Money Saving Media Center

By Kate Riley September 14, 2009

When we expanded our home three years ago, we added a small studio above our garage.  We wanted to add value by building a separate “granny” unit, and also provide a place for guests.  The studio was intended as a source of future income.  With its own small kitchen, it can be rented out to a tenant, or perhaps even turned into a vacation rental someday. 

For the first two years after our remodel, this space was completely unfinished.  Over the last year, we’ve slowly brought this space up to livability standards.  We even had my folks staying with us while their house was on the market. 

Since we are expecting a boatload of family and friends through the harvest season and holidays, it was high time I provided my guests with a comfortable space.  This weekend I focused on the media wall.  Formerly plain and sad, it is now organized and media friendly.  I built my own media center by repurposing some bookshelves and adding a custom display ledge. 

Here is the Before:

studio wall before

Here’s the After:

media center afterwards

Here’s how I did it.

First, I had two bookshelves in my garage leftover from the upgrades going on in the home office.

bookcases before 

At Lowe’s, I had a piece of half inch plywood cut to fit the width and length of my bookshelves.  Plywood’s edges are unattractive, so I used wood filler to give the shelf a finished edge.  I smooth it right on with my fingers.  I really love wood filler – I use it all the time to erase imperfections. 

Now if only I could use it to fill in those crevices beginning to show between my furrowed brows, then I’d really be happy. 

wood filler

When the filler was dry, I sanded the edges with a fine sanding pad. 

sand plywood edge

Plywood is too raw to apply your paint directly, so I primed it first with my Zinsser oil based primer.  Can you tell I’ve used this can before? 

DIY tip:  On raw wood, oil based primer covers and seals better than water based primer.  Water based primer is good for all sorts of other surfaces, but that’s a whole different article. 

zinsser primer

The only thing I don’t like about oil based primer is the cleanup.  It requires paint thinner or mineral spirits.  So on smaller projects like this, I simply use the cheap brush then dispose of it when I’m done.  One thing to keep in mind:  cheaper brushes tend to loose their bristles, so you’ll find you sometimes have to pick them out.  And I detest balding brushes! 

oil based primer cheap brush

Once my primer was dry, I sanded it down to remove brush marks and drips.  Then I used some Rustoleum espresso spray paint to darken the shelf.

espresso spray paint

You can see how skipping the primer step with raw wood would leave you with a much rougher surface. 

primer v no primer

I used my drill bit to make holes in the bookcases to run the wires through the back.  Then I connected them all to a surge protector. 

drill bit

When my painted shelf was dry, I screwed it to the top of my shelving units to create one cohesive media center. 

Before, the technology looked hodge podge balanced on top of the gargantuan TV.   

media before

Now the media is organized off to the right side, and contained within the shelves.  And the size of the television is diminished by the surrounding woodwork. 

Can you guess the movie on the screen? 

media center finished

I compare mine to this media center available for purchase at Crate + Barrel for $2,300 plus tax and shipping !  And that’s cheap, compared to other retailers. 

becket media crate and barrel 2300


I really like how my media unit has an additional shelf for display.  I’m still playing around with the vignette. 

upper shelf

How much did my media center cost?  The shelving units were from Target for $99, and I purchased them back in 2006.  The coffee table was a floor sample from Jennifer Convertibles that used to sit in the kids’ playroom.  It was $89.  The plywood and paint was $30.  Total for my media center?  $317 (without tax). 

So if you’re in the market for your own media center, but don’t want to spend thousands of dollars, keep your eyes open for a coffee table, some bookcases, and some primed and painted plywood.  Or you could simply buy stain grade wood, and stain your upper shelf to match.  It’s the same look, just for pennies on the dollar ! 

Now, let’s watch some football -  Go Niners !


