It’s no secret that paint can transform any piece of furniture, and this built in bookcase makeover proves -yet again – that paint is an affordable option that really makes a statement.

Thank you to my friends at General Finishes for providing the paint for this project!

Built in Bookcase Makeover: Don’t be Afraid to Paint

Let’s get to it, shall we?


Can we agree that this beautiful piece needed some updating?

An amazing transformation. Check out this beautiful built in bookshelf makeover!

Overcoming the Fear of Painting

There is a level of fear when painting built ins. I get it.

It’s a commitment.

An investment.

What if you don’t like it? Or worse, what if you mess up and ruin it?

I understand. Painting built-ins is not the same as painting the free furniture pieces you buy at the thrift store or find on the side of the road.

But, with some determination, hard work, and the right tools, you can get professional results on a DIY budget. Using the right paint is key! It may also help to practice on a smaller piece before you tackle larger areas.

I am so glad my sister was brave enough to give it a go. Granted, she had just purchased and moved into this house a few months prior, so she was in no way attached to the finish, which makes it much easier to pull out the paint brush.


Much better right? Doesn’t it look professional?

Amazing built in bookcase makeover. I was so afraid of painting my built ins, but this paint is so good I'm giving it a try!

The desk top and hardware remained the same color. The yellow actually looks great in small doses. You can actually see and appreciate the  chair now!


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Built in Bookcase Makeover

Step 1: Lightly sand the entire piece and apply the stain blocker

This product is a primer and it helps to seal the wood, keeping it from bleeding through over time. If you are on a budget, you can probably skip this step, because the paint on its own is pretty amazing in terms of coverage. However, if you are covering very dark wood or knotty wood I would definitely use it!

Built in BookCase makeover. Step by Step tutorial. I think I can do this!

Step 2: Apply 2-3 coats of the paint color of choice

The beautiful color used for this built in bookcase makeover is called driftwood, which is a dark grey shade. My sister used foam brushes and foam rollers to apply. It dries fast, which is a blessing and a curse. You can apply multiple coats quickly, but you also have to be on your toes and fix any drippings as soon as they happen. My favorite thing about it is that it dries without brush marks.

I've been so afraid to paint my built ins but after seeing this built in bookcase makeover I think I'm ready!!

Step 3: Apply 2-3 coats of high performance top coat

Warning: DO NOT skip the top coat. You will be so tired and cranky after all the painting that you will be tempted to bag it.

Trust me. Don’t.

It will protect the piece and it give it that smooth shine. One of my favorite things to do after it’s all dry is run my hands across the surface. So smooth.

Built in bookcase makeover with General Finihes milk paint. I really love how this turned out.

General Finishes carries a flat finish too, if you like less of a sheen.

Tips for getting the best results on your top coat

  • Apply at least two coats (preferably 3). I’m telling you, it’s worth it!
  • Use a foam brush and brush it on fairly thick in only one direction.
  • Wait for it to dry completely(2-3 hours), then lightly sand before applying the next coat.

It is a long, tedious process but you will love the result in the end!

BUILT IN Bookcase Makeover! I need to get mine done! These look awesome!

More projects?

If you have been following the blog for a while, you know I am a huge fan of this paint. I love using it on old pieces of furniture or new pieces I build. After using it on my master bedroom armoire , my mudroom bench, my oak bench, just to name a few, I knew it would be perfect for the built-ins!

Are you ready to tackle your project?

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In the meantime, why not pin it, so you won’t forget it!?

I never thought painting builtins was do-able. After seeing this makeover I am ready to tackle the oak built ins in my house!

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Janice| Sawdust Sisters

Novice woodworker and serial Popcorn eater, Janice Thomas writes detailed tutorials that motivate others to "dare to try". Originally from Puerto Rico, Janice is fluent in Spanish and dreams of owning a beach house on the island someday! Janice currently lives in Utah with her husband and children, where she works as a university professor.

This Post Has 17 Comments

  1. Lisa

    Great job Janice! Painting my built-ins is on my list for 2018.

    1. Janice

      Thank you, Lisa! I am sure they’ll turn out great, just like everything you paint!

  2. Claire

    Wow, its amazing how much paint can really update something. Your bookcases look great now, great job.

    1. Janice

      Thanks Claire!

  3. Ivory

    I love this project you did here, it’s fabulous. Have a safe New Year Eve.

    1. Janice

      Thank you! Happy new year to you as well, Ivory!

  4. julie i grajeda

    beautiful bookcase, what is the color on the front of the bookcase?

    1. Hi Julie, the color is driftwood by General Finishes. It’s linked in the post. The book case is all the same color. The pictures make the inside look a little darker but it’s all the same. I’m glad you liked it!

  5. Jenny Villard

    Looks great! Would I use the TOP COAT on white as well? (when I followed link, it said it could cause yellowing on white paint)

  6. Rhonda Davison

    I have a built in bookshelve/cabinet in a family room that is stained dark with a gel stain. Was wondering about painting just the lower cabinets an off white and leaving the shelving above the dark stain. The shelving shows to painted wall behind that is a light greige color.

    Thoughts on how that would look?

  7. Stacie

    Would you recommend a quart or a gallon for a project of similar size to this bookshelf project?

      1. Stacie

        Thank you 🙂

  8. Jen Downey

    I have built ins attached to crown molding and beams. All are stained with a dark finish. Can I use this process on crown molding and beams also?

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