Tag Archives: ikea

Ikea Hack: Built-in Bookshelves Tutorial

So I guess my blog has not been very heavy on the tutorials, but I do have one DIY project I did (with the help of my husband) that I’d really like to share!  So here goes my attempt at writing a DIY tutorial.

When my husband and I first moved into our new house last year, we were excited by all the space we were going to have.  Going from a 1300 square foot apartment to a 2500 square feet home meant lots and lots more space to enjoy!

However, one thing that sort of confused me was the fact that we were going to have two “living” rooms.  Living room, den, family room, whatever you want to call them, our new house had two.  The back of the house has an open kitchen, a breakfast nook, and a large space for an open living room.  This is sort of the heart of our home, and we chose this living room to be the place where we set up our nice, big comfy u-shaped couches and our entertainment center with the television.

That left us with the question…what do we do with this huge front living room?  When you enter the front door of our house, you are greeted with a large open dining room and living room (a column separates the two areas), along with the stairwell going up to the second floor.  Since we already had our couches and media in the back living room, we weren’t sure what to do with the front one.

There were lots of possibilities, but I eventually decided that I’d like to make it a library of sorts.  The wall of just the living room section was about 15 feet long.  I envisioned a posh space with a couple of fun couches, floor lamps, a cozy rug, and a long row of lovely custom built-in shelves filled with books and other special mementos.

Back to reality, we just dropped our savings on a house.  Not really any spare pocket change for fifteen feet of nice custom built-in wall to wall bookshelves.

Enter our Ikea hack.  We are definitely not the first homeowners to have used Ikea bookshelves to create built-in looking bookshelves, but I like to think we put our own special touch on the project.

Here’s how we did it:

1. First, we bought lots and lots of Billy bookshelves.  I spent a while on the Ikea website looking at the different variations and measurements of the Billys that are offered.  Billys are pretty much the most basic shelving system Ikea offers, you could go with some of the other choices if you preferred, but we wanted something simple that we could add on to however we wanted.

The Billy system comes with lots of options.  You can have skinny Billys, wide Billys, Billys with glass doors or wood doors.  Billys in all shapes, sizes, and colors!

Your basic Billy bookshelf
Skinny Billy on a diet

We lucked out because for our space, a combo of four wide Billys and three skinny Billys fit almost perfectly. If you want to try this project, make sure you measure your space first.  Ikea even offers a build your own option on their website, so you can see what combo of shelving units will work in your space and what it will look like.

We also bought the height extension shelving pieces for each unit.  This was basically just something that added an extra shelf to the top of each Billy, making our wall-to-wall bookshelf a little taller.

How exciting, a Billy shelf extension unit

Most importantly, do NOT forget to include the baseboard molding in your calculations. Your wall-to-wall length may be 15 feet, but you need to subtract a couple inches to account for your molding, unless you plan on removing it to slide your bookshelves in.  I’ll tell you how we dealt with our molding soon.

Altogether, the purchase of the shelves cost us just under $500.  Not cheap, but when you consider you’re getting fifteen feet of bookshelf, not too bad either (especially when you think about how much custom work would’ve cost).

2.  My next step was to assemble all the bookshelves.  This was not fun.  Mostly because there were 7 of them and it was pretty overwhelming.

I really wanted to add something special to these shelves. The back of a Billy bookshelf is basically a long sheet of particle board, aka, cardboard.  It doesn’t look nice.  White painted creased cardboard doesn’t fly with custom built-in bookshelves.

I knew I wanted to decorate the backs of the shelves, but did I want to paint it? Wallpaper? Fabric?  My first instinct was to wallpaper them, but I had a hard time finding some economical wallpaper.  Plus, I’ve never worked with wallpaper before in my life…so I went with fabric.  I figured I could staple or glue fabric to the back of each board and give my shelves some extra pizzazz.

My next challenge was figuring out where in town I could by fifteen square feet of the same fabric.  Not sure why I didn’t just buy online, but I ended up roaming through JoAnn’s one day.  I couldn’t find several bundles of the same fabric, but I did find multiple bundles of the same pattern in two different colors.  I bought everything they had and hoped it’d be enough.  Obviously I’m really good at well-thought out projects, right?

