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Giving Old Laminate Furniture A Whole New Look!

Bookcase Makeover

Most of us have been the recipient of a piece of “hand-me-down” furniture  at some point in our lives. I know I have been…NUMEROUS times! It just makes sense. No need to throw away perfectly good furniture, especially when you can make it look BETTER than new! My daughter Britta recently gave this hand-me-down bookcase a whole new (and much-improved) look! The results were so great, I may just have to take it back! ;-)

Britta writes….  My parents gave me their old bookcase about a year ago when they did their big living/dining room renovation project (which you can read about here). As a book-lover with no bookcase of my own, I was delighted by the gesture and it immediately took up residence in the living room of our apartment. (Obviously this is not the living room, but I forgot to take a photo of it there!)

Bookcase Makeover

Over time, however, it became somewhat of an eyesore for me. Most of our furniture is very dark in color, so the “honey oak”-style bookcase didn’t really match with anything in our home. As you can see, it is was a perfectly good bookcase, so I had no intention of getting rid of it, but I really wanted to do something about the color. So I did some research, tried it out, and now I’m here to show you how you can do it too! :-)

Laminate Furniture Makeover

But before we go any further, let’s talk about the difference between laminate furniture (like my bookcase) and solid wood furniture. Solid wood furniture is super heavy and usually quite expensive. Most experts highly recommend staining a piece of solid wood furniture, rather than painting it, to highlight the beautiful natural grain of the wood rather than covering it up! But with laminate furniture, wood colors and textures are mimicked on paper through a printing process, and then the printed paper is covered with a hard plastic coating and glued to a particleboard base. So while laminate furniture may look like it has a wood grain, it’s not actually real, so there’s no reason not to paint it to your heart’s content!

Laminate Furniture Makeover

Now back to the bookcase. :-) To paint a piece of laminate furniture, as with any painting project, you’ll need a few supplies, like disposable paint traysplastic drop cloths, and painter’s tape. For brushes, you’ll want a small roller brush for the large, flat areas (I used a 6″ foam roller), and an angled nylon brush for the trim.  And finally, you’ll need the two most important supplies: primer and paint (more on those later).

Laminate Furniture Makeover

I started by cleaning everything really well using a combination of microfiber cloths and cleaning wipes, and removing the shelves and hardware. Once everything was clean and dry, it was time to prime.

Laminate Furniture Makeover

Based on several recommendations I read online, I chose to use Zinsser Oil-Based Primer. This primer is a great choice because you can use it on anything, and you don’t have to sand it first. That’s right: no sanding AT. ALL. (Since I was doing this project in the dining room of my apartment and wanted to minimize the mess, this was a very attractive option!) I used the foam roller and the angled brush to apply one coat of primer to the bookcase and shelves, and allowed it to dry for an hour or so.

Laminate Furniture Makeover

Then it was time to paint! Based on some really positive online reviews, I chose Sherwin Williams ProClassic Acrylic Latex Paint for this project. I got two quarts of Semi-Gloss in two different colors: a warm greyish-beige called Sand Dollar for the outside, and a bold, mint-y green called Julep for the inside. I used my painter’s tape to tape off the front edges, and then I used the foam roller to apply the green to the inside of the bookcase, and to the top and bottoms of the shelves. I did one coat the first night, and then applied a second coat the next morning. Thanks to the awesome primer, that’s all I needed to get complete coverage! So as tempting as it is, don’t skip the primer! :-)

Laminate Furniture Makeover

Once the green paint was dry, I removed the tape and started on the exterior. I painted all of the trim on the front of the bookcase using the angled brush, and then used the foam roller to do the sides. The sides needed two coats, and the trim only needed a few touch ups.

Laminate Furniture Makeover

I also taped off the top and bottom of the shelves so I could paint the front edges to match the rest of the exterior, and then I let everything dry overnight, just to be safe. At this point you may wish to apply a protective finish to your paint job, but since my bookcase doesn’t get much abuse, I decided it wasn’t necessary.

Laminate Furniture Makeover

And that’s all she wrote! I couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out. And honestly, all the credit goes to the primer and paint. The primer, as crazy sticky and smelly as it was, made the paint stick to the bookcase like I had sanded it for hours. And the paint itself was super smooth, dried quickly, and was easy to clean up when I made mistakes. With a little time and effort, I was able to turn my drab hand-me-down bookcase into a unique piece with a ton of character.

Laminate Furniture Makeover


Jill Nystul Photo

Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.
I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

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  • Looks fantastic! I love the colors she used. I’m thinking of doing the contrasting colors inside my kitchen cabinets. :) And she’s right, the primer is a super important step. I really need to paint my laminate desk, but haven’t yet. It’s an eyesore for sure. lol

  • Good info. I have a large trestle style dining tble & chairs. Solid wood, i do believe under the very dark stain it is maple. But the top of the table is laminate, i believe. Nice over the years as it did not scratch or mar at all. I want to strip the set, lightened it up, maybe just varathan after sanding, etc… …but what to do with the top? It has two leaves. and will seat 12-14 when fully opened up.
    At our cabin at the river, cheap laminate cabinents in the kitchen..i am wanting to ‘paint, etc’ them. Wonder about Chalk paint there. never used it.. would i need to sand the surface a bit first? It is small area to address. So needs to be lighter in there..Wood walls inside and over the years become darker.. thanks.
    I have read ‘recipes’ for making chalk paint..are they as good as store bought?

    • Could you remove the table top and turn it over and seal and paint the bottom….the new top?

      The hardware for the leaves may need to be reversed also…

  • You have to be careful with oil based paint or primer. If you have a number of layers of oil based paint or primer latex will not apply nicely. And you should not put oil over latex paint.

  • Just a side observation. Laminate particle-board furniture tends to be heavier, not lighter, than solid wood furniture. That’s one way I identify it at yard sales (and avoid it for children’s rooms and sleeping rooms because it outgasses its whole life).

    • Karen is absolutely correct. I have refinished/rescued/recycled many pieces and the laminate ones are always heavier. Sometimes they have a real wood veneer over the particle board which can be deceptive, so examine them closely. Those can be lightly sanded and stained and polyed.

  • I like this. That’s amazing. There’s another website on this net work where she’ll sometimes on her blog post
    furniture redos. I hope I don’t get in trouble for mentioning her site on bloglovin- her name is Debbie Doos- lots of fun projects.

  • I used homemade chalk paint, as an experiment, on a laminate cupboard I was going to throw away. 18 months later, there has been no chipping or peeling. Just washed it down and painted three coats on it. No sanding or priming. 

    • I’m glad to see your post, Kathy, because I was thinking the same thing. With chalk paint, there is NO SANDING, NO PRIMING, NO NASTY ODOR. Britta did a good job, and it looks nice, but she should experiment with some good chalk paint one of these days for a comparison.

  • It’s really awesome way of converting the old piece of furniture in a brand new. It’s really very helpful to renew your favorite furniture at your own home in such a great and simple way. Thanks for sharing

  • Thanks for the great post! This, along with a previous post on this site, gives me something to work with to give a new look to my bathroom cabinets, which are not real wood. I can update them without having to replace the cupboards with something new, that would require replacing tile, mirrors, lighting… you get the idea!

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