Crossing my Fingers

Today I’m sharing a project I finished a few months ago…in October to be exact.

This project came to my attention when I was telling my friend about replacing a bookshelf in my apartment. I was referring to the grey painted bookshelf project, but she quickly inserted…”oh the rusty one?” … I wasn’t exactly offended (and she certainly meant no offense) but it took me by surprise and made me realize that I might need to pay a little bit more attention to my OTHER living room bookshelf.


This bookshelf was generously gifted (or on loan…I guess I should have checked on that before I decided to paint it) from my parents. Before it made the long trip to New York it sat on their patio as a place for setting potted plants and garden tools. When I switched to a much smaller bedroom within my Astoria apartment, Mom offered to bring it up to me to help with storage.

The shelves conveniently fold up to meet the back, and the sides fold in on top of the shelves, which makes moving this little metal bookshelf a dream.

Needless to say, it serves its purpose (as you can see from the overflowing shelves above) – but this guy needed some aesthetic upgrades and I certainly needed to get rid of any rusty spots before bringing a baby into this place.

In October, I was crossing my fingers that I’d be pregnant any day, so I decided to take care of this quick painting project that would be out of the question once the little one was more than just an idea.

Now, if I didn’t live in NYC I’d simply take this thing in the backyard and give it a few coats of spray paint. We all know, that’s not going to go over very well on the sidewalk or in the park with all the people picnicking and strolling their babies around, so I came up with plan B.

I found Rustoleum brand oil rubbed bronze paint in liquid form on the Home Depot website.  Even though I had to buy double what I really wanted, it was pretty inexpensive and I hoped that I would find more projects down the road where this stuff could come in handy.

The paint arrived just in time for me to tackle the bookshelf between house guests and family vacations.

I prepped by emptying the bookshelf and wiping it down with a damp paper towel. I had a leftover plastic drop cloth from my cabinet adventures (NEVER THROW THAT STUFF AWAY!) so I covered as much floor as possible and set my project in the middle.


Once I unloaded the books and got it into some better lighting, I could plainly see that my friend was right, it was rusty.

Wanting to save my drop cloth for as many future projects as possible, I placed my paint and supplies on some classy cardboard hoping to keep me from tracking any oil rubbed bronze paint all over my apartment with my feet.


Since my box of paint didn’t come with any stir sticks, I used my personal favorite –  extra chopsticks to stir up the paint before beginning. I also grabbed two foam paint brushes (that I was ok to toss afterward) to apply my paint. I think the directions suggested a different type of brush, but since so much of my shelf was composed of thin rungs, I crossed my fingers again and hoped I would be alright with foam.

I started at the top, and boy what a difference!!



There were a million little places that were tough to get to, but the leaves make the biggest statement so I focused on the fronts of those and tried to be vigilant about catching drips before they started to dry. It was a slow process, and as my daylight disappeared it was more and more difficult to see the places and drops I missed. (This project happened before I installed my dining room light, unfortunately).

I found that there were a lot of places that required me to lift the shelf to make sure I’d covered every angle of my rungs and leaves. Every time I thought I was done, I found a new spot waiting for me.


Now came the most exciting/ridiculous part of this project. It was time to give up for the night and wash out my brushes and bowl.

I took them over to the sink and put some water on them (which usually does the trick), then I tried to clean off my hands so I could put on the lid of the paint can. This paint wasn’t budging!!!

I can’t quite remember how I managed to research my options (seeing as my hands were covered in paint) but I somehow discovered that while water based paint only requires water to clean up, oil based paint requires oil. Like dissolves like…that makes sense!

I just never realized that I was even using oil based paint! (Yes, I absolutely should have known).

Note to self: In the future ALWAYS figure out how to clean up, BEFORE you start a new project!

At any rate, I ended up using olive oil to get the paint off my hands and off my sink. I threw the brushes away and put the glass bowl in the recycling (I was over attempting to clean up at that point). I managed to get paint on myself at least 3 more times before the clean up was over, which meant more and more olive oil. Oil based paint and I do NOT get along.

The next morning I inspected my work, and decided to put the bookshelf back in its place so that I could see any missed spots with a new angle of light.


I crossed my fingers that I didn’t need to pull out that evil paint again, but I definitely found quite a few places I’d still missed (mostly odd sides of rungs and hard to reach corners). So I bravely stupidly pulled out a smaller paintbrush and (without a drop cloth!!!) attempted to  dab at all the remaining paint-less portions of the bookshelf.

THANK GOODNESS nothing got dripped on my chair, my floor, or my rug!

Now that everything had a nice coat (just one!) I was ready to let it dry, and reload my books.

I’d been contemplating ways to make these shelves hold more items since they arrived in New York years ago, and even though Mom had been saying “Plexiglass!” I wasn’t sure where to get it, or how to get it cut to size and then home.

While I was pretty much watching paint dry, an idea came to me.

Remember those slate cutting boards that worked wonders on the glass top coffee table? After it broke, these lovely pieces of slate had just been stacked on top my fridge waiting for a party or a new purpose.

They didn’t fit “perfectly” but they were just the right size to make the top two shelves hold a larger number of smaller books and accessories (should I feel the need to add accessories later).


Don’t you love those cable cords? Yikes, after this photo was taken they got shoved behind the TV cabinet. Sometimes you can’t see this stuff until you start photographing your home in tiny segments!

At any rate, repurposing the slate was really helpful in preventing smaller things from tipping or falling through these top two shelves.


I tried to be a bit more deliberate with my book arranging, but even after getting rid of quite a few books that we didn’t need around anymore, we still had too many books for the shelves to look that organized or “artistic.” Something to work on in the future, I suppose!


It might not seem like a huge transformation now that the bookshelf is back in its dark corner, but just knowing that there isn’t a rusty bookshelf for my little guy to get into makes all my struggles with oil-based paint, worthwhile.

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