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We're using a floor to ceiling stained pine bookcase to subdivide a room.

On the front side it looks great. However, the back of the bookcase is quite ugly.

I'd like to cover the back with something that I can paint with emulsion so, from that side, it looks like part of the dry wall rather than a piece of furniture.

I considered using plywood but I imagine the woodgrain texture could show through.

I've also wondered about either a sheet of MDF or sticking plasterboard to the back (although would this require skimming?)

Could anyone suggest what the best material to make wood, not look like wood.

I would imagine that a similar problem would occur when picking a material for boxing in pipes or vents.

  • Be careful not to add so much weight that the bookcase is unbalanced. It could tip over. In some jurisdictions there is a requirement that tall shelf units be secured to a wall. – Jim Stewart Nov 27 '17 at 11:50
  • Good advice - in this case the bookcase can be secured to the wall at one end and the ceiling joists at the other – ElGringo Nov 27 '17 at 12:52
  • MDO might work better than MDF. – Matthew Gauthier Nov 28 '17 at 4:30
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Depending on how fussy you are, the best thing to look like drywall is drywall. It may also be the least expensive thing that looks like drywall.

I have built a bookcase (attached to the floor and ceiling, so functionally a wall) with a drywall backing, mudded the drywall as usual and indeed the other side looks just like a wall. You have to accept that you have limited attachment points for the drywall (unless there's a terribly thick back on the shelf, which would be unusual) and that will upset folks that want it attached as if there were studs there, but this has not proven to be a problem as far as I can tell. I carefully marked where the fixed uprights and fixed horizontal shelves were, and screwed into those.

You could probably use resilient channel if you wanted a better screwing situation, but you give up some space and add issues treating the end to cover the gap that would create behind the drywall.

  • I'd add that it is possible to get drywall thinner than the standard 1/2" sheets that the home stores have stacks and stacks of. You might have to ask for it, but it's available. – JPhi1618 Nov 27 '17 at 19:47
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    If you could find 3/8 or 1/4" drywall could you glue it up? No Screws that way – Brad Nov 27 '17 at 20:51
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Not quite the idea you were looking for but one idea might be to use another bookcase so that you have two of them back to back. More storage that way.


Now onto your immediate question. I would suggest that you consider a hardboard Masonite type product. This comes in a 4x8 foot sheet that can be cut just to your size. It has a very smooth surface that will take primer and paint very well. The material that I am thinking of is about 3/16 inch thick. (Do not confuse with the softer type product that is thicker and is not smooth on both sides).

Depending upon the construction detail of the rear side of the bookshelf it may even be possible for you to glue the hardboard in place using construction adhesive so that you can eliminate having to put fasteners through the material. If you do end up having to use fasteners I recommend using short #6 flat head screws and countersink the heads into the surface of the hardboard material. You can then use a filler like spackle and light sanding to restore the nice flat surface for painting.

Note that when working with hardboard material sanding with too course of sand paper can result in a fuzzy surface or edge so step up to finer grit to smooth down. Sanding dust is a health hazard so make sure to wear a nose and mouth mask when sanding the stuff.

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I have used heavy white paper and glued this to wood in the past, then it can be textured or painted once the glue dries. (Like a linen white wallpaper). This covers wood grain quite well and it can be skim coated , stomp design or spray textured if desired looks like a sheetrocked wall without the thickness and weight.

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You could attach a decorative sheet at the top, or a curtain rod and a light curtain. How high and how long is the bookcase?

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