The World's Ugliest Bookcase Becomes The World's Cutest Bookcase Ever // Dorothy Discovers Real DIY

Once upon a time, sort of long ago, I found a bookcase. Or at least I must have, because I know I didn’t buy this thing and I’m sure it wasn’t given to me. I’ve picked up a lot of street furniture in my life, a pastime which has kept me on the very path which let me straight into the Society Wolf den.

The fun thing to know about me having a long history with discarded furniture, though, is that I didn’t have a car for 10 out of the 16 years I’ve had the habit. Yeah, it’s really funny to think back and watch the movie in my mind of all the times I lugged some stupid (or awesome, usually awesome) piece of furniture blocks and blocks and blocks back home with me. They always fight, they’re always difficult, and more often than not you end up with some weird grease or goo or undefinable liquid on your hand or arms or worse your clothes but at the same time, it’s always been worth it. Even that time I wrestled one of those 6’ “industrial” plastic shelf units - the sort you get at your local giant hardware store - that was covered in someone else’s really boring stickers (Chiquita. I’m not kidding - who even?), like, a mile home. I only used that thing for a year but shit - a year of use, for free? Sounds fair to me. 

When we first moved out here to Beautiful Beverly, we had no car. Not having a car was a convenience in the city, but out in these semi-burbs, it's a problem. We purposefully sold a good amount of our furniture before moving, deciding to become Adults and buy or build furniture with intention and purpose, rather than finding junk pieces here and there to fill little gaps in storage and organization without any cohesive process or plan. After the first week in our new place, though, we realized how severely lacking we were in shelving, due to the loss of older pieces and the fact that our walls are made out of some sort of drywall that is essentially good as sand. With the amount of books and crap we have between the two of us, stuff that goes on shelves is like, 70% of our belongings.

Good ol' piece of furniture, like you probably have in your basement or old bedroom or something. Get ready to make that thing gorgeous!

Anyways, back to the topic at hand which, believe it or not is not my penchant for adopting misfit furniture. This post is about this bookcase, this functional and somehow endearing bookcase that I know I found on the street but don’t remember where when or why, who had been robbed of his beauty by some cruel freak with a spray can.  This is the story of how this blue beast went from shabby to chic in one afternoon, with nothing but materials found around my house. 

This is an example of how sometimes you just need to rev up an old piece and give your space a quick update - and how you can do that without spending a lot of time or money. There is a time and place to be meticulous (restoring anything professionally would be an example of one of those times), however there's also a time when cutting corners actually isn't a crime. I took a look outside my kitchen window and realized that I had a yard, and a patio, and some sand paper and spray paint and patterned paper. And a beautiful day. And so I set out to save this little fella's life, in the jankiest of ways. No car, and no hardware store in walking distance, I had to rely on what I had in house. And to my surprise, it turned out beautifully.

 A WORDY SEMI-GUIDE TO JOOJING UP SOME GOOD BONES 

My list of tools found around the house in desperation:

  1. two half dead sanding blocks, no sandpaper, a magic eraser
  2. one can of blackboard spray paint
  3. one can of 99cent white spray paint
  4. one teeny little half empty can of pink spray paint
  5. a roll of paper towels and a spray bottle of water and soap
  6. a roll of blue painters tape
  7. some paint brushes, just in case
  8. a portfolio of patterned paper
  9. 3m double-side tape 
  10. a beautiful day (and a face mask!) 

  Optional, but very helpful: Harry Belafonte, a beautiful sunny day, a lovely little garden, and some fresh fruit.

First, I cleaned and sanded him. I used a spray bottle with soapy water and some sponges to wipe him down, cleaning him of any obvious gunky material. Once he was cleaner than before, I started sanding the surface down, trying to get at least a semi-even surface. This thing had been attacked with a paint can, and there were huge dried globs of that awful smurfly paint that I didn't bother to sand all the way down (ugh, wrists).

