Customise an IKEA Billy bookcase to look like custom cabinetry

Customise an IKEA Billy bookcase to look like custom cabinetry

August 07, 2018

Here’s the ultimate “shelfie”… A DIY customised bookcase that started its life as IKEA Billy shelf units and now looks like custom cabinetry.

IKEA Billy book shelf hack

This DIY project takes place in my home office. At one the end of the room, the ceiling is lower to allow for bathroom plumbing on the second storey and the bulkhead ceiling has created a nook that lends itself to built-in bookcases. In anticipation of that, during the renovation we included LED down-lights in the bulkhead, but didn’t have enough $$ left in the budget for cabinetry at the time.

Two, maybe three years later (more like four), we finally got tired of working among piles of books and paperwork and decided to bite the bullet on the bookcase project. I shopped around for cabinetry quotes, grew grey hairs from sticker shock and, as usual, found myself back at IKEA convincing Hubby that we could make a cheap IKEA Billy bookcase look expensive. 

STEP 1: Select and assemble your IKEA Billy shelf units to fit the space

We sketched out the space and selected a combination of Billy bookcases that would fit the width and height of the wall. In our case, it turned out to be two of W80 cm x H202 cm and three of W40 cm x H202 cm Billy bookcase units. During the hour-drive home from IKEA, the skies let loose with an unexpected torrential downpour. Nick was cursing expletives as we pulled off the motorway to cover the trailer while I reached that conclusion that $129 for delivery seemed quite reasonable. But after that stormy start (literally), the rest of the project was blue sky and easy.

When it came to assembling the units, we elected to use the backs supplied by IKEA, but you could also choose to leave them off to reveal the wall.

Step 1: Select and assemble IKEA Billy bookcase units

STEP 2: Build a base frame for the units to sit on

To get the built-in look, we wanted to raise the units off the ground. This would allow us to attach finishing wood and a skirting (kickboard) to the base. We removed the existing skirting from the wall and set it aside to reuse later. We then measured and trimmed the skirting boards on the side walls (see Step 5, below). To cut the skirting board on a 45-degree angle, we used a multifunction tool

For the base on which the units would sit, we built a basic wood frame—see photo below. Adjust the height of your base according to the size of the finishing wood and skirting board you wish to use (again, see Step 5).

Step 2: Build base frame

STEP 3: Add side and top framing

The IKEA Billy units are eventually going to look built-in because finishing timber, which will hide the gaps between each shelf unit and the edges, will be added to the fronts later. But first we needed to attach framing wood to the wall. In our case, the width of the combined units left us with an approximately 5 cm gap at each end. Here we attached structural wood strips to the wall to sit flush with the front of the Billy units. (Finishing wood will cover the structural wood later—the purpose of the framing is to act as an anchor point for the finishing wood). These framing pieces aren’t weight-bearing, so we used drywall anchors (Wallmates) and screws to affix them to the walls.

Likewise, we attached structural wood to the ceiling and more pieces on the back wall into which the units would anchor.

Step 3: Create structural frame for sides and top

STEP 4: Position your Billy units and anchor in place

This is where the project really starts coming together! We positioned the Billy units onto the base and ensured that they were spaced evenly before screwing them into place using the anchors supplied with the units. As you see in the photo, Hubby had just enough room to get a drill in between the top of the units and the framing wood (phew!)

Step 4: Anchor shelf units in place

STEP 5: Attach the baseboard

Before adding the skirting board, we screwed a piece of 145 mm finishing wood into the base frame. This hides the bottom of the Billy units and the base. (Note: The bottom shelf on Billy units is slightly shorter than the sides, which leaves a narrow gap - we caulked this before painting. Your other option would be to notch the back of the finishing plank.) We then attached the original skirting board to the finishing timber, we with screws.

Step 5: Attach base boards

STEP 6: Attach the top board

We repeated Step 5 with a finishing board across the top of the units. We clamped a couple of pieces of off-cuts in place to help position the finishing board while we screwed it into the structural frame.

Step 6: Attach top finishing board

STEP 7: Attach finishing wood to front

For the finishing wood on the front of the unit, you want to select a width that will cover the gaps between the units and at the ends. In our case, we chose 65 mm pre-primed wood. We attached these to the Billy units, and structural wood at each end, with finishing nails. Knock the heads in with a nail punch.

Step 7: Attach finishing pieces to front

STEP 8: Install cornice (crown moulding), prepare and paint

We bought a length of cornice (crown moulding) that we cut to length and cemented into place with cornice cement. Then we filled all the nail and screw holes (so many holes!) with wood filler and sanded all of the wood surfaces. We caulked the larger gaps with Selleys No More Gaps, then primed any raw wood before giving all the exposed finishing wood two coats of semi-gloss acrylic paint.

Step 8: Instal cornice, prep and paint

And there you have it! We’re extremely happy with the result. We created the furniture we've always wanted and saved a few thousand dollars in the process! #nocompromises

The finished product - customised IKEA Billy bookcase hack

What's your next DIY project? If this project has whet your appetite, here are a few more to inspire you!

DIY Drop Zone Project

Add after-market handles to your IKEA furniture

Mirrored console IKEA Kallax project