If you’ve been following along with me on Instagram, you’d know we just bought a new house. I’ll be honest, I love the house for its size, layout, location and especially it’s yard, but I was not crazy about the finishes. So, we’ve been making a lot of updates to the house over the last two months.
Ever since I laid eyes on the living room, I knew I wanted built in bookcases along the back wall with the fireplace to make a functional focal point of room. Bookcases are my favorite way of storing toys/materials for the girls. Everything has its own place to live that’s easy to access, and it forces you to not over clutter. Here’s the before photo of the living room when we bought the place.
So, along with the other projects we asked around for quotes on building the living room built ins (along with built ins I also have planned for our study and mudroom). We were met with disappointment when we were told that was going to be a large, expensive project. Several thousand dollars from the person who was cutting us an inside deal. So as is my personality, I started researching cheaper alternatives. That’s when I came across the IKEA Billy Bookcase hack, and decided we would give it a go. So happy with how it turned out!
The thing about the hack is you can use the IKEA Billy bookcases to give you a huge head start on constructing your bookcases. Then all you are left to do is frame them in so they appear built in. The IKEA Billy bookcases have a few sizing options to make customizing to your space a little bit more possible.
The first thing thing you need to do is measure the space you are wanting to fill and determine which bookcase pieces to order to fit your needs.
The Billy bookcases come in two standard widths 31.5″ and 17.25″ and are all 11″ deep. We measured our space and each side of the fireplace from wall to mantel was 69.5″ wide. I ran the numbers and quickly determined we could either have two wide bookcases on each side or one wide bookcase flanked by two skinny bookcases. I sketched it up and sent to Brad, and we both agreed on doing the two wide bookcases on each side of the fireplace. This was going to span 63″ of the space on each side leaving a 6.5″ gap to be covered by trim.
The base bookcase is 79.5″ tall with an add-on extension shelf option that is 14″ tall, which would bring the total height to 93.5″ just shy of an 8′ ceiling. We have 9′ ceilings so I ended up winging it and buying a second extension shelf in the hopes I could just secure another one on top (even though I couldn’t find anything about doing that) bringing the height to 107.5″ for our 108″ ceiling. Thankfully, this ended up working out perfectly.
There are other optional add-ons for the Billy bookcases including solid and glass doors. I am a huge fan of open shelving (largely influenced by Montessori-inspired spaces), but Brad insisted in cabinet doors across the bottom. We also agreed we wanted a place to hide all of our tech stuff like the cable box and router, and that one of the bottom cabinets (locked) would be the perfect place to do so. I will however be doing open shelving on the built ins in the study (this project turned out so well we plan to replicate in that space). Tip: If you can live without doors, it’ll definitely save you some money. Each door front is $30.00, which added up to $240 just for the door fronts (8) in our living room; the priciest component of the built-ins.
Based on our design, we ended up purchasing the following Billy bookcase components from IKEA.
– 4 x Billy Bookcase Units (31.5″x11″x78.5″) at $59 each = $236
– 8 x Billy Height Extension Units at $25 each = $200
– 8 x Oxberg Doors at $30 each =$240
Total = $676 plus $99 shipping because we don’t live close to an IKEA. We ended up ordering the components of the other built ins I have planned and a Hemnes dresser for Heidi’s nursery because $99 is max shipping for when they are basically sending a semi to your house. So, at least we were able to split up the shipping cost over several projects.
Once the bookcases arrived, I spent an entire evening and afternoon nap assembling everything. They were actually not as hard to put together as I feared. I also found that I was able to batch the assembly since I was doing so many of the same pieces. Note: If you are planning to paint the bookcases (see my post on painting laminate) do this before you start assembling. It’s a lot either to roll a bunch of flat boards than cut in at all the corners, nooks and crannies of an assembled bookcase.
Once I had the bookcases assembled, Brad and I lifted and pushed them into place so he could plan out the trim work. We decided the best look and easiest course of action was to butt the bookcases against the fireplace and each other leaving an approximate 6.5″ gap to each wall.
To complete the built in look, Brad filled the gap between the bookcases and the wall, added moulding on the top and bottom and added trim in the front where the two bookcases meet. He also secured the bookcases to each other and the walls in several places.
To complete these steps, here are the tools you will need to own or borrow:
– Drill (here is the one that Brad has and loves)
– Table Saw
– Miter Saw
– Jig Saw
– This Finisher Nailer – if you have an air compressor
– This Finisher Nailer – if you do not have an air compressor
– Here are the nails for the finisher nailers –> Link
The materials you will need will vary based on your space and the look you are trying to achieve, so I have described those in the step-by-steps below. We ended up spending about $100 on the boards and trim, another $100 on the shiplap and another $100 on caulk, paint and paint supplies.
