Before and After: A Charming $120 IKEA BILLY Facelift Makes for an Ideal First-Ever Furniture Flip

published Mar 16, 2023
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Wooden Billy Ikea bookshelf before renovation.
Credit: Julia Cole

First-time furniture flips are definitely learning opportunities. A few bits of advice, if you’re looking to try your hand at it: Do your first flip on a free or low-cost piece of furniture so the financial stakes are low, remember you can always sand and paint over a botched paint job, prep work is key, and small-scale projects are best for beginners. From there, you can tackle more complicated designs and larger-scale projects.

This $120 cabinet redo was a first-time furniture flip for experienced DIYer Julia Cole (@twentylot). Julia shopped smart, choosing a secondhand IKEA BILLY to work with. That pick is a double win because again, it’s great to start with a free or secondhand find; it’s doubly great if there’s lots of inspiration and advice out there to follow, as there is for something as widely altered as an IKEA BILLY. (And trust us, there really is lots of inspiration and advice! Check out this $300 renter-friendly IKEA BILLY redo, for example.)

Credit: Julia Cole

Julia says the lower cost of a used bookcase was part of her motivation. “I was hesitant to spend the money on brand-new IKEA in case I messed up,” she shares. “I was able to source a like-new BILLY bookcase on Facebook Marketplace. It came with all the parts, and it didn’t really matter what color it was since I was planning on painting a darker color anyway.”

Credit: Julia Cole

Julia used Valspar’s line of furniture paint (color matched to Sherwin-Williams’ Rock Bottom), a gray-ish navy color for the project. “I have heard and read that painting IKEA pieces can be a bit difficult,” Julia says. “I used a quality primer, and I think that made all the difference! I think also using a darker color helped with hiding some of the imperfections.” (That’s another great first-timer tip.)

Julia says she also liked the dark color because it made the fluted trim she attached to the cabinet’s lower doors pop. Julia used 7-foot trim strips from Lowe’s for the added texture and cut them in in half to match the height of her cabinets.

Julia used plywood to create the arches on her doors. She created a curved template using a pencil, string (a free alternative to a compass), and cardboard; then, she traced that onto the wood before cutting it out. “This was the first time I had ever used a jigsaw!” Julia says. “I was nervous to cut out an arch, and it took a couple tries as well as a ton of sanding to get the shape just right.”

Credit: Julia Cole

The arch detail is probably Julia’s proudest accomplishment in this project. “Math has never been my strong suit, particularly algebra, but I got to flex some geometry here, and it ended up working out while I was getting creative on how to shape out the top,” she says. “Every time I look at it, I’m reminded of how intimidated I was initially to even tackle a furniture makeover and that I was able to do it! It really gives me the confidence to try other projects around the house.”

She finished the cabinet with daisy-shaped knobs from HomeGoods. However, “they are a smidge too big to close,” Julia says. “If I were to do anything differently, it would probably be to drill new cabinet holes for the knobs. I could probably do that later if it continues to bother me!”

Credit: Julia Cole

Julia has one last piece of DIY advice post-project — and it’s a great one, especially for those embarking on their first project: “Take inventory of any leftover materials you may have from previous projects,” she says. “Since this was our first project, I had purchased quite a few things brand-new. Since then, we still have leftovers, and I have found ways to incorporate some of these materials in new and upcoming projects!” Julia’s materials this time around cost her about $120, but in the future, she’ll be able to save on her upfront supply costs — meaning the creative possibilities abound.