Strap yourselves in as I’m about to take you on a wild IKEA Billy Bookcase hack ride! This has been my most ambitious upcycle yet and there were a few tears and tantrums on the way.
When I was sat in my living room at 9pm on a Saturday night applying the 3rd layer of paint to the bookcases, I certainly questioned my life choices. But I knew I would be so happy when it was complete, I persevered and I’m so happy I did!
I wrote about our plans for our living renovation here, we put up a stud wall to separate this room from our kitchen diner and this meant the fireplace would no longer be central.
We also had a strange small and high window to the left of the living room that gave us a view of our neighbour’s wall! So, we decided to get our builders to brick up the fireplace and window which meant we could reconfigure our living room so it worked for us.
However, I still wanted a fireplace! I think a fireplace in the living room is really important, it gives you a central focal point in the room and without one, the room can feel disjointed and empty. It certainly felt that way before I started this project.
I knew I wanted bookshelves as well, I’ve always loved bespoke and built-in bookcases in the living room so I decided the best thing to do was to create some bookcases around the fireplace. The first thing I needed to do was find a fireplace….
Designing the space
By moving the fireplace into the middle of the room, it meant that we did not have direct access to a flue or chimney. I started researching how we could either reposition the flue or have a fireplace that didn’t need a chimney and this is when I came across Imagin Fires.
Imagin Fires are bioethanol fireplaces that require no flue or chimney as they burn biofuels and produce no smoke, soot or ash. You literally just place the fireplace or wood burner where you want it to go and light it up!
I also decided to get a faux flue from Imagin Fires as this would give the impression that it was a real fireplace connected to a chimney without the hassle, mess and cost of connecting it to the chimney. A complete win win!
With the measurements for the Malvern wood burner from Imagin Fires, I was able to plan the rest of my billy bookcases around it. We originally got some quotes from local builders and nationwide companies to make and fit some bespoke cupboards for us, but when we started getting quotes in ranging from £7000 at the most expensive, down to £3500, I decided that I would attempt to do it myself!
I had seen plenty of people use IKEA Billy bookcases to create amazing spaces on Instagram and TikTok so, armed with my power tools and paint, I started my DIY plan.
I measured the length of wall where the bookcases were going and started playing around with different sizes of cabinets from IKEA. I wanted them to pretty much fit the space so they looked bespoke. We also wanted to put the TV above the fireplace so I had to make sure there was enough room between the billy bookcases to hang it.
What you will need
Paint (I used Valspar Thames Fog)
I didn’t need to do much prep work to begin with as the fireplace and window had already been blocked up and the bookcases were going in front of the wall. The first job was to put together all the IKEA billy bookcases and shelves and put them into place. I then secured them to the wall so that they didn’t budge.
Once I was happy with the layout, I measured the final distance between the two smaller Billy bookcases in the middle so I could put in a wood burner hearth. We had a granite worktop left over from when our old kitchen was ripped out and this turned out to be the perfect depth.
I cut it to size, created a wooden frame for it to sit on so the wood burner was elevated slightly and then slotted it into place.
I wallpapered inside the Billy bookcases and on the back wall with tile wallpaper I had leftover, to give the impression of a tiled fireplace surround.
However, this is only a temporary measure as the wallpaper will peel off due to the heat from the wood burner. Eventually, I will either add self-adhesive wallpaper like I had in our old kitchen above the hob (I wrote a blog post about his here) or I will use real tiles or brick slips. I didn’t want to tile it straight away as I wanted to be happy with the rest of the room as this will be fiddly and permanent!
Once I was happy with how the fireplace surround looked, I put the Malvern Imagin Fires wood burner on top of the old worktop and attached the faux flue. I am so impressed with how real this looks!
Making the Billy Bookcases look bespoke!
I wanted the bookcases to look bespoke and have their own stamp so there were a few things I added.