Before building in the bookcases, Brad did have to cut out a few spots in the backerboard where outlets and light switches were on our wall. He just marked exactly where the cuts needs to be and used a jigsaw to cut a small rectangle out to reveal the outlet behind. He used spacers to have the outlets come out further and account for the depth of the bookcases. After the bookcases were in place, he attached the faceplate from the front of the bookcases.
If you are familiar with board sizes, you’ll know 6.5″ was a little disappointing of a gap because boards come in 2×6 or 2×8, so we had to size up and bought two 12′ long 2x8s and Brad had to “rip them” on the table saw down to 6.5″ to fit in the gap. We have crown molding, so he used the jig saw to cut out the shape of the molding on the board and butt it up against the molding as opposed to cutting and removing the molding. Brad said that if he were to do it again, he would recommend just cutting out the molding before starting the project and not worrying about trying to go around the molding.
Next he secured the filler board in place by attaching a 2×4 to the whole side of the bookcases (also bought 12′ long and cut down to 9′ height of our ceilings) and then attaching the filler board to that. He also secured the bookcases to the wall and each other. He put the brackets IKEA provided on the top of lowest shelf and the bottom of the top shelf (so you couldn’t see them), which attached the bookcases to the wall. He used screws at the bottom (to be covered by baseboard) to attach the bookcases to each other and also screwed them together at the bottom of the top shelf.
After that he took baseboards and attached them along the base of the bookcases including the exposed sides at the hearth. This required using a miter saw to cut a 45* angle around the corners. For attaching the baseboards and all other finishing work, we highly recommend a finisher nailer. It made this process easier and quicker. And finisher nails are smaller than a regular nail gun so you don’t have to worry about them splitting the particle board. It also makes the wood filling at the end easier because the nail ends are so small.
Next he created a molding for the top to cover the small gap between the top of the bookcases and the ceiling making them truly attached floor to ceiling. We have crown molding in the living room, which would be extremely difficult to try and recreate. So, we decided to go a different direction and do more of a basic craftsman look like suggested in the Blesser House blog. To create this molding my husband attached a 1×1 to the top of a 1×4 (which he had to rip down with the table saw to line up with the height of our crown molding on the other walls) and then attached the 1×4 to the bookcase. Make sure to account for overhang on the 1×1 around any corners. Brad cut them the same length forgetting that that the 1×1 needs to come out even further, which resulted in a fun patch job later.
The last piece of trim that Brad added was a 1.5″ trim strip (he wandered around Home Depot looking for something exactly 1.5″ wide, which is exactly the width of the sides two bookcase that are butted up against each other). Honestly this tiny piece of trim (which was an afterthought) pulled everything together perfectly. He used the finisher nailer to attach it and cover the seam making the bookcases look truly connected like one bookcase instead of two sitting next to each other.
To tie both sides of the fireplace together, Brad decided to do shiplap on the exposed wall above and around the fireplace. We’ve done several shiplap projects now and love how they can take a wall up a notch on the designer scale without a lot of work. We always get primed tongue & groove shiplap boards at Lowes in the lumber area. Basically to hang shiplap, draw out where all of the studs are along the wall you are covering, cut the shiplap boards to the size of the wall you are covering, and use that handy dandy finisher nailer I mentioned above to nail them up in place. Side note: The first shiplap project we did with the help of my brother who drove all of the nails by hand. It took him all day, which takes Brad only an hour or two with the finisher nailer. You just need to be careful as you go that you are always mounting the boards level. The tongue and groove design helps you to adjust the boards as needed to achieve a level look. You can start at the top or bottom, depending on where you want to have a potentially smaller board (that you’ll have to rip to size with the table saw). Below is a picture of shiplap from a different room in our house.
It’s important to have the finisher nailer at the correct PSI to get the nails in far enough that you have small depression where the nail goes in that you will then cover with wood putty (otherwise you’ll have to drive the nail in further). Once the putty dries, sand it and then paint over the whole thing, and you’ll never know there are nails along the whole wall holding the boards in place.
The other key part of the project to give everything a seamless look is caulk. Caulk is your best friend for filling inevitable gaps between everything. Brad bought this trim caulk to go over every seam. He also bought strips of caulk filler to stuff into some of the wider spaces so the caulk had something to adhere to.
The final step for us was painting everything. If your house’s trim is already white, you will just need to paint the trim pieces and go over the caulked areas. You can do this with regular trim paint. I suggest bringing in one of the bookcase shelves to have it paint matched. Because our house’s trim work is cream, we had to paint everything including every inch of the bookcases, so that it would match the rest of the trim in the house. I wrote a separate blog post about painting IKEA furniture (which is tricky since it is laminate) here.
We also bought different door handles for the Oxberg doors.
So altogether we spent two weekends on this project (one for constructing and one for painting) and just over $1,000. We are so so pleased with how it turned out! It changed the complete look and feel of our living room. And now we have tons of storage as well!