IKEA Billy Bookcase Hack : How to Update your Living Room on a Budget

Cabinets in a living room painted green with a brick fire surround, wood burner and mid century furniture
Our IKEA bookcase hack!

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 9 pm 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!

When we renovated and extended our home, we put up a stud wall to separate this room from our kitchen diner and this meant the fireplace was no longer central.

the patio doors and odd shaped window looking out over our neighbours wall
Our TV sat in the corner, we had a lovely view of our neighbor’s wall!

We also had a strangely small and high window to the left of the living room that gave us a view of our neighbor’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.

the stud wall going in to divide the living room from the new extension
My husband looks happy that the stud wall is going in!
the fireplace to the right of the window and the radiator to the left in the living room
The fireplace was no longer central and the radiator just got in the way
the fireplace is close to the stud wall and pink velvet sofa
The corner next to the stud wall
the radiator removed and the fireplace and window bricked up
Removing the radiator, bricking up the window and fireplace

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.

dark green walls, white rug, pink and green velvet sofa, gold mirror and industrial style furniture in the living room
The fireplace in our old house. I loved this room

I knew I wanted bookshelves around the fireplace. 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 Our New IKEA Billy Bookcases

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.

biofuel fireplace with wallpapered surround
Imagin Fires Malvern Bioethanol wood burner
faux glue on top of the biofuel fireplace
Imagin Fires Faux flue

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! We love our biofuel woodburner.

With the measurements for the Malvern wood burner from Imagin Fires, I was able to plan the rest of my IKEA Billy bookcases around it. We originally got some quotes from local builders and nationwide companies to make and fit some bespoke cupboards for us.

However, when we started getting quotes ranging from £7000 at the most expensive, down to £3500, I decided that I would attempt to do it myself!

sketchup drawing of our cabinets and biofuel fireplace
I planned our IKEA Billy bookcases and a wood-burning stove in Sketchup

I had seen plenty of people use an IKEA Billy bookcase with doors 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 the 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 to hang it, so the Billy bookcase dimensions were ideal for this space. 

What You Will Need for Your IKEA Billy Bookcase Hack

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.

two of the IKEA Billy bookcases put together
Starting to put up the Billy bookcases
the hearth and fireplace going in
Leaving a space in between the two smaller Billy bookcases for the woodburner

The Fireplace

Once I was happy with the layout, I measured the final distance between the two smaller IKEA 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.

The biofuel fireplace in place
The granite worktop sits nicely on top of a wooden frame
IKEA Billy bookcases all in situ with the biofuel fireplace in the middle
I also used a piece of hardwood we had leftover from our kitchen renovation at the back of the wood burner
The IKEA Billy bookcases all assembled with the fireplace and TV in place
To complete the hearth, I bought some worktop edging tape to put around the sides of the wooden frame underneath

I wallpapered inside the IKEA 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. The wallpaper will peel off due to the heat from the wood burner, so eventually I will use brick slips around the fire

I didn’t want to tile it straight away as I wanted to be happy with the rest of the room as installing brick slips will be fiddly and permanent!

wallpapering the fire surround
Wallpapering behind the wood burner

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 IKEA Billy Bookcase Look Expensive

I wanted the bookcases to look bespoke and have their own stamp so there were a few things I added.

Oxberg Doors

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 strip wood. I bought some smooth square-edge pine strip wood (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.

oxberg doors
Measuring out the strip wood
glueing strip wood from B&Q to the Oxberg doors
Using No More Nails, I glued the strip wood onto the doors

Seamless Bookcases

How to add trim to Billy bookcases? I knew right from the beginning that I wanted the top of my IKEA Billy bookcases to have curves. I love curves in design, I love how they soften everything and mimic nature.

With the IKEA 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.

measuring out the curve and trim for the bookcases
Measuring out the curves and trim on the MDF.

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. 

attaching the trim to the bookcases with nails
Adding the MDF curves and trim to the IKEA billy bookcases
Adding the curves to the top of the bookcases

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 toward the bookcase and added an angled edge to hide the join.

MDF trim down to the Oxberg doors
Taking the MDF down to the doors
Trim and doors in place
Adding MDF to the inside of the billy bookcases and cutting them into the coving

Originally, I was going to take down the coving that was sitting behind the bookcases so that the trim would sit flush with the ceiling. Unfortunately, when I started to take the coving away, we realized 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 intact and cut the trim into the coving.

the trim finishing at the coving
I cut the MDF so it fits snuggly against 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.

contour gauge
Using the contour gauge to mimic the shape
drawing the contour onto the trim
Drawing it onto the architrave to cut it out with a jigsaw

There was a gap of around 15cm between the IKEA Billy 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.

architrave to hide the gaps between the walls and IKEA Billy bookcase
MDF, architrave and doors all in
architrave, MDF trim and arches all in place

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.