I began by upcycling the IKEA Oxberg doors. I wanted to add a bit more pattern and texture to the cabinets, so I decided to panel the walls with stripwood. I bought some smooth square edge pine stripwood (L) 2.4m, (W) 25mm, (T)4mm from B&Q and cut it into strips of 900mm. I then stuck each strip onto the doors with No More Nails.
I knew right from the beginning that I wanted the top of my billy bookcases to have curves. I love curve in design, I love how they soften everything and mimic nature.
With the Billy bookcases in place, I bought some MdF from B&Q and measured out the space. I wanted to add a 60mm trim in between where the bookcases joined to hide the join line, so from there I worked out how big the arches needed to be.
Thankfully, I had a pizza base tin that was the perfect measurement, so I drew around this and used a jig saw to cut the MdF to size. I then fixed the MdF to the bookcases using No More Nails and panel pins.
I took the MdF down to where the shelves met the doors. I was going to take the MdF trim all the way down to the bottom, but it meant drilling in more holes to move the doors so I decided against it, the MdF looks fine stopping just above the doors. I also used MdF on the sides of the bookcases facing in towards the bookcase and added an angled edge to hide the join.
Originally, I was going to take down the coving that was sitting behind the bookcases so that the trim would sit flush to the ceiling. Unfortunately, when I started to take the coving away, we realised that the ceiling actually finished where the coving started so it would mean we would be left with a 4-inch gap in the ceiling.
I looked at taking the coving down and putting it back up around the bookcases but this seemed like a lot of effort and a lot of patching up. So, I decided to put up the bookcases with the coving in tact and cut the trim into the coving.
I bought a contour gauge from Amazon and by using this tool, I was able to measure the coving shape and cut this out into the architrave.
There was a gap of around 15cm between the bookcases and the wall on either side because I decided to leave the coving intact. I bought some architrave from B&Q, cut the coving contour shape into the top of the architrave and using panel pins, secured it to the MdF on either side.
To hide the bottom of the bookshelves, I added skirting boards and screwed them directly into the bookshelves. I caulked all the gaps between the architraves and skirting boards and filled in all the shelf holes that weren’t being used, so that the bookshelves were ready to be primed and painted.
Prime and Paint
With all holes filled in, bookshelves caulked and shelves in, they were ready to be primed and painted. I decided to paint the doors but not the inside of the billy bookcases as the doors would be closed so you wouldn’t see the inside (and they look fine white!)
I knew I needed a really good primer for this upcycle, so I bought some Zinsser Shellac based primer and was really impressed with the results! It only needed one coat and dried pretty much straight away.
I started by taking the doors off first and painting them so they could dry whilst I painted the rest of the units.
The main colour
After a few weeks of indecisiveness, I decided to go with Valspar Thames Fog as my main colour. I wanted to go with Valspar Blue Jade (the same colour that I had in my old living room), to begin with but I wanted a fresher and contemporary feel. I was also veering towards a very dark green, like Valspar Ebony Lake, but I decided that perhaps this would be too dark and you wouldn’t be able to see the details of the Billy bookcase hack, like the panelling on the doors.
I put a poll up on my Instagram stories to see what people preferred out of the 3 colours and the overwhelming response was Thames Fog. Someone said to me, it would be easier to paint over the Thames Fog if I didn’t like it and that is was chose the colour for me! I also had this colour in my bathroom and love it!
Originally, I was going to keep the space in-between the Billy bookcases white, but I decided to take the paint across the whole wall. It needed 3 coats in the end and I am so pleased I went with this colour!
Once all the paint was dry, I put the doors back on and then added the final touch, the mantelpiece shelf. I bought a Natural Oak Shelf (1800 x 300 x 22mm) from Wickes and cut it to 1700mm so that it fit in between the billy bookcases. It’s a perfect fit depth wise and the oak colour works really well with the green.
And that’s all there is to it! Hahahaha. The easy part was designing it, I learnt a lot doing this DIY project and once I got my head around it, I actually quite enjoyed doing it. It took me around 4 weeks to complete from start to finish and cost around £650 to create.
What do you think?