Before and After: A Sophisticated IKEA Built-in Bookcase Hack for $1K

published Sep 16, 2018
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(Image credit: Oriane Szekelyhidi-Williams)

This dining room is so graceful and elegant—that delicate molding and beautiful hardwood floor, but its new owner found it lackluster and hollow. IKEA’s BILLY bookcase to the rescue! Well, more like eight BILLYs to the rescue…

Reader Oriane Szekelyhidi-Williams kindly shares a wealth of details about the inspiration behind this project and the challenges faced:

We purchased our condo knowing we would be doing a BIG overhaul on the space. Adding the built-ins was one of my first projects. I loved the dining room so much, but as you could see from the “before” photos, when we purchased the home the space lacked luster and seemed hollow.

My house is one big makeover story— but the huge wall in our dining room got arguably the biggest facelift in the house.

When we moved in, I had grand visions of turning our large formal dining room into an awesome entertainment space, but one that was also functional by adding a wall of built in bookcases and cabinets. I reached out to a reputable custom bookcase maker in the city, and my dreams were quickly dashed when they quoted me over nine thousand dollars! I was stunned.

I figured there had to be another way, and after many hours scouring the internet, I found that many others had turned to IKEA as the answer to their “built-in bookcase dreams.” I figured I would give it a shot.

(Image credit: Oriane Szekelyhidi-Williams)

Oriane was able to achieve this look for less than the quoted price. As much as I loved the pale walls before, this dreamy paint color is absolutely to-die-for; it’s a foggy gray-blue-green that reminds me of San Francisco. The new white built-in pairs so perfectly with the white door frame and crown molding, creating a frosting-like effect. And while the white paint and wall color have a sophisticated, almost monochromatic look, the books themselves add so much color and vibrancy.

The new light is majorly luxe and stands up to the grandeur of the room much better than the much smaller original one did, and it looks absolutely perfect with the new dining set.

All of this fanciness was created by two enthusiastic DIYers over one weekend and two evenings:

We used four IKEA kitchen cabinets for the base cabinets. My best friend and I spent any evening building these and timing how quickly we could get each one assembled, and after the first two, we were pros. I can proudly say that I know exactly how long it takes me to assemble Billy bookcases: Three minutes and 57 seconds! We built an eight-inch 2×4 base for the lower cabinets to rest on and used the original baseboards from the wall. The top is composed of four IKEA Billy bookcases spaced evenly with 2x4s We added molding between each bookcase to hide any gaps or seams.

We dressed our built-ins up a bit by adding the crown molding and wood detail to the doors, and painted the MDF first with Kilz Latex Primer, then regular white paint. I wallpapered the back of the bookshelves with grasscloth wallpaper for a little extra elegance. By adding the built-ins, we added additional storage, and added a visual anchor to the room.

The actual building of the custom bookcases was pretty tedious and took us a full weekend between cutting the 2x4s and making sure everything was spaced and anchored correctly. We had outside help come to help us with the wood trim on the doors— I was worried if I screwed this up, I’d risk cracking the MDF or completely ruin an entire cabinet. The painting and wallpapering process were pretty timing consuming and took me another weekend to complete. I guess that’s why they call DIYers “weekend warriors.”

Most of our friends are absolutely shocked when we tell them we did this project ourselves and the total cost was about $1,000!

Completing a project—and doing so beautifully—for 1/9th the estimated cost is super impressive. Weekend warriors indeed! If you ever need to assemble a BILLY bookcase, see if you can hire Oriane & Friend Inc.

Now that all the hard work is done, here’s how Oriane feels about the results:

I wouldn’t do anything differently! Well… maybe I’d add some lights… and I still may down the line when I don’t have any other home projects in the cue. But really, I LOVE the after. I really feel the built-ins have a custom look that stay true to the vintage style of our home and make such a unique twist to a traditional dining space.

Seriously—this new built-in looks like it was really built in, it so wonderfully fits into the style and feel of the room. It’s no easy feat to match aesthetics like this, but Oriane nailed it.

If you’re considering a similar project, here’s some good advice, although this first sentence can apply to pretty much any undertaking:

If you think it will take you three hours, it will take you six! ahaha. There’s a learning curve with everything, so most of my home improvement projects have taken me much longer to complete than I expected. So go into it with an open mind (and bottle of wine) and take your time! I feel the biggest sense of pride walking around my home and showing it off to friends knowing I’ve done most the work myself!

Thank you, Oriane!