  1. That is absolutely fabulous! Way to go Kate ~ I am definitely filing that away for DIY project in the future ~ keep up the good work, I’m sure your family/friends will love it! :) Oh, P.S. ~ I say Da Bears! (except for today, *sigh*)

  2. Fantastic! Thanks for the tip about oil-based primer for the wood. Your media center looks fantastic. Can’t wait to try some of this out on my own projects.

  3. This is an excellent idea! Especially nowdays with the flat screen TV’s. We still have a few of the old style TV’s but we are slowly swapping them out one by one. I have a set of bookshelves. One sits in the garage and one in our spare bedroom. Might be time to reunite them! Thank for showing us us you did it! Great job!

  4. Your media cabinet turned out great….it really filled out that wall and gave you an organized space for your components and a pretty display place.

  5. I do the very same thing use the cheap brushes and throw them out , but those brissels don’t they just drive you crazy , picked a bundle of those off my work this weekend .

  6. Thank you very much for these ideas. It helped me a lot with my project
    I love saving money and making new things

  7. This is very creative. It looks great! And the movie on screen – The Godfather. I even recognize that pivotal screen. I love Pacino!

  8. I did something similar for about the same price. I do love how it is so easy to replicate instead of buying the complete set for thousand of dollars. Yours turned out really nice.

  9. Kate, that is a wonderful idea and it looks fabulous! I have been stalking your blog for a long time, I can’t remember if I ever posted a comment before. But please know that I read your site everyday and look forward to your amazing projects. I recently started a blog about my own home renovations, and while taking pictures of my own house, I look to you for help with decorating, spray painting and arranging. Please come check it out if you get a chance, my most recent post is our stairway reno which was very similar to your recent stair project. Cheers!

  10. Gorgeous!! You really cannot see the area with the wood filler at all. If I had a big bag of money and lived in Cali wine country, I’d totally hire you to come to my train wreck of a house and help me out. ;) ;) I like the vignette a lot…it’s really amazing what you can do when you mix and match the right pieces, huh? :)

  11. Balding brushes. That totally made me chuckle. You really made such a statement with your media center. I really learned a lot in regards to wood filler so thanks for that!

    Is the movie “The Godfather”?

  12. Ack! I have that same birdhouse thingy! I got it from Goodwill a few months ago and want to repaint it but don’t know what to do with it. I love this project! I suggest this idea to clients all the time, I will use this as my example from now on! Awesome.

  13. How hilarious! This is EXACTLY what I did in our bedroom. hahaha I still need to paint it a different color and just haven’t gotten around to doing it since the pieces are so big. Great job!

  14. You are BRILLIANT!!! Love the cost savings here! PS – hope you’re feeling better! Sorry I didn’t get to comment on that earlier this week :) *HUGS*

  15. I KNEW I liked you!! Go NINERS!!! heck yes! :D I live in AZ, and I went to the game yesterday, rooting loud and proud for my Niners!!! :D

    Great entertaintment center, btw! I love it!! :D

  16. What a great idea! I’m going to be making a media centre soon. Like you, everything’s balancing on top of the TV. I was hoping to do built in cabinets but you’ve given me food for thought…that is, another way to do it if I can’t convinve Hubby to do the building for me.

  17. I just love your sense of adventure. Purchasing everything with money is simple, but to dare yourself to get the same on a budget is much more fulfilling! DIYing is a contact sport, you know. :)

  18. I’m about to do something similar so your post was an inspiration. I plan to convert a dresser (in the middle) and add crown to the top and bottom of the bookshelves for height, then unite with paint. Soooo much cheaper than the finished deal bought at a store.

  19. I was just thinking of doing this the other day! I had bought a old buffet from a thrift store for $45. Will refinish it and flank it with two bookcases that I will refinish to match. I hadn’t thought of adding the bridge. I like the idea of a bridge since our family room is 2 stories so it’ll give the entertainment center some additional height.

  20. Hey, I had been thinking about doing this same thing but had not thought to add the wood on top. I love that tip. Thanks so much for the idea and how to!!

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