Before and After: 100-Year-Old Dinged-Up Shelving Gets a Fresh New Look

published Mar 14, 2021
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About this before & after
Home Type
Project Type
Art Deco
Skill Level
Rental Friendly
Before: Shelf with tools on it
Credit: Nicole Robertson

Sometimes it can be hard to muster up the motivation to DIY a home project — especially when you feel like you’re going to be stuck doing it a certain way. Case in point: DIYer Nicole Robertson’s built-in shelving. Original to her 1904 apartment, the shelves were in the hall between the kitchen and living room and were pretty much always in full view.

Credit: Nicole Robertson

The built-in shelves had gotten banged up over the years, with the old glass doors long gone (now replaced with plexiglass). “When I moved in it was really dirty and gross and just became a place to shove stuff,” Nicole says. “Every other thing in my apartment was coming along pretty well but this really seemed to overshadow everything else. I got stuck on the fact that I needed to replace the doors and did nothing for the longest time.”

But, she says, “one Saturday I couldn’t take it anymore.”

Nicole popped the sliding door track out — finding 100 years’ worth of lost pins and coins behind — then got to work.

Credit: Nicole Robertson

First, Nicole cleaned the wood as best she could, using filler to repair any cracks and screw holes. Then, she painted the shelves white. “I always cringe when I see people painting over natural wood when no one else has painted over it in 100 years,” Nicole admits. “But there was nothing about the wood in this cabinet that had any real beauty. I hesitate to paint over natural wood 99 percent of the time, but this time I’m glad I decided to go for it.”

The white paint brightened up the shelving and helped turn it from an eyesore into a showpiece. Nicole doubled down by installing peel-and-stick wallpaper on the back in a sophisticated-yet-whimsical crane pattern.

Nicole filled the bottom shelves with matching gray baskets to maximize storage, and uses the top to display art and photos. It’s also now the perfect spot for a home bar. Someday she’ll add a floating shelf to the upper portion, but for now, she says, she’s happy with the results.

“I love that I did the whole thing by myself,” Nicole says. “It’s so much cleaner and brighter and is no longer a reminder of all the other work that needs to be done around here.”

The only thing she’d change? Doing it sooner. “I was overly focused on repairing it or rehabbing it in a perfect way,” Nicole says. “I realized I was letting perfect get in the way of good. Once I let go of that it was freeing.”

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