Renter DIY: Adding Marble Contact Paper to Open Shelves

October 28, 2019

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My sister, Victoria, recently moved to Washington with her partner, Helen. As renters, they really wanted to make their apartment reflect them. They had a design question, and I suggested (what I thought was) an easy DIY. Here’s her story about applying marble contact paper to her open kitchen shelves. Have you ever tried?

Our Seattle apartment is a dream, but the stoplight yellow shelves were a design conundrum: Not only did they cast a lemon hue over our small space, but they also prohibited us from decorating with the blues or grays that we gravitate toward. (“Your apartment will look like an IKEA,” Julia said).

As renters, we needed a fix that was only semi-permanent. Julia suggested marble contact paper, and we squealed at this solution. This aesthetic would fit our traditional style and open up our options for cool-colored decor. — Nevermind that we didn’t know anything about how to apply contact paper. 

We ordered two rolls of marble contact paper (based on veining we liked and great Amazon reviews) and the scraper that was suggested to us at check-out (we’d figure out what to do with that later).

Next, we watched every contact paper tutorial on YouTube. Some of these were (accidentally?) funny. ALL of them were for countertops or desks. None were for covering shelves (top, bottom, back, sides…) like ours. But we took the common denominators of contact paper tips and tricks and took to the shelves, confident after our brief crash course. 

We started with the bottom shelves, thinking these would be easiest. Using a tape measure, we measured the length and width and cut our paper exactly. (This proved to be a mistake. More on that later.)

Next, we sprayed the shelf generously with Windex. This YouTube tip was immediately helpful. We peeled two or three inches of backing off and slid the paper into place. We peeled the rest of the backing off, and with the help of the Windex, slid it exactly into place. Then, using the bright green scraper we had the good sense to buy, we smoothed the bubbles out and squeegeed the Windex out. It was flat as stone and so shiny. We were giddy! 

The trouble came with curling the edge over. Because we cut it exactly, it kept peeling up. The edges matched up, but the paper wouldn’t stay down. We learned quickly to leave a three- to four-inch lip to wrap underneath and pull it tight.

After we worked through all of the bottom shelves, pulling the excess paper under, we beamed at all of our marble surfaces. — And we were already out of paper. **Tip: Measure all of your shelves first! (Why didn’t we think of this?!) We ordered six more rolls to finish the job, and took a disheartening break for a few days.

We chose to pick the project up by applying contact paper to the undersides of the top shelves (the “ceilings”). We felt this would be the next “easiest” orientation for the paper. We were wrong. We applied Windex again and slid our cut paper into place, but as we were using the scraper, we were spraying glass cleaner all over our faces. It was a splashy, awful mess and so difficult to get the pieces in place and bubble-free. **Tip: Apply less Windex to the “ceilings,” and make sure to leave a generous lip to fold over the top. 

We moved forward with the side pieces, wrapping the contact paper over the seams between two cabinets, giving the appearance of thick marble slabs. These were easy! — Until we got to the pieces on the ends and the pieces around the microwave. These proved to be so difficult because we couldn’t use our “trick” of leaving some excess and wrapping around the edges. All of these side pieces had hard edges! 

We cut them exactly and applied spray adhesive to help with the peel up. The spray adhesive left a film everywhere, including over our shiny shelves. #fail

The back pieces were easy to cut and apply. The Windex helped us to slide these pieces into place. We were relieved, and almost started celebrating too soon. Now we had to cut pieces for all of the yellow squares and rectangles that were left over. All of the “joints.” We started making little marble “stickers” for these spots. We used no Windex here, so we were extra careful to apply them exactly. If you get close, you can see these joints — the veining doesn’t line up. But we’re imagining that our friends will forgive these flaws — or better: think that that’s the way marble shelves come together?

Here’s a reminder of where we started:

We are so happy with our chic new shelves! They are a much softer backdrop to our favorite entertaining pieces.

How to Apply Marble Contact Paper to Open Shelves

  1. Measure all of your surfaces (tops, bottoms, sides, backs), and order enough contact paper to cover them all. Order a scraper, too.
  2. Cut your contact paper with a three- to four-inch lip to wrap around the edge and pull it tight.
  3. Use Windex to slide contact paper into place. Use the scraper to pull out any bubbles and squeegee out the Windex. 
  4. Thoroughly dry excess Windex so as not to lose the adhesive edge. 
  5. If you have a hard edge, which you cannot wrap around, do not apply Windex. Apply carefully for a smooth, straight edge. (Additional adhesive is not recommended.)

