Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A book-lover's DIY Christmas

Photos by Alli Kirkham
Left to Right: Free as I found it, Cleaned and with shelves removed, Laid down for 
painting, Painted, Dried and re-shelved, and finally with books in place.

It's a week before Christmas and I'm well aware that you're not supposed to buy anything for yourself around this time to keep from stepping on gift-givers' toes. I've been pretty good this holiday season, mostly limiting purchases to things I need, like underwear, and not things that I want, like bookshelves for every single square foot of wall space in my house.

But sometimes the universe gives you a present that you just can't ignore.

I was driving around on Saturday after finishing up my Christmas shopping at Barnes and Noble (I was almost unbelievably good, buying only a single book for myself when I usually leave book stores lugging a third of my own weight in novels and comics and notebooks) when I saw a sign that called out to my sometimes-frugal eye: "Free". Even better, the sign was attached to a book shelf, something that I've been lusting after for a few months now. I live with my in-laws, around the corner from my parents, and when I moved in two years ago I never brought over my books or book shelves since it seemed like so much e- as I gradually accumulated a new collection in my new abode the house grew a scurf of books, books on top of dressers, books wedged double-depth in small shelves, books in the garage, books in the bathroom, books on the ottoman, books in the woodbin (we live in SoCal, we never actually need a fire), books in baskets, books in bags, books on the night table, books under the bed. Basically, books were everywhere because they didn't belong anywhere.

So I circled the block and examined the shelf on the street. It was a slightly-beat-up, cheap, stained, fiberboard book shelf with white laminate, about six feet tall and a foot wide and deep. As bad as it may have been superficially, it would hold books and that was what I cared about. Into my truck it went!

When I got it home, I pulled it into the yard and started yanking out shelves. Most of the stains were coffee or some other water-based liquid and wiped off easily. There was, however, a long streak down the cardboard backing where the white paper layer had worn away after some liquid had been spilled on it. I looked at the ugly streak and thought for a minute. Only the week before I had been watching Dexter, and I remembered how much I had liked the character Hannah's book shelves - the fronts painted white with the backs and sides painted pink. I had a can of a lovely orange spray-paint in the garage and a plan.

Since it is Christmas I have plenty of wrapping paper around and laid it down to protect from overspray. The shelf went down on its back and I began to rattle my can. A few minutes and a lot of paint fumes later, the interior of the shelf had a rich orange coat and I had a nice little buzz going. I stood the case back up and let it cure for 24 hours.

After letting the paint dry I brought it into the garage, cleaned the shelves, and reassembled the whole thing. A little bit of orange paint had flecked over the front so I took some white acrylic paint and dabbed over the orange areas, not fully blending with the other white to give the front a nice shabby chic look.

Then it was off to the races - I gathered books from all over the house, grabbed them out of my car, ferreted them out of hiding places I didn't remember sticking them in, and started shelving. Unfortunately there wasn't enough space between the shelves to properly organize the books by author, so they're just sort of piled in by height, but almost all of the books I have at my in-laws' house (78 so far - I counted) fit on to the shelves with room for me to double stack when I need to, which will undoubtedly happen soon.

It was a fun and unexpected project that had three features which I highly recommend to everyone at every opportunity: it was useful, free, and gave me a great opportunity to get creative even in a mundane household task.

So keep an eye on the side of the road - you never know what sort of wonderful gifts the universe is leaving out all around you.

     - Alli

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