IKEA’s BILLY Bookcase Is Changing — Here’s What It Means for Your Hacks

published May 18, 2023
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image

One of the reasons flat-pack furniture appeals to a big crowd is because it’s like a dependable recipe: If you follow the steps, you’ll come out with furniture that looks just like the example piece — whether it’s what you saw in store, online, or at a friend’s place all the way across the country (or even sometimes around the world).

In case you missed it, IKEA is changing up some of the ingredients in its BILLY bookcase, one of the fast-furniture giant’s top sellers and a favorite among hackers. In an effort to keep the production of the product up and the cost of the product down, BILLY bookcases will now use “paper foil” — essentially thick contact paper — printed with wood patterns instead of its previous wood veneer. The change will roll out in the U.S. and Europe in 2024, and DIYers say it could impact upcycling the furniture with paint, glue, and wooden appliqués.

“Without testing it on the bookcase, it’s hard to say whether these will be easier to refinish or not,” Erika Ver of Peony & Honey says — but that didn’t stop Apartment Therapy from picking DIYers’ brains for their thoughts on how this change could impact future IKEA hacks. Here’s what they had to say.

Possible Upside: Painting Progress

Ver just completed a built-in BILLY library wall in her living room (first image in the gallery above), and she’s also added fluted dowels and tan paint to a standalone BILLY (second image in the gallery above) to give it a more custom look. “I will say, its current glossy plastic-like finish is definitely tricky to work with,” Ver notes of the BILLY painting process, adding that on the whole, IKEA furniture can be difficult to adapt — but not impossible. Right now, she has to use a shellac-based primer to get paint to stick to the veneer, and even with a great primer and paint, “The IKEA BILLY bookcase is still more prone to scratches than one would like,” she says.  

Julia Cole of @twentylot adds that IKEA hacks with the current veneer construction require smart and sometimes splurgy paint choices. “Paint color and formula do play a big part,” Cole says of the time and effort required to re-paint a piece. “For example, with the BILLY bookcase, a multi-purpose primer and darker paint color resulted in fewer coats of paint, while with the HAVSTA a wall primer formula and a lighter coat of paint required several coats.”

So while DIYers can currently use lighter colors in their hacks, they’re probably going to need to invest a lot more time to make them look good. The paint process won’t be testable until the new BILLY comes out, but the paper foil change might offer an improvement. “The new paper finish may be easier to paint, which would make us IKEA hackers happy!” Ver says. 

Possible Upside: Skipping the Sanding (Maybe)

There’s always the option to sand down the veneer and paint a more raw “wood” base, but Ver and other DIYers say this step can be tough, too. It’s difficult to sand down the BILLY evenly, and it’s especially tough to maintain consistency if you’re working with several BILLYs (like, say, for a built-ins project).

“Sanding the Billy was always a tricky thing when I used it, even with the wood veneer,” DIYer Alice Kuaban (@odd_essence) says. Her workaround, for now, is to add poplar boards to the sides, and she says people will likely have to do the same with the new film because “getting paint to stick on plastic is tough.”

Sam Mitchell of @rainbowhomereno — an account she runs with her husband Heath — had to do a lot of sanding in her own BILLY hack, shown above. “In our research before creating our custom BILLY, it was highly recommended to sand back the furniture if you wanted paint to stick,” Mitchell says. “We took every precaution with the BILLY in particular and sanded it back as well as primed it before painting on color.”

Mitchell says if the new paper surface can be painted on directly without sanding, it would be an improvement. “But if the surface has a glossy finish, I’d imagine it would be harder for your choice of paint color to stick,” she adds.

Credit: Julia Cole

Possible Downside: Sticky Situations

One potential drawback of the new paper foil is the residue it might leave behind, Cole says. “Without seeing or touching the new version of the BILLY, I’m answering and assuming based on my experience with foil and contact paper in general,” she says. “It sounds like it would be adding an additional step to the majority of BILLY refreshes and or hacks. I’d imagine one would need to first remove the contact paper with something like a heat gun and potentially have to clean off any leftover residue prior to sanding.”

And in general, that’s going to mean some trial and error, which can be a time suck, Ver notes. “I also feel bad for people who aren’t planning on refinishing the bookcase, because if it looks cheaper as a standalone item, maybe less people will want to put it out as-is,” she adds. 

Credit: Alice Kuaban

The Takeaway: You Never Know Until You DIY

The moral of the story? It’s going to take some actual DIYing after the BILLYs are released in 2024 to know exactly what’s to come. Maybe the “cheaper” finish will inspire even more furniture flips, but maybe they’ll be harder to execute. “The downside would be if it makes it harder for people to customize or change the color of the furniture,” Mitchell says. “There are so many BILLY hacks out there. it would be a shame to hinder people’s creativity. But if prep work is reduced because of it, it would be a great thing.”

Kuaban is excited to see the clever solutions her peers come up with. “Given the BILLY’s popularity, I am sure people will come up with clever hacks to overcome this new curve ball from IKEA,” she says.