lime green paint job turns this piece into a striking focal point. To make the most of the space inside, two wine racks tuck below a piece of 1/4-inch-thick glass for a double-layered look.

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Before: Laundry Station

dated bulky wooden entertainment center
Marty Baldwin

When refreshing old furniture, think beyond the piece's original purpose to create a new one-of-a-kind furnishing. Items typically used in the living room, for example, can find new function in the laundry room. After years of being the focus of the family room, this rundown entertainment center was converted into a handy laundry station.

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After: Laundry Station

red laundry shelves from entertainment center
Greg Scheidemann

A bright new finish teamed with well-placed hooks and shelves gives new life to a has-been entertainment center. To make the laundry station even more efficient, a folded ironing board, mounted at just the right height, tucks away when not in use. Hang all the freshly ironed clothes on a clothing bar installed in the tallest section of the unit to keep shirts wrinkle-free. The bar doubles as a spot to drip-dry delicates.

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Before: Easy Bookcase Makeover

dated knotty-pine amoire
Scott Little

This dated knotty-pine armoire had good bones, but it needed a serious style update. The plain wood finish provided an opportunity to add color with paint. New hardware completed this bookcase makeover.

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After: Easy Bookcase Makeover

chocolate bookcase white gloss enamel doors
Kim Cornelison 

Covered in earthy green paint with soft-white glossy enamel doors, it's now the focal point of the room. The two-tone paint job ties in with the rest of the room's nature-inspired color palette. Large painted knobs, which replaced the barely noticeable hardware, finish off the transformation.

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