using caulk to make the bookcases look seemless
I filled in all the holes that weren’t being used with Polyfilla
adding skirting to the bottom of the cupboards
Caulked the bottom of the skirting board
the completed trim and skirting boards
Added skirting boards to the bottom of the shelves
The completed cabinets ready to be painted
All ready to be primed and painted

Prime and Paint

With all holes filled in, IKEA Billy 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.

zinsser shellac primer
Zinsser Shellac based primer

I started by taking the doors off first and painting them so they could dry whilst I painted the rest of the units. 

me painting the doors with shellac primer
Priming the doors
the IKEA Billy bookcases and doors all painted with shellac primer
Doors and Billy bookcases primed

The Main Color

After a few weeks of indecisiveness, I decided to go with Valspar Thames Fog as my main color. I wanted to go with Valspar Blue Jade (the same color that I had in my old living room), to begin with, but I wanted a fresher and more 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. You wouldn’t be able to see the details of the IKEA Billy bookcase hack, like the paneling on the doors.

3 different paint colours
Thames Fog, Blue Jade and Ebony Lake

I put a poll up on my Instagram stories to see what people preferred out of the 3 colors 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 color for me! I also had this color in my bathroom and love it!

painting the bookcases with Valspar Thames fog
Putting the first coat on
painting the shelves

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 fits in between the billy bookcases.

It’s a perfect fit depth wise and the oak colour works really well with the green.

oak shelf from Wickes
The wooden shelf from Wickes

And that’s all there is to it! I say “all” sarcastically! Ha. The easy part was designing it, I learned 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.

Green IKEA Billy bookcase hack in the living room with ribbed Oxberg doors, biofuel fireplace, peony artwork, green persian style rug and industrial furniture in the living room
The finished result
Green IKEA Billy bookcase hack in the living room with ribbed Oxberg doors, biofuel fireplace, peony artwork, green persian style rug in the living room
I love the color
Green IKEA Billy bookcase hack in the living room with ribbed Oxberg doors, biofuel fireplace, peony artwork, green persian style rug and industrial furniture in the living room
It also works really well with our pink and jade sofa
Green IKEA Billy bookcase hack in the living room with ribbed Oxberg doors, biofuel fireplace, peony artwork, green persian style rug and industrial furniture in the living room
It’s now a pleasure to be in this room!

What do you think of my Billy hack? 

Green IKEA Billy bookcase hack in the living room with ribbed Oxberg doors, biofuel fireplace, peony artwork, green persian style rug and industrial furniture in the living room
Large print from Poster Lounge
Green IKEA Billy bookcase hack in the living room with ribbed Oxberg doors in the living room
IKEA bookcase hack – hours of shelf faffing
face print vase with faux peonies
bookshelves
I think the curves work really well
Green IKEA Billy bookcase hack in the living room with ribbed Oxberg doors, biofuel fireplace, peony artwork, green persian style rug and industrial furniture with red tulips in the living room
Pretty 🙂
Green IKEA Billy bookcase hack in the living room with ribbed Oxberg doors, biofuel fireplace, peony artwork, green persian style rug and industrial furniture in the living room
I recently put up the grey wall hanging but still not 100% sure
Green IKEA Billy bookcase hack in the living room with ribbed Oxberg doors, biofuel fireplace, peony artwork, green persian style rug and industrial furniture in the living room
The tree is also from IKEA
Green IKEA Billy bookcase hack in the living room with ribbed Oxberg doors, biofuel fireplace, peony artwork, green persian style rug and industrial furniture in the living room

We are looking to do a similar IKEA Billy bookcase hack in the kitchen, but this time buy the black bookcases so I don’t have to paint it! I can’t wait to show you. 

Q. How to paint an IKEA Billy bookcase?

A. You can pretty much paint anything, and IKEA furniture is no exception. As long as you use a really good primer like the Shellac-based primer I used for this Billy IKEA hack, you can use any emulsion-based paint on top. 

Q. How do you make Billy Bookcases look expensive? 

A. Consider painting the bookcases with a high-quality paint or finish to give them a more polished and luxurious appearance and opt for colors that complement your overall decor style and create a cohesive look. The best way to make IKEA Billy bookcases look expensive is by adding decorative molding to the top and sides of the bookcases to create a custom built-in look.

Finally, replace the standard knobs or handles that come with the IKEA Billy bookcases with more decorative and upscale hardware. Look for unique designs, finishes, or materials that match your desired aesthetic and enhance the overall look of the bookcases.

Q. How to build a base for Billy bookcase?

A. Building a base for an IKEA Billy bookcase can be a relatively simple process. You’ll need plywood, screws, a screwdriver or a drill, measuring tape, sandpaper, and paint. Measure the Billy bookcase dimensions and cut the plywood to match the measurements of the bookcase which will serve as a base. Fix the base to the floor and then, using screws, fix the IKEA Billy bookcase to the base. 

Finally, if you are painting the IKEA Billy bookcase, make sure you paint the base in the same color. 

ikea hack how to create bespoke bookcases for your living room pinterest pin
IKEA Billy bookcase hack

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36 Comments

  1. These look great and I’m already eyeing up my Billy’s to see what I can do! Can I ask where you got your grey wall hanging from? I’m looking for one for my bedroom and that looks great.

