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How To Paint A Wooden Shelf

September 24, 2022

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How do you paint over stained wood? Easily if you use spray paint.

Here's a quick step by step DIY tutorial how to paint a wooden shelf. 

The easy way.

Spray Paint  Over Stained Wood

I'm not a fan of unfinished business.

It does not sit well with me.

So you can imagine my frustration and discomfort every time I've stepped foot in my hallway over the last several months.
While the floor and walls have both been painted, the decor is just not there yet.

Oh sure, we made over and hung up a few mirrors.

And I refinished a corner cabinet I found for $25 on Facebook marketplace.

But overall, the room is still incomplete.

Well, this week I got a little closer to the finish line, with a small DIY.

Over the summer, one of the mirrors I painted was rather ornate. It had a heavy top design and a thick base, since I believe it was made to sit on a dresser.

It needed something underneath to anchor it.

White Mirror In Hallway

I considered putting the table that I had there, before the renovations, back in that spot, however, after pulling everything out of the hallway, and living with the open space, I decided against it.

The hallway in this old summer beach cottage is tight.

Instead I pictured a shelf, like the iron ones in the kitchen and family room.

But where would I find one that was the right size and the right style? Would I be searching online for months?

Would I be combing every yard sale and thrift shop for the next year?

Well, obviously, I found the perfect shelf. And lucky me, it was in my very own home,

How convenient.

In addition to all the updates going on upstairs, we've been making some small changes downstairs in the basement family room.

There was an old shelf hanging on the wall that had been stained green to match my skirted table.

However, it no longer went in the space, since I was going for a lighter color scheme. But.

The scale and design was a just right for the hallway.

Of course, the color was still wrong.

Green Scroll Wooden Shelf

And it was way too long to fit in the narrow area beneath the mirror.

So I enlisted Mr. Handy Dandy to help me out. I have to admit for this project, I was mostly there as the idea girl.

The please hand me that girl.

And the clean up girl.

Which is all A- ok with me. I didn't have to pick up a power tool or inhale spray paint fumes with my allergies and tricky lungs.

So how'd we do it?

Painting Over Stain

I paint over painted surfaces all the time, but stain is different. I wasn't sure if the stain on the wood was oil or water based and if the paint would adhere without stripping or sanding.

I was also worried that the stain color would bleed through and/ or require many, many coats. I wondered can you paint over stained wood?

The simple answer is yes, and there are a lot of paints that will cover well.

Turns out, for us, spray paint was the quick and easy answer. No sanding or stripping. 

Love that.

Step 1: First things first, we measured.

I wanted the shelf to go almost to the moulding on both sides. 

Once we marked the shelf, my husband used his saw and trimmed off the excess wood on each end.

Shelf Cut To Size

Step 2: Next, I grabbed a can of white spray paint from the garage.

Since the wood was already stained, we knew that the shelf should be primed. 

But we're lazy DIYers. We like simple processes.

So rather than use a traditional, brush on paint, we opted for spray paint with a primer. The all in one formulas are the best.

We used Rustoleum this time, but Krylon works equally as well.

Rustoleum Spray Paint and Primer for Wood

I'm a big fan of chalk paint, which also generally requires very little to no prep and would cover the stained wood, but spray painting is so much easier.

And it covers those intricate areas, like the shelf scrolls or chair spindles, in half the time it takes to do with a brush.

Step 3: We propped it up on an old spackle bucket outside.

The area was obviously well ventilated but I still made my husband wear a mask.

Leaning it on the bucket was a simple way to support the shelf without dragging out saw horses or a big table and tarp.

Plus, the tacky paint didn't stick the plastic.

Spray Painting Over Stained Wood

Step 4: We gave it two coats of paint.

One at a time with long even coats and allowed it to dry a bit in between each one.

Thinner coats are best, this way you avoid splotchy areas or drips.

Spray Paint Over Stain

Step 5: Then we set it aside to dry for several hours.

I also let it sit in the garage for a few days until the paint smell dissipated, because it reeked.

Spray Paint Drying On Wood

Most latex paints are low VOC and chalk and mineral paints have virtually no odor, so I can paint with them in the house.

That noxious smell is the one drawback to spray paint.

It does a really great job though.

Footed Milk Glass Cups on a Shelf

Covered that green stain like a champ. The shelf was light, bright and super white.

It looked even better than I'd imagined it would in the hallway.

And it anchored that mirror nicely.

Hallway Decor Cottage Living

Plus, it didn't take up too much space, but it still felt substantial.

Even better it was the ideal place to showcase some of my new thrift store finds.

Votive Candles In Milk Glass Footed Cups

Like my four dollar footed cups.

They sparkle in the day, and with the help of a few battery operated votives, they glow at night.

Making my unfinished hallway a little less so.

And that makes me smile.


Looking for more creative makeovers? Well, then, it's your lucky day.

My good friend Ann from The Apple Street Cottage is hosting another round of the Do It Over Designers.

