80s Wall Unit Hack Built-In Bookcases With Fireplace

Since moving into this house, I have envisioned a fireplace flanked by bookcases in our living room. One Sunday morning while feeling frustrated by our unsuccessful attempts at finding an electric fireplace and bookcases within our budget, a light bulb went off in my head. Why not repurpose what we already have? I couldn't get pen and paper out fast enough to draw up a plan for our 80s wall unit hack transformed into beautiful built-in bookcases with fireplace.

Custom Built In Wall Unit from 80's Entertainment Center

How To Repurpose An 80s Wall Unit Into Beautiful Custom Built-Ins with Fireplace

This furniture hack is a budget-friendly DIY alternative for custom built-ins with a luxury living room design. The dated wall unit was one of our first brand new furniture purchases in the late 80s. It has moved with us from home-to-home, city-to-city, and province-to-province. Here it is pictured below decked out for the holidays. Originally on the bottom left was a minibar that we converted to an electric fireplace insert in the late 90s.

80's Wall Unit Hack before

I have to apologize for the poor quality images in this post. This project was completed in 2012 before I started blogging and had a decent camera.

Here's how we repurposed the 80s wall unit

Step 1: Dismantling The Wall Unit

We removed the middle unit and dismantled it piece-by-piece as most of it was going to be salvaged for the bookcases. The vertical sticks of wood you see in the photo below are holding glued trim re-purposed from the door fronts while it dries. The trim fits perfectly across the top of each bookcase without the need to cut - love when that happens!

Dismantling the wall unit

Step 2: Building The Fireplace Box

Mr. Frugalista built a plywood box to house the electric fireplace insert. He added 3-inch crown molding and 1 1/4" decorative trim to the top of each bookcase as well as the fireplace box. Four-inch decorative medallions and decorative trim were added to each side of the fireplace box which echoes the trim throughout our home.

Step 3: Tiling The Fireplace Box

Slate subway tiles were installed around the fireplace opening, which is the same tiles in our front entry.

Slate subway tiles on custom fireplace box

Step 4: Adding Bead Board To The Bookcases

We lined the back of each bookcase with paintable beadboard wallpaper.

Paintable bead board wallpaper on custom built-ins

Step 5: Priming the Bookcases

First, the wood on the old bookcases was sanded using an 80 grit sanding block to rough up the finish to give the paint some bite. First, we primed the bookcases using Zinsser Bulls Eye Primer. All the built-ins received three coats of Behr Satin Interior paint using a short nap roller followed by three coats of Minwax satin polyacrylic to protect the finish.

80's Wall Unit Hack painted white

Step 6: Mounting Bookcases to the wall

The bookcases were mounted to the wall with L-brackets to give them that custom built-in appearance. The bookcase shelves were salvaged from the side panels of the former middle unit of the 80's wall unit. Matching trim was added along the bottom of all three pieces to unify them. New hardware matched our dining room built-ins.

Custom built-ins from 80's Wall Unit Hack

The photo above was taken after we finished this project in 2012. We have since redecorated our living room in lighter and brighter colors, pictured below.

DIY Custom Built-Ins from 80's Wall Unit Hack

While the paint color hasn't changed, we added White Board and Batten Walls. The large DIY Upholstered Ottoman fabric was changed. The beadboard bookcases brightened with lime green. We added Queen Anne Armchairs that we upholstered with Parisian style fabric and painted white.

Mr. Frugalista and I are pleased we were able to fulfill our dream for custom bookcases and a fireplace for a fraction of the cost of buying new. We are also proud that we spared a dated piece of furniture from ending up in the landfill. Breathing new life into old furniture is my passion and the whole motivation for starting this blog.

If you have any questions about this repurposed furniture hack, please leave them in the comment section below or the Contact Me tab at the top. I love hearing from you!

If you enjoyed this DIY built-in bookcase idea, I'd be so thankful if you shared it with a friend and pinned it to your repurposed furniture board on Pinterest.

80's wall unit repurposed into a fireplace with flanking bookcases

I share my projects at these inspiring link parties.



  1. Fantastic 'reimagination', Marie! It was a pleasure meeting you today ...looking forward to more great chats. ~Leanne


Post a Comment

I always enjoy hearing from you so please don't be shy! I read and reply to every single comment.