Remember, this is janky-fab - we ain't got no wheels and only minimal sanding supplies. Had I had access to a Paint Aisle, I would have done this properly and we'd have a much more "professional" looking product. But you know what? It wouldn't be as fun, or as easy. And sometimes, like a lot of DIY4yourself times, fun and easy is where it's at. That's why I did  a blog on this weird personal project - because I want to let y'all know that you can do this stuff too. Which isn't to say there's anything wrong with buying a primo recycled piece (in fact, please, do! we sell some gorgeous things!), but that making a purchase is not the only means to this end.

You should know that DIY is called that because you really can Do It Yourself, and sometimes things that look really professional in a home setting actually were whipped up in a back yard.

Sometimes DIY means letting go of precision and using what you have around you in the name of freedom. Instead of getting out a ruler and tediously marking the width of my stripes, I used the fixed width of the painter's tape to determine the gap. 

Once I was all taped up and ready to go, I began to paint. Following are a bunch of images of that process, with explanations in the captions below. I'd like to lead with a little hindsight, however -- PAINT THE WHOLE THING YOUR BASE COLOR FIRST. Obviously the type of paint you are using and the colors will affect this process (how opaque are the colors? how vibrant are they without a dark charge underneath? or will a lighter color charge the dark more?), but painting the entire surface one color means you only have to block one set of stripes to spray, not two. Instead, because I'm a dingus sometimes, on the first side, I had to block for BOTH the white AND the black stripes, which was difficult and a waste of time. So, let my face palm be your lesson preemptively learned. 

GOOD THINGS TO REMEMBER WHEN SPIFFING UP WITH SPRAY PAINT:

  1. wear a mask and work in a well ventilated area
  2. wear clothes that can get stained
  3. protect the surface you're working on
  4. make sure any tape used for design blocking is firmly pressed down, and that all edges are adhered to surface below
  5. use a tape made for painted surfaces
  6. block off any abutting areas that are not being painted - you can make screens out of almost anything, old papers, paper towels, cardboard, cereal boxes, whatever - be sure to close off any gaps with tape
  7. spray evenly! spray with a good pace! keep your pace, keep your distance! these things really make a big difference
  8. have patience and let it dry (no, i mean REALLY dry!) before going and doing a second layer or more blocking - you'll be thankful you did
  9. do everything in stages (this project is not a good example of what is normally a religious practice for me) - if you have four sides to paint blue with white stripes, paint each side blue and then paint the stripes

A GALLERY OF IMAGES CONCERNING SPRAY PAINTING THE BOOKCASE

So, what next? I'm sure you're relatively suspicious as to why I would have left the insides unfinished, especially considering they happen to be the most offensive areas on this thing. But let us remember that this is a janky-vision joint, and as a result, I was working with limited materials. No appropriate paints (these spray paints were a last ditch) and no interesting contact papers, I turned to something I have a shit ton of - PAPER.

Yes gurl, you heard me right. Patterned, decorative paper. Why not? Paper is durable, easy to cut to custom size, and simple to work with. And in my studio, plentiful. Using paper also allowed me to use one of my favorite supplies of all time - 3M High Tack ATG tape - a true marvel of a thin double sided adhesive. No, 3M definitely doesn't pay me, though for the amount of business I've sent their way over the last decade they should! It's amazing stuff, ask any framer.

To be honest, I didn't get too precise here either. I laid the paper into the base and creased it at the angles so I knew where to trim. I didn't have enough interesting pieces of large paper to do much more than the backsplash, so I used a bunch of 12x12 sheets instead. I applied only a few strips of adhesive, though of course, you could do more. But for a quick project, this served me just fine. This puppy has been serving as a cookbook case for three months now, and looks just as sweet as he did on the day of his rebirth. I love him.

And so here we are, at the end of our story. I love this funky little accent piece and get loads of compliments on it from visitors. This was one of those projects that reminded me how fun it is to work a project spontaneously, how freeing letting go of meticulous details and doing something just for fun can be. Whether you're an experienced craftsperson or someone who's always wanted to bring new life to that old rocking chair sitting in your den - we can all learn the pleasure of bare bones DIY.