I made a painting to celebrate the welcoming of blue in to our space. Since the apartment opens into our kitchen, this felt like a good place for a first art install. 


Marble contact paper


Large cutting board

Wine cork vase

White pitcher

Faux stems

KitchenAid Mixer

Cake stand

Wine glasses

Bistro low bowls

Essential Serve Bowl

Bendt Iron Square Basket

Roulette Serving Bowl

All-Purpose Bowls

Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven



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What do you think?

  1. Ann M McCrorey says:

    Really helpful.very timely.

  2. Blu says:

    Oooo. Can we have a renters series! I love this!

  3. Cheryll says:

    I love it! Can you also please share where the natural wood wine holder is from?? Thank you!

  4. Susannah says:

    Just here to say that this feels like a DIY blog post from ten years ago and I LOVE THAT ABOUT IT. Like, I LOVE the real-deal, big-ticket DIY’s you guys do on the regular… they are so polished and impressive… but as “blogging” has gotten so sophisticated (and the expectations of blog readers so much more insanely demanding!) I sometimes yearn for the good ‘ol days when it was more like “I tried this and then I tried that and eh? I am a human and a work in progress! Here are some ideas I had!”. Also, shelves look way better… so win all around. Bravo!

  5. Karin says:

    Looks great! I adore marble contact paper and have even created lamps from scratch and made over several tables with it! It is my go-to solution for covering unsightly surfaces. Actually I just used it yesterday to create a “marble” slab for my plants!

  6. Ginger Bradley says:

    Amazing outcome!!!

  7. Lindsey F says:

    Love it! Don’t let the “just wait until you have to remove it” stories scare you. Could be terrible, could be easy as cake and worth it 100%! I did a whole wall of my apartment in removable wallpaper and was sure it was going to destroy the fragile plaster job but after a year, it came down without any troubles!

  8. HeatherB says:

    Great job! Um, am I the only one wondering who in the world thought kitchen shelving the color of Velveeta cheese was a good idea in the first place?

  9. Lori says:

    Looks gorgeous! At first I thought the yellow corners were gold trim. If the “joints” bother, perhaps metallic tape could cover and give the appearance of high-end brackets? (Or maybe it would look silly? Either way, thanks for sharing!)

  10. Joy says:

    Love this idea and it looks great!

  11. Kate K. says:

    So happy you guys are doing a series for renters! No plans to buy a house or condo in the next few years, so this is very useful for me (and this post was super fun to read)!

  12. Lauren says:

    what a visual improvement!!! My only worry would be how it will work around the heat of the cooktop and microwave – it might distort or melt…..

  13. Susan says:

    As a person hired to get houses ready to sell, by far the worst job is trying to remove contact paper. IF it doesn’t take the paint off with it, it always comes off in little shredded bits. Then, removing the glue residue is another huge process. Pray you have a forgiving landlord.

  14. Angela Minich says:

    I am so excited for this series! Julia and Chris could your sister show us an overview of the apartment and you could let us know what spaces she will be doing over?

  15. Evelina says:

    I loved this post! So entertaining and fun to read. I can tell this is going to be a great series. And the shelves look fantastic!

    • Jan says:

      Wow! What an improvement! I’m thinking about doing this for a kitchen backsplash… wondering if it’d be hard to make the graining look decent on a long wall?

  16. Julia P says:

    That painting stole the show!

  17. Kira says:

    Now I’m thinking of what I can cover in marble contact paper! Well done gals! Looks great!

  18. Diana says:

    Love the new look to the kitchen and your art piece is beautiful!
    You did a marbleous job! haha

  19. Ashley Lund says:

    Is contact paper different from peel and stick wallpaper? Could I use this as my kitchen backsplash as a phase 1 makeover?

  20. Good eye says:

    Go back to your old one, much better look!

  21. Sally says:

    So good! Such a big difference! Thank you for featuring content for renters and queer families!

