Before and After: An Easy IKEA Hack Brings Statement Shelving to This Bare Wall

published Sep 23, 2023
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About this before & after
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Have you ever found something for your home that was such a perfect fit that it felt meant to be? Maybe it was a throw pillow that happened to exactly match the paint color on the walls, or a box of tile that had exactly the right amount of pieces to finish up a reno project. Those moments can feel like kismet.

DIYer Bea Copeland (@bea.copeland) lucked into one such moment when it came to adding shelving to her living room. Bea had spent two years renovating her house — which she says on Instagram hadn’t been occupied for a decade before that — but didn’t furnish it right away. “I moved a bunch of secondhand furniture in and called it a day,” she says, which was a practical-enough solution. But the furniture wasn’t doing anything to actually benefit the home she’d worked so hard to redo.

Instead, Bea says the living room before was a testament to “the haphazardness of having furniture that doesn’t really work for a space.” She knew she could do better. “I knew I wanted this wall to be a statement when you walk into the house and also be functional storage for books and decor,” Bea says.

Credit: Bea Copeland
Credit: Bea Copeland

The hero products came from — where else? — IKEA.

Bea had a vision for exactly what she wanted: tall shelves flanking the window, with a low shelf beneath the window. The only problem? “I didn’t know how to achieve that without custom shelving,” she says.

She took detailed measurements of the space and started browsing IKEA, looking for units that had deeper lower shelves that would be able to store records. She figured she’d have to do some customizing, but then fate struck. “I looked at multiple IKEA options and was shocked when the measurements of the HAVSTA units fit with less than an inch to spare between the walls,” Bea says. “I took this as a sign to go for it.”

Bea calculated that she’d need four tall shelves (two for each side of the window) and one cabinet for under the window. Because the fit was so precise, Bea’s careful planning was crucial. “If I had been careless with the measurements it would’ve been a disaster,” she says, adding that her best advice is to “measure five times and buy once.”

Credit: Bea Copeland

Only a few strategic steps were needed to customize this set.

The tall shelves fit the living room perfectly as-is, but the center cabinet was just a little too tall to fit neatly under the window sill. Bea thought at first she’d have to make a custom cut to get it to fit, but the DIY stars aligned yet again: “While building, I realized I could leave off the baseboard piece and it would fit perfectly under the sill,” she says. Easy!

Once the units were assembled, it was time to paint. Bea chose a warm beige (Benjamin Moore’s Maritime White) to give the shelves a more sophisticated neutral color than their standard stark white. That’s where she ran into her only issue.

“I really don’t enjoy painting,” Bea says. “I dreaded painting these units and tried to cut corners that ultimately didn’t pay off.” Unfortunately, the steps Bea cut were in the prep stage — she skipped sanding and jumped straight into painting the units. Once dry, Bea says, her first coat “peeled off like a latex glove!”

A visit to the paint store netted her some tips for painting the slick finished surfaces of the IKEA furniture. In round two, she took her time, sanding the shelves and waiting longer in between coats. When it comes to repainting finished furniture, Bea says she learned her lesson: “Patience is a virtue!”

Once painted, Bea screwed the units into the wall for security and swapped out the standard hardware on the low cabinet for thrifted knobs. “I was so happy with the fit that I didn’t bother trimming out the edges or boxing them into the ceiling, which saved me a lot of time, energy, and materials,” Bea says. “I think if a DIY is really good, you don’t have to sweat over making it ‘perfect.’” Hear, hear!

The finished product is a unit with a built-in look that has the added benefit of being fully transportable should Bea ever move (making it also, incidentally, renter-friendly). She filled the shelves with books and decor she’d collected over the years, so the total cost for this unit came down to just the shelves ($1500) and paint ($60). 

“I really didn’t think I would find something that fit so well,” Bea says of her only slightly tweaked shelving. “This wall-to-wall buildout gives me so much storage, both open and closed, and frames the window perfectly. Even though it’s functional, it feels like a massive piece of art that can change with the seasons.”