Do you remember all those bookcases a few years back that had bold backs and beautifully styled shelves. It seemed like every couple of weeks you’d see a different version…and almost all of them had bright colors or graphic patterns. They were all so cute and so attention-getting. I wanted one of my own so much. But I never did make one.
So what was holding me back?
Well, there’s the lack of time thing. With three kids and this blog, I stay busy, busy, busy. But that’s not what really held me back. The root of the problem is that I’m just too darn indecisive. I couldn’t figure out what color or pattern I would want to use. And once it’s up, I know that it will stay up for months…even if I hate it. So instead of doing something bold and fun, I did nothing. How boring is that?
Today is the day that changed. I’m still indecisive, but instead of letting it paralyze my design decisions, I let it inspire me. Now, instead of having just one fun backing for our open shelving, I have 4 options that I can put up at any time.
That’s right…I have 2 sets of reversible shelf backing to change the look of our open shelving at any time. It is awesome.
It was also a bit of a pain in the tush. But that’s okay. I’m fine with a little bit of extra work up front if it means I can quickly and easily change things up in the future.
The short version is that I cut sheets of foam core to fit each opening and applied a covering to each side. I wish it was as easy as it sounds. Thankfully, I learned a few tricks along the way.
7 Tips for Making A Reversible Shelf Backing with Foam Core
Not all foam core is created equal.
Did you know you can get foam core boards at the dollar store? I had no clue until this fall, and that’s where I bought all the boards I used for this project. That said, when compared to foam core from other sources (in my case, Target), there are some noticeable differences. First, the sizes are very different. Dollar store foam core was larger, which was better for fitting our space. But the Target foam core has thicker paper on the outside, which may help reduce warping (see below).
Measure twice, cut once.
You could make a reversible shelf backing for built-ins like ours, or for book cases and media centers. Be sure to measure each opening carefully. Since we’re using it for built-ins, and our house is nearing 50 years old, there isn’t a single plumb corner in the house. That means some boards were cut into near trapezoidal shapes to fit the back corners. Store-bought bookshelves may not have this issue, but be prepared to cut odd shapes.
Use a sharp blade and a ruler.
Foam core is a pain to cut. Do yourself a favor and use a fresh blade. It’s also helpful to put a ruler or straight edge right next to your blade as you cut. This helps get the cleanest cut possible, which is important to keep the back looking as natural as possible.
Cut your boards 1/4-inch smaller than your opening.
You’ll be tempted to make the boards fit as tight as possible. Learn from my experience…you don’t want to do that. If the foam core is too tight in the opening, it’s extremely difficult to remove, and may even get ruined when you try to exchange it. Instead, cut the foam core small enough to leave room for your fingers to push it in or out. In order to prevent ugly gaps at the top of the openings I added a small strip of foam core as a ‘seat’ for the board to sit on. When I want to change the boards, I slip out the little shelf. Often, just pulling out that little piece of foam core makes the rest of the piece fall out easily. And I know that the right styling will hide that little strip.
Be cautious with wet applications.
Wet foam core can be a problem. It likes to curl up and warp if it gets wet all over. Or the paper cover starts to bubble up if it’s particularly wet in a spot or two. I used paintable beadboard wallpaper for most of the reversible shelf backing (just like in my inspiration). In order to reduce the amount of warping, I placed heavy books on the boards as the wallpaper dried. They still ended up a bit curved, but once paint fully cures, I’ll weigh them down again for a few days to straighten them out.
Use a sharpie to mark the sides of your boards.
If you have different sized openings like me, you’ll need a way to keep track of which board goes where. A fine tip sharpie works perfectly along the edge to mark each board.
Just because I used wallpaper doesn’t mean you have to. On one set I actually used some leftover marble contact paper. You could make boards with wrapping paper or fabric by using a light dusting of adhesive spray. The possibilities are endless…which is perfect if you’re indecisive like me!
Have you ever had indecisiveness hold you back?
What would you put on a a reversible shelf backing?
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