We really needed a place to organize my daughters books in the living room. These were fairly easy to make - my husband built them and I did the finishing.
I HIGHLY recommend the water-based poly. It is almost twice as expensive but it isn't near as smelly and it has a much lower VOC level.
We used black paint because I found a $5 gallon at HD from the discount shelf. I couldn't resist saving a ton of money and not having to pick a color and then wait around for a can to be mixed.