Alma Update: Media + Storage

By Kate Riley May 9, 2011

Hey everybody, hope you moms had a relaxing Mother’s Day!  Last week, I spent a few hours constructing a media and storage center for our Alma Project.  I struggled for weeks on how to accomplish this task, at first scouring thrift stores and Craigslist for bookcases with no luck.  Why is it so hard to find two solid wood matching bookcases these days?  I contemplated either going to IKEA or having them built, but the bid came in at $400 which I was not willing to spend. 

My parents came to the rescue.   They moved all their belongings last week and they happened to have two solid bookcases they didn’t need anymore since they’re downsizing, so they generously donated them to this project. 

To create the new media center, I reused the existing TV stand and paired it with the donated bookshelves, one on each side.  Then I purchased two new pressboard shelves for the top and between the bookcases.  I primed the pieces, then assembled them all together and painted it all white to create one large wall unit.  And we did it all for under $60 dollars.

Here is what the family room wall looked like a few weeks ago:

tv wall before media


Here is the wall after we constructed a new media and storage center:

alma media storage center

Fantastic right? 


In the garage, I primed both the bookcases and the existing TV unit with my favorite primer, oil based Zinsser ‘Cover Stain’ while I chatted it up with the kids. 

primed cabinets in garage


To the top and in between the bookshelves we attached pressboard shelves ($20) cut to our measured length, and secured the entire unit with ‘L’ brackets. I later painted the brackets to disguise them.   

level and brackets


We trimmed the rough edges of the pressboard with wood molding, which cost me another $8.  I primed and painted the entire unit with a new gallon of white paint ($25).   I painted the back of the bookcases the same color as the wall to make them feel more open and airy. alma new media center

I also secured the entire unit to the studs in the wall so that any curious or climbing toddlers won’t be in danger of falling bookcases.  It’s all very sturdy and solid which gives us great piece of mind, especially in earthquake territory.  

Since we saved so much money on assembling the entire wall unit, I spent another $75 on baskets for storage at Michaels (they were 40% off).

baskets at michaels


A group from our church generously donated dozens of books to this project.  Thank you Nina and Chris for rounding up such a wonderful library !

kids library


With baskets and books, the three families now have a place to house many of their belongings, and extra reading material for the younger children. 

baskets and books on shelf


Haille is the oldest of the six kids living at our Alma House, here she is helping to install the butterfly motif above the entire unit.  Haille is an amazing girl!  She and I had a chance for a long talk while I primed the cabinets.  She has excellent grades and wants to go into law enforcement, I am so proud of her!

haille helping


The hub and I are so happy with the way this media center turned out. 

We took this . . .

media before


. . . and made this wall unit for under $60!

alma house media storage center

Next week, another family is donating a flat screen TV for the house to complete the unit.  I was going to reattach the doors to the TV cabinet, but the moms in the house preferred the open shelving, so I left them off for now.

We’re so proud to have joined up with our local COTS (Committee on the Shelterless) to help improve the lives of these families with a new project we tackle each month.  We thank each and every one of you who have generously donated to our Alma Project

We’ve discovered a new problem with the foundation which may require up to $1,000 to fix, so any contributions to our project are welcomed! 

More Alma House home improvements to come next month.

Thanks so much for all of your support!


cg kate signature



  1. Bless you and your family for working with such an amazing organization.

  2. Kate, I love reading about this project. I am amazed at your transformation of the bookcases and the old TV stand. They are very lucky to have such a resourceful woman helping them!

  3. Bravo! What a beautiful, custom piece. How fantastic that your parents were able to donate their bookshelves. I love that you took 3 separate pieces and transformed them into a cohesive unit. Job well done!

  4. Beautiful! It looks better than the ready-made unit hubby and I purchased years ago. So lovely that you are able to continue working on this project.

  5. Fabulous transformation and kudos to you and your husband for sharing some of your quality time with such a wonderful organization!

  6. This is so wonderful. And that is a truly amazing transformation with the book shelves and TV stand.

  7. I love it! I was planning to attempt the same idea (putting 3 different pieces together to create a unit) and now I have inspiration and I know I can do it! Thank you for sharing!

  8. Wow, fantastic that you could create something so awesome for so little. I love hearing about this amazing project and am inspired by what you are doing.

  9. Kate,
    It turned out perfectly! Aren’t parents the best?! They always come through in a pinch. I love how you connected the individual pieces all together. What a wonderful use of space.
    God bless you and this project. I think it is truly wonderful.

  10. I love your regular posts about what you’ve done around your own house, but the Alma House updates are my absolute favorites. What a blessing beautiful environs are, and what a joy it must be to give that as a gift to families who are starting over!

  11. Just amazing! Love how this turned out and that you are donating your time and energy to help others. Good for you :)

  12. Amazing. What a transformation!! I always hear people say “why don’t you just make it out of bookcases and make them look like builtins/one unit” but I’ve never seen anyone actually do it so well.

    I love it!

  13. beautiful job, it looks sooo good!!! Good luck with the future projects, what an amazing thing to help out single moms and their children like you are doing

  14. Kate – this is amazing. I’m so glad you showed this project. I have two wooden bookcase that I thought about adding a desk between and creating some sort of bridge. I just wasn’t sure how it would look. You have inspired me to give it a try!

  15. Awesome, awesome, AWESOME! It looks like those pieces were all supposed to be together like that. I love the open shelving, the storage, the freshness and functionality of it. Well done!

  16. Oh my gosh, WONDERFUL! I’ve been wanting to save up for a huge entertainment center for a while, but seeing you make this for SUCH a good price makes me wonder if I could do it myself. Fantastic job! The paint, the butterfly accents, everything!

