How to Refurbish an Old Bookcase

Armchair and bookshelf with decorations and books.
KatarzynaBialasiewicz / Getty Images

Bookcases are useful all around the homefrom book storage in a bedroom or office to a place to store knickknacks and picture frames in the living roomto store just about anything. If you have an old bookcase taking up space in your garage or basement or collecting dust in your office, transform it into a beautiful addition for any room in your home.

Before you begin refurbishing your bookcase, determine how it is made; it is made of solid wood or particle board? Depending on the type of material your bookcase is made of, you can do the following to revamp it to fit your decorating style and to match your room’s décor:

  • Paint it
  • Stain it
  • Decorate it with stencils or decals
  • Adhere with fabric, wallpaper, or scrapbook paper


Before you begin cleaning and refurbishing your bookcase, set up an area on a porch, patio, or garage with the door open. Make sure you work in an area that is well ventilated.

After you drag out your bookcase from storage, wipe it down with a rag to remove any dust or cobwebs. If there is a thick layer of dust, spray a little cleaner on a rag and wipe it down. If the bookcase smells a little musty from being stored for a while, spray a little bit of water and vinegar solution on all sides of the bookcase and wipe off with a dry rag. The vinegar smell and any other odors will evaporate in a couple of hours.


Does your bookcase have any chips, nicks, or dents in the wood or particle board? If so, repair these damaged areas with wood putty or filler (depending on the size of the damaged area).

Apply the putty or filler with a putty knife and let it sit to dry overnight or until it is no longer soft.

Then, sand over the entire bookcase with high-grit sandpaper to remove any excess putty or filler and to even out the surface. Remove any sanding dust with a damp rag or vacuum with an attachment.

Paint and Stain

Painting or staining your bookcase will transform it into a new piece of furniture.

  • Paint your bookcase a new vibrant or neutral color if it is made of wood or particle board. Apply a primer first (based on the paint type and color you've selected) and let it dry. After the primer is dry, apply multiple thin coats of paint until it is the color you want. Let the paint completely dry overnight or for 24 hours.
  • Stain your bookcase if it is made of wood to give it a classic look. Before priming, apply a pre-stain conditioner based on the container’s instructions. Then, apply a stain of your choice and finish up with polyurethane to protect the stain.

After your paint or stain is applied, let the bookcase completely dry before you move it back into the house and start stacking items on the shelves.


If you don’t want to revamp your bookcase completely or you want to add a personable touch to your refurbished bookcase, apply the following:

  • Fabric, wallpaper, or scrapbook paper to the back of the shelves or on top of the bookcase. Use Mod Podge or a spray adhesive to secure the fabric or paper to the wood.
  • Stenciled paint to any part of the bookcase. Create a unique looking bookcase with just about any kind of stencil. For example, use letter stencils to create a name bookcase for a child’s room or flower stencils for a dining or living room bookcase.
  • Decals to the outside of the bookcase. Phrase and themed decals add a bit of personality to a bookshelf. For example, apply a decal with your favorite quote for your dining room to store your dishes or sport team decals for a man cave or sports lover’s bedroom. Decals are very versatile and easy to apply.

Before decorating your bookshelf, make sure any paint or stain is completely dry before you add fabric or paper, stencils, or decals.