I set to work on covering the particle backboard of each Billy with fabric.  I placed the fabric pattern-faced down on the floor, put the particle board on top of it, and cut the fabric so it had about two inches of excess on all sides.  I then hot glued these edges on the back of the particle board, being careful to evenly stretch the fabric as I glued.

Two things here, first, I don’t know if I’d recommend using hot glue as I did…How long will hot glue hold fabric to cardboard?  These book shelves are here to stay, so hopefully my fabric will stay in place…forever.  I would maybe add some staples or something to make this more permanent.  Second, be careful what sort of fabric you choose.  My fabric was heavily patterned, and any extra stretch in one area was really obvious in my final product, making the pattern not line up all the way across my shelves sometimes (but nothing too bad, no worries).

Once I got my backing all situated, we could finish completing the assembly of each unit.  You sort of slide the cardboard backing in notches on the back of the unit, so that will also help hold my fabric in more permanently.

Here’s my husband nailing the back board to the shelving unit.  You  can see my fabric edges peeking around.
3.  Next it was time to set up all the units on the wall.  Nervous!  Will they fit?  This can be slightly stressful because, let’s face it, you’re working with Ikea products here.  Plus you put them together.  Things can be a little crooked, a little uneven, etc.  Luckily, we didn’t seem to have any major problems…
My husband used L-brackets to attach the top of each unit to the wall, just to up the safety factor.  Especially needed in houses with small kiddies or rambunctious doggies.
Work in progress
Ta Da!  Do you spot my serious mistake?

Here is our new wall-to-wall bookshelf.  It took me a while to figure out the best color pattern, but I think it worked out well.

At this point, I realized I had put one of the pieces on backwards (see top right corner skinny shelf), but as everything was all nailed together and what not, I could not fix it.  No biggie since we planned to cover the shelves with trim and molding.

Bonsai doggie Leo is a shelf accessory

4.  Once our unit was up, we measured the gaps on the ends between the shelves and the wall (caused mainly by our molding on the baseboards), measured the distances between shelves, and measured the distance from the floor to the top of the bottom shelf.  This way we knew how big/small the trim we bought needed to be.  We spent a long time at Home Depot mulling over what sort of molding and trim we wanted.  We went with a really basic trim for all the edges except the bottom, which was more substantial.

One weekend when I was miserably working at the office, my loving husband spent an afternoon painting all the trim white and nailing them to the shelves.  Basically the edges of each bookshelf got trim, so there was “double trim” between shelves, does that make sense?  You could also buy thicker trim that covered the edges of two bookshelves totally.  We didn’t put trim on the edges of the shelf ledges themselves, since most of them are movable and we might want to adjust them someday.

Here’s the unit once we added molding and trim:

Leo admiring our handy work (no he just loves those peacock feathers for some reason).
Please ignore the paint splotches on the left, we were still figuring our what color we wanted!

You can see we still have a slight gap between the wall and the unit.  It sort of ruins the custom built-in facade, but the logistics of getting it perfectly flush with the wall were too difficult and we think it looks just fine 🙂

5.  To complete the look, my husband wired in some overhead lighting.  Before installing the last shelf, he dropped a plugged-in extension cord behind the shelves so we could have some lighting.
oooooooh!

6.  Decorate, decorate, decorate!  I spent a long time playing around with the adjustable shelves.  I didn’t want the unit as a whole to look too symmetrical.  I made sure to put my heaviest books and display items along the bottom or middle shelves, the ones that weren’t adjustable, since they are probably the strongest.  I had a lot of fun just going to Hobby Lobby and buying cute items for display – vases, frames, bird cages, candles, bookends…My favorite item is the turquoise vase with the peacock feathers, right in the middle of the unit.  You may also notice that many of my display items are things I’ve bought from Etsy!

Once I put all my books on the shelf, I was amazed at how it suddenly looked like I owned no books, just because the shelf was so huge.  I look forward to having tons of space for our library collection to grow.

Other than painting, this was the first major project we undertook for our new house.  It was a lot of work, but definitely worth it.  I love the extra pop that the fabric backing adds to the shelves.  When we have guests over, the wall-to-wall library is usually one of the first things they notice.  We finally got couches (like, 11 months later!) for the room, so hopefully we will be getting more use out of our library soon.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial!  Please let me know if you have any questions.