    • Megan Shannon says:

      I LOVE that you are sharing ALL families! As a very long time reader, I have to say this is my favorite post ever because you shared honestly and openly about your sister and her partner. Thank you.
      Tell your sis,I love the claddagh ring too! My sis and her wife wore claddagh rings before they got engaged and I wore one while my husband and I were dating. :)

    • Louise says:

      Yes – it’s a relief to have a break from the all white all hetero all the time vibe. I welcome any visibility for queer and minority groups.

  22. Julia Laine says:

    This looks amazing – I actually didn’t mind the yellow, but it has to be in the right home with the right homeowner for it to work.

  23. Julie S says:

    The final look is so great! It sounds like an utter pain to do, but less painful than daily wincing at yellow shelves in the kitchen for years.

  24. Julia says:

    Beautiful!! I am so excited for this new blog series. Thank you from all of us hoping to uncover our rental home’s potential!

  25. Juliet says:

    What a great idea!! And I’m loving the realness of the DIY experience. It looks amazing.

  26. Jen says:

    Great idea! looks good!

  27. lydia says:

    i love your sister’s art! what talent

  28. Ashley says:

    This looks incredible! My only question would be how do you remove the contact paper? Will it damage the shelves?

    • Betsy says:

      Same question. When I bought my home many moons ago, I put Contact paper in my closet that stores linens. The shelves were painted, but nailed into the supports. So I couldn’t easily just remove the shelves and paint. So I put the contact paper on the shelves to make things easier on me. Over time, the print came off the paper. So i figured it was time to figure out the shelves and get them painted instead. Turned out to be a huge mistake. With the paper, came off differing layers of paint from the shelf. It would take sanding down to the bare wood to straighten this mess out, so i just bought new contact paper. Is this the “Contact” brand Contact paper?

  29. Diane says:

    LOVE the honesty of this piece, as well as the idea of solutions for renters! Thanks!

  30. Kate says:

    You all thought that was an odyssey–wait until you have to take it back off and it leaves a sticky residue and you have to repaint that horrible yellow paint, too. It was almost certainly worth it, but I predict this story is going get longer and more complicated and even more hilarious before it’s over.

    • Julie S says:

      I wondered about this too and decided (with no basis for the decision) that a good wipe down with goo gone and then washing the goo gone residue off with a soapy hot rag would probably take care of it.

  31. Patricia says:

    Many decades ago (also in Seattle), I did this to kitchen countertops I hated. It lasted the whole two years I lived there. When I was moving out, the landlord thought I’d replaced the countertops (and liked it).
    Currently I’m torn between using contact paper again on ugly granite counters (not all natural stone is pretty, people!) or just going ahead and replacing them with quartz. I might try it in one bathroom to see if I like it and if yes, proceed with replacement.

  32. Abby P says:

    Loving this content. Really excited to see posts from Andi’s new home too! This is such a great idea. Already thinking of ways I can use marble contact paper in my home…

    Thanks for sharing!

  33. Lee Ann says:

    These look great! Now I’m inspired to paper our linen closet shelves … just as soon as I finish painting the bathroom with the Thunderous paint that Julia used in her kitchen. You gals are too inspiring, LOL!

  34. sara dodson says:

    Yeah, I find contact paper to be a pain to apply but that looks great and so much better! Seems painting would be easier but maybe that was not allowed since it was a rental. Love the result though.

  35. SG says:

    Love this new series, and LOVE the shelves, they look amazing! Great work!

    Also now super inspired to do this on the shelves in my linen closet that I super duper hate. :)

  36. Sarah says:

    Oh man this is giving me flashbacks to moving into my current apartment and peeling off FOUR layers of contact paper to the open faced cabinets…. The deepest layer looked like it was dated back to the 60s or 70s. All the layers were SO wrinkled on the flat parts/bubbled at the corners, so on behalf of all renters that will follow you, thank you for taking the time to apply it so cleanly!

  37. monica says:

    Looks great- and what an interesting space! I did this for open shelving and counter tops in a rental in downtown Boston many, many years ago – in the early 90’s!! Next tenant loved it as well! Best wishes for happy times in the new home.

  38. Tricia says:

    Just submitted my comment about not seeing the “after” pic and once the page reloaded I saw a lot more content. Weird.

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We believe we should all love where we live.

We’re a couple of homebodies, working to uncover the home our home wants to be. And we’re so happy to have you here. 

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