  17. I had a very amazing mother’s day. My daughters gave me presents. Simple but it comes from the heart. I love what you’ve done with the family room wall especially with the crown molding trim. And I love how white the cabinets are. What paint number is that?

  18. What an amazing transformation! So impressive that you were able to make the entire unit for so little. Love it! Thanks for sharing.

  19. Kate, this looks wonderful! This is a piece that any of us would be proud to have in our homes, and I love that you were able to provide it for these families. Hip-hip-hooray to your folks for so generously donating the bookshelves, and three cheers to you for the vision and tenacity to transform it into a beautiful, functional piece. :)

  20. It looks wonderful and serves a great purpose. Whenever you share these Alma improvements here it makes me want to donate more money. :-) Great job!


  21. soooo, what else do I say other than WOW?! So what you’re telling me is that you made that wall unit for $60??? Girl I’ve said it before, but I must say it again: YOU ARE GOOD!!!

  22. Well done!!! you are seriously such a blessing to those families!!!

    Any chance you can give deets on how you attached the molding to the top of the shelves? I’m sure it’s a basic thing I should know….but…..

  23. Kate you are so inspirational. Thank you for sharing your amazing talent in such a meaningful way.

  24. You did a fabulous job on this transformation. I really enjoy your posts about the Alma Project – so inspirational.

  25. Wow! I think half of the people used my word already … but it’s amazing.

    thanks for the inspiration!

  26. I love that there can be something you really want and you think your only option is to save up and spend a lot, then finding out it can be done on a dime and look AMAZING!! That is awesome that you would do projects for this home. Thanks for your generosity to them!

  27. WOW!!! What a great transformation! I’m so excited to see DIY work in a way the gives back to the community. Thanks for all you are doing and for getting others involved! It’s amazing how many people will help with donating anything from books to funds if someone will step out and ask. Thanks for giving us, the people at your church, and even your parents a chance to help!

  28. Miss Kate,
    The work and the detail here are both outstanding. I continue to marvel at your organizational skills and the visual tutorials. Your presentations are also so very pleasing to the eye. I love the hand drawn arrows to connect the dots so thoroughly-for those of us that might need close dot connecting. Your blog presentaions are art unto themselves, talented Lady Kate!!

    Have you considered adding audio and/or visual tutorials with projects? I’m dying to see if your newly dyed jeans are working for ya! How about, “Kate goes her-tube”?????

  29. Kate, you are truly an inspiration, for both your great ideas and willingness to serve others! Thanks so much for sharing this project – it was very timely as I’ve been planning a similar project with a set of bookcases using your laminate painting tutorial! I studied your photos and it seems like your bookcases, like mine, have a thick cardboard-ish backing. I’ve been wondering if it holds up to painting. Did you just primer/paint on top of the backing? Did it buckle up at all?

  30. I absolutely LOVE reading about this project. You are an inspiration to us all to be more selfless and use our passions in ways to help others! Thanks for sharing

  31. I loved what barb above said about going through youtube…I’d love to see some videos…this particular posting was so beautiful to read…it’s one thing to take beauty into your own home but to share it with others and bring light into theirs, now that’s something very special!

  32. Just a quick question as I was going over the pics again…did you paint the l brackets white to match?

  33. I like the butterflies that you placed on the top and beside the clock. It’s simple white designs added accent to the white media center. Great job!

  34. Hi Julie, yep! I painted right over them so the brackets blend in.

    ~ Kate

  35. Hi Sarah, the back of those cabinets is a very thin board, I wouln’t say cardboard but very thin wood with seams in between. I did prime it and paint it and there is no buckling or bubbling of paint at all. Some of the final coat of the taupe paint needs touched up, but that primer really holds well to just about any surface.

    ~ Kate

  36. You did such a great job as usual! Can’t wait to see more! :)

  37. Kate…this looks so professional. You really did an awesome job! Look at all that great storage! Well done, my friend!

  38. Hi Kate, I love your blog and this new post is very inspirational, I live in Australia and I was wandering if there were similar projects here that I could join…. I am on a mission now to find out!!! I am a single Mum and work full time and have just started my own blog so I will have to find the time to squeeze something else in but I am inspired now. Thank you.

  39. Kate, I love to blog and and glad to see what a giving couple you and your husband are. That was a great transformation! I wish I had your talent. The truth is that I’m afraid of hurting myself or others with saws and even exacto knives. lol This is such a great project to be involved with. I know someone that is temporarily homeless and instead of feeling sorry for herself she is at the local church, that helps the homeless to eat and help out. She is eating there to save money so they can fix their situation faster. She had been very depressed and just sleeping all day while living in a house. Now she is out helping others and praising God for good things. To me watching this transformation is such a miracle. God Bless you, her and all people that are helping others. Katharine

  40. a really fantastic job. major kudos to you for all that you are doing!

    You are such an inspiration.

  41. I love that you are doing the Alma House project! Where did you get the butterflies on the wall? Thank you!

  42. Kate, I’m the one who asked about painting the backing earlier. Thanks so much for your reply – I went for it with primer and paint, even though I think the backing of our shelves was more cardboard-y than yours, and succeeded! It took three coats of paint after the primer before I was convinced it was even, but it ended up great. No bubbling or buckling, as you said. Thanks again for the inspiration and your help!

    • Hi Brenda, with the right primer you can paint composite or laminate wood – I use Zinsser Cover Stain – it has great bonding power and will stick to those unusual or glossy surfaces.

  43. Hi! What an AMAZING job! I am going to attempt this for our finished basement – just found some free bookshelves on Craigslist I’m going to pick up this weekend. If I’m lucky my project will turn out half as beautiful as yours! Quick question – where did you get the pressboard shelving?

    • Hi Allison, we found the pressboard shelving at Lowes as I recall!

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