Do It Over Designers Blog Hop Graphic

Be sure to pop by and check out all the upcycles and say hello!!

Kim Signature

Post a Comment | 45 Comments

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  1. How amazing that you were able to shop your house! It's perfect under the mirror and looks great in the hallway.

    1. Thanks so much!! It all worked out well, I just love that!

  2. You had great vision to know that this would work, how perfect it looks. Great choice on the cups too.

    Rachel - Tea and Forget-me-nots

    1. Thank you, Rachel! I really love those cups.

  3. A great upcycle and the addition of the lights adds so much atmosphere!

    1. Thank you, Mary! The shelf wasn't even on the wall when I found those cups, but I knew they'd be perfect there.

  4. Gotta love shopping your house, Kim. For me, right now, it's the storage unit! HaHa! That shelf is just perfect for the space and I love the milk glass on it. Great makeover!

    1. That's awesome, get to leave your house to shop your house!! Much better than my trips to the basement! Haha. Thanks for hosting!! Always fun to hop with you ladies.

  5. Great to repurpose that shelf under your mirror. That paint is strong but it does do the trick for coverage. It looks fabulous. xoxo Kris

    1. It really is strong, Kris, you're so right, but it works so well, you always know what you'll get. And it's cheap!! Oh, and thanks!! xoxo

  6. What a stylish way to upgrade a shelf, Kim! It's now an awesome eye-catching piece in your hallway! Well done!

    1. Thanks Gail! It wasn't a complicated makeover, but an effective {and cheap} one for sure.

  7. It's perfect - like it was made for that spot! And it looks brand new with that new paint coat. You have a real eye for picking things out and knowing how they will look!

    1. Thanks so much, Mari. I was very happy that it worked out. Gotta love spray paint!

  8. Very nice - love the scroll-y look of it, and I need to go get me some battery operated votives now!

  9. Brilliant makeover, and you already had it too which makes it even more perfect. Using what we already have feels so good doesn't it? This little shelf finishes of that area just perfectly.

    1. Thank you so much and yes, I love using what I have. We recently had a yard sale, so much stuff in the basement that I no longer needed or displayed. I like this much better and it was certainly a lot less work!! Haha!!

  10. Gotta love that you had just what the mirror needed by shopping your home. The shelf looks fabulous, especially illuminated with pretty candleholders. I have a similar mirror waiting in the queue for a makeover and I've been procrastinating because it looks lost on the wall. Thanks to your clever solution, I now have one too!

    1. Oh I can't wait to see what you have in mind, Marie! You always have the most beautiful makeovers.

  11. It looks so pretty and I love where you put it!

    1. Thanks Goldilocks said, it was just right.

  12. Replies
    1. Thanks Laura! White spray paint {and a very willing husband} to the rescue! xo

  13. Kim, that turned out so well and looks really pretty with the mirror. You know I am a big fan of shelves..Happy Sunday..xxoJudy

    1. Thank you, Judy! I do love your shelves...and your signs...and your decor..and...well, let's just say if we lived closer, you'd need to frisk me every time I left your place!! 😉🥰

  14. The shelf turned out great, Kim. I love it when we can repurpose existing pieces in our home. Did you know Rustoleum makes a spray chalk paint? I've used it with good results. Have a great week! Hugs.

    1. Thanks Nancy! I did know about Rustoleum, but I've never tried it. I will have to put it on my list. I wonder if it has the same smell? Thanks for the tip!! Hugs!!

    2. It most likely does, Kim. And I have to remember that you need to be careful with odors before I suggest something. xo

    3. I appreciate the tip either way, Nancy! And I’m sure there are others reading who have no issues with odors, but would love to know that chalk paint comes in a spray…so please keep those suggestions coming!! 🙂

  15. Your shelf makeover looks great under the mirror and I especially like the thrifted white glass you displayed! Your idea and plans worked out perfectly.

    1. Thanks so much, Allyson. I really lucked out with both!

  16. The shelf looks nice painted white and under the pretty hall mirror Kim. It especially looks nice with the votives glowing at night.

    1. Thanks Julie. It’s not always easy to find the right pieces for these tiny spaces, so I’m glad I was able to make this work.

  17. Replies
    1. Thanks Carla! That “candle glow” definitely eases the bite of those early sunsets.

  18. It's so satisfying when you find just what you're looking for in your own home! Looks just right under your mirror, and I really like those little votives!

    1. Thanks Amy, I agree, shopping your home is the best!! Well, unless you can be shopping in France. Then I’d say that’s the best! 😉

  19. Kim,
    Great job! It looks absolutely perfect with the mirror and I love the milk glass pieces on the shelf!! Thanks so much for stopping by and glad that you enjoyed seeing my Christmas Crafts!!

  20. It's the best feeling when you shop your own home and find the ideal decor piece. And that little shelf is perfect for that space. Love how it looks with the milk glass votives. I bet the warm reflections in the mirror are beautiful too.