For beautiful built-in shelving, you can always rely on the IKEA BILLY bookcase. Whether you use the simple white shelves to house your books or you dare to experiment with a bespoke refurb project, it's clear why this versatile flat-pack is an IKEA favorite. If you needed a reminder of its limitless potential, look no further than this latest hack.
When it comes to built-in shelving, art deco arches are a timeless classic. Home renovator Tamara Smith (@mygrandparentschair) knew she wanted this elegant look on a budget so she put her skills to the test with an IKEA hack. With a sheet of hardboard and a lick of paint (and a little bit of DIY prowess), she transformed these BILLY units into monochrome built-ins that make a serious statement in her stylish living room. Here she explains the steps taken to carry out the project.
Lilith is an expert at following news and trends across the world of interior design. A personal fan of the Scandi-inspired interior, her job entails keeping up with everything there is to know about the Swedish powerhouse IKEA. Paired with her insight into the latest home renovation projects, she regularly shares IKEA hacks with readers to inspire their own DIY projects in home design.
Tamara is always thinking of fresh ideas to update her home and creating her own built-ins had been on her bucket list for some time. 'For as long as I can remember I wanted a wall of built-in bookshelves,' she explains. 'It was a project that I'd never done before despite being a DIYer, so, of course, I wanted to try out an IKEA hack.'
A bare wall in her living room offered the perfect opportunity to do just that. Tamara started by removing the baseboard along the bottom of the wall so the shelving could sit flush. Next, to help with stability, she created a level base for the shelves to sit on using 2 x 3 lumber frames which she drilled directly into her floor.
After measuring the space she opted for three white BILLY Bookcases measuring 31.5 x 11 x 79.5 inches for her shelving (repurposing one that she already owned), as well as three height extenders (32 x 11 x 14 inches) to create a base underneath for the bookshelves to sit on.
There's a reason the BILLY is IKEA's most popular piece of furniture. The simple, pared-back design will never go out of style and thanks to the various different sizes, it's super versatile for upcycling projects too. It's shelving done the Scandi way.
The next step of Tamara's living room DIY project involved building the flat-packs and fixing them to the wall. We all love a BILLY, but they can sometimes feel a little flimsy. Before putting the bookcases in place, Tamara reinforced them by nailing directly into the sides and back to keep all the components in place and ensure the shelves were as sturdy as possible. She then created support braces for the sides of the built-in by screwing some timber to the edges.
If you have a BILLY, you'll know that the shelves are only supported by small pegs. So that they'd be more secure, Tamara drilled hers in. In the sections between the bookshelves she also used 2 x 3 timber that she cut to size and drilled into the shelves to keep everything extra safe and secure. With three young kids at home, it wasn't worth risking toppling shelves.
There's a reason Zinsser's B-I-N shellac-base primer is an industry favorite. Use their white primer before painting to help make your color pop and prolong its life. The best part? It sticks to any surface without sanding making it perfect for IKEA hacks and furniture painting.
Once the foundations were all fixed into place, it was time to get started on the arches. 'One of the main challenges was the cost of materials,' Tamara explains. 'It was the height of Covid when I built these and the price of lumber skyrocketed, so I used hardboard as an inexpensive alternative to plywood or MDF.'
Using 1/8 inch tempered hardboard she got to work measuring and penciling out the shape. To get the perfect arch, she used a length of string which she anchored to the center of the arch shape and then attached to a pencil to draw the outline. Once she'd cut them out with a jigsaw, it was just a case of fixing them to the shelves.
For the finishing touches, Tamara added baseboard to the bottom of her bookcase and 1 x 3 inch primed MDF planks along the panels between each unit to add some dimension. Before decorating the bookshelves, she sealed those notorious gaps you find in IKEA furniture and caulked the seams around the timber. It's these small details that really give the shelving the built-in look.
Now, all that was left to do was paint. Tamara sanded her shelves and added two coats of primer (we recommend the Zinsser B-I-N primer for IKEA materials). For the exterior paint she used white BEHR semi-gloss enamel and for the contrasting interior of the shelves she use two coats of Sherwin-Williams paint in the shade Tricorn Black.
The striking monochrome color scheme really helps the shelving pop, and the rustic decor with seagrass baskets and backward books adds just the right amount of warmth for a cozier feel. As well as creating the perfect bespoke shelving for Tamara's home, the project has boosted her confidence in her DIY skills. 'I'd never tried a built-in project before so it was a bit intimidating but I did a lot of research,' she explains. 'I'll be constructing a wall of built-in storage for my daughter's bedroom this year so I haven’t been scared off from DIY home projects...yet!'
The finished result was well worth the blood, sweat, and tears that went into making it, but as far as IKEA hacks go, this one isn't for the faint of heart....
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Lilith Hudson is the News Editor at Livingetc, and an expert at decoding trends and reporting on them as they happen. Writing news, features, and explainers for our digital platform, she's the go-to person for all the latest micro-trends, interior hacks, and color inspiration you need in your home. Lilith discovered a love for lifestyle journalism during her BA in English and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham where she spent more time writing for her student magazine than she did studying. After graduating, she decided to take things a step further and now holds an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London, with previous experience at the Saturday Times Magazine, Evening Standard, DJ Mag, and The Simple Things Magazine. At weekends you'll find her renovating a tiny one-up, one-down annex next to her Dad's holiday cottage in the Derbyshire dales where she applies all the latest design ideas she's picked up through the week.
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