  2. Hi Melanie!
    I just found your site this weekend, and I think I OD’d on it! Lol! Love all the green (& pink), plants and this ikea hack. It’s great! Love your style! You did such a great job! Just subscribed and following.
    Xo

    1. Hi Vanessa. Thank you so much for your lovely message. Blogging can be a bit of a lonely business at times as you don’t get much feedback so this is really appreciated. Thank you 🙂

  3. Hello there!! Thank you so much for repinning my pin !!! It looks absolutely wonderful doesn’t it? I intend to do this in my dining room in September!! I really like what I see on your blog and your Pinterest page!! So I’m following you now!! Take care in this extreme heat weather warning ⚠️!!

    1. Hi Judith, no worries! Thanks for the follow 🙂 I’m planning to be down the beach for the foreseeable! Mel x

    2. Hi Mel I’ve just discovered your blog but I have been following you on Instagram for a while. I love your naturistic style. I have just taken the plunge and ordered my billy bookcases for a library wall in our office. This blog has been so useful in working out the materials and process. May I ask how many coats of paint the book case needed after the primer please?

      1. Hi Tabitha. Exciting, we love our cabinets and I am so pleased with how they turned out! I did two coats of paint, but the paint I used was furniture paint. I want to go over the cabinets with one more coat of Satin to give it a better sheen. Good luck! Mel 🙂

    1. Yes, absolutely! The IKEA Billy bookcases come with a gap at the back which makes it easy to fit around the skirting board

  4. Hi Melanie! Love this and plan on doing the same. How tall are your ceilings and what we’re the measurements for the height of the MDF arches? Thanks!!

      1. I was about to ask the same question about ceiling height because I love your hanging pendant light. My ceilings are the same height but I have flat alabaster lights. I would love something more like what you have, do you find any design issues like visual line obstruction practical issues with tall people?

        1. We haven’t found it a problem so far. It is low enough that someone tall might knock their head on it, but we have a coffee table under it so they never do! It’s not in the way for anything else though.

  5. Hello! Just found you on Instagram and now reading through your blog. I have just bought my first home which is a new build so really want to add some character. I wondered how many strip wood planks you needed for the doors? I was just trying to work out if it’s doable for me! Thank you x

    1. Hello!

      It depends on how many doors you have. We had 6 at 90cm each. I wanted 8 strips per door and the stripwood came in 2.4m strips. So I bought 20 strips.

      Kind regards

      Mel

  6. Hi Melanie,
    I’ve just found your Instagram page, which led me here as I’m obsessed with this hack!! You are SO incredibly talented!! I plan to tackle this next weekend with my son…
    Can I ask if you think it will look ok with a carpet? Mine’s is fairly new and it would be a huge job to get flooring done now. Many thanks!

    1. Hi Suzanne, thank you! Yes, it would look just as good with carpet. Good luck with the DIY! Mel 🙂

  7. I love this idea and I want to mimic it with our living room. Problem is we have vaulted ceilings so I don’t think we could go to the top with this idea. Do you think we should try or just create a flat top?

    1. I think it would still work. Vaulted ceilings are beautiful! You could always add MdF or plywood from the end of the bookcases to the ceiling to hide the gap?

  8. Seriously impressive DIY ! I feel super inspired but also certain that my lack of jigsaw mastery combined with my perfectionism would make it impossible for me to enjoy the process…
    Anyway,, thank you so much for the detailed rundown and congratulations, you ought to feel very proud of what you’ve accomplished !!

    1. Thank you Marie! I often chastise myself for not being a perfectionist, but it does come in handy when I do large-scale projects such as this! 🙂

  9. This is truly incredible, just absolutely gorgeous. What a vision you had and managed to execute it! Hats off to you. I’m definitely going to try reeding with the strips of MDF . Do you think that would work just in between a skirting and dado to add some texture to a wall? Also may I ask where the peony art is from please?

  10. Love this so much and going to give it a go in my home soon. Can I ask how many strips of Stripwood it took for you to make the doors? Thank you!

    1. I needed 90cm length for each strip wood and 8 pieces for each door. So I needed 7m 20cm of strip wood each for the 6 doors.

  11. Gorgeous room transformation! Is the rug from rugable? If so would you mind me asking what’s the name/style?

    1. Hi Joy! Thank you and sorry for the late reply. The rug is the Kamran rug in Coral from Ruggable.

  12. Hi!
    Wonderful job! It looks really great
    I’m planning on doing something like this.
    Do you not sand? At all?
    Kind regards, Eva from Denmark.

    1. Hi Eva, in hindsight, it probably would have been best to sand first as the shellac paint has started peeling in places. Although, overall, after 2 years it still looks fab!

  13. Hi I’ve just copied tour billy hack and the final touch is the gold knobs. Where did you get yours from please?

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