From Billys To Built-Ins

November 1, 2011

Hey all, hope you had a fun Halloween yesterday!  My mister and I spent the weekend tackling a storage solution we’ve been meaning to get to for some time. Up in our little guest studio above the garage (affectionately nicknamed the ‘Garage Mahal’) we finally built ourselves a wall of bookcases to store books and other collectibles. 

Years ago, we set up a makeshift media center in the space with some small wood bookcases and a coffee table to hold our dinosaur TV.  We finally decided to donate that TV and change the wall to serve a different purpose. I’ve been thinking about IKEA’s Billy bookcases for years, but I was always disappointed with their 11” depth.  In October, IKEA release a 15” deep Billy bookcase which finally sold me on the wall to wall bookcase project I’ve been thinking about for years.  At last, it’s finally finished!

So long old media center . . .

cabinet wall before


. . . hellooooo built in bookcases!

billy built in bookcase wall after


I am in love!  I’ve wanted a wall of built in bookcases for years, people, years!  We finally made it happen for under $400 and in about 7 hours.

We started with four of these 15 inch deep Billy bookcases from IKEA:

15 inch deep billy bookcase



We knew we wanted to reuse the existing baseboard along the front of the bookcase wall, so I carefully cut the existing caulking with a Dremel MultiMax and pried it off. 

dremel multimax cut baseboard


Next, we measured and then mitered the baseboard where the old baseboard piece would fit when set in front of the new cabinets. 

miter baseboard with dremel


The only problem in using the existing baseboard was it was taller than the height of the bottom Billy shelf.  In order for the existing baseboard to sit at the same height, we had to elevate the bookcases by 3/4 inch.  How so?  We simply cut a plywood base with a Skil Saw for the Billys to rest on, perfect!

base of billy on plywood


Once the bookcases were elevated, the baseboard trim fit perfectly in front.

reuse baseboard in front


I had to crack up at the IKEA assembly instructions and the little men they use to guide you through the process.  Yes, thank you IKEA, two are better than one at assembling these Billys!  Once you get the hang of it you can assemble each in about 20 minutes.  I confess I was very surprised at the quality of the bookcases too, each cabinet weighs about 100 pounds and the shelves are all adjustable.       

two people


The spacing between the four cabinets and the walls turned out to be exactly 2 ¼ inches, which the same exact  width of the trim I chose to hid the gaps in between each cabinet and between the cabinet and the wall.  How lucky is that?

three billys 2 inches


At any other width, we would have had to choose different trim or run it through a table saw, but luckily I found the perfect 2 ¼” trim x ¼” trim at Lowes to disguise the gaps to perfection, plus the greater width gives the cabinets even more of a custom look.  We also added crown molding to the top for a finishing touch using the same technique I mentioned here.

The vertical pine trim was easily attached with a nail gun then primed with Zinsser (I always use oil based primer on raw wood.) I used paintable caulk to fill in any gaps between the baseboard, crown, and bookcase edges. Two coats of paint unified the vertical trim, baseboard, and crown.*

brad nailer and primer

The final issue was providing access to the existing outlets on the wall, so to use them anytime in the future, I just notched their location on the back of the cabinets with a box cutter (not shown). 

All four cabinets are reinforced with another long strip of plywood across the top that is the same size as the base piece of plywood.  That plywood top is nailed into the Billy’s frame and then anchored to the studs in the wall with ‘L’ brackets so the entire unit is sturdy and there’s no danger of them falling even if little munchkins should be so bold and try to climb on them. The crown along the top hides both the plywood stabilizer and the brackets from view.

built in billy bookcases


diy built in ikea billy bookcases


Now the real fun begins, how to make them function for us as storage but also look  stylish. I’m thinking I’ll definitely paint the back and play off the blues, greens, and yellow in the window panels. Looking at the room now there’s too much white, but this wood pedestal table will help ground the space and provide dark contrast. 

How do ya like this fun pair of accent chairs I found at a local second hand shop, aren’t they fab?  I love them gloss white but I’m tempted to spray them a bold hue for a fun punch of color like this yellow barstool or this aqua chair.

paint back and maybe chairs


I’ll be working on styling the bookcases later this week (following most of the tips from this article) and hopefully I’ll have something to show you soon.  A blank canvas, how fun!

built in billy bookcases after text


Cost: four 15” deep Billy bookcases at $69 each ($300 with tax), plus plywood, crown molding and trim: $65

Total = $365 

Not a bad price for sturdy wall to wall built-in bookcases completed in a weekend.

* update: many asked about paint colors. The wall color is ‘Camouflage’ by Benjamin Moore and the paint on the trim on the bookcases is Valspar’s ‘Dove White’.  Valspar’s ‘Cream Delight’ and ‘Ivory Dust’ are also very close matches to the IKEA white. 

** update #2: if you’d like to see how they turned out when styled with books and collectibles, take a peek at this follow up post.


Thanks Apartment Therapy for the feature!!



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264 Responses to “From Billys To Built-Ins”

  1. Julia says:

    This bookshelf looks absolutely amazing! I always admire people who can do such wonderful things themselves! Great Job!

  2. KtisTina says:

    Jyst pinned this on Pinterest since its the best ive seen! Nice job!

  3. Rachel says:

    I have looked at this post 234827 times since seeing it – thanks so much for the inspiration! Would you recommend painting the backs of the bookcases before assembling? Just curious! Thanks again!

  4. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hi Rachel, I don’t think painting the backs before is necessary but you sure could if you wanted to! I painted mine after.

  5. wow this is absolutely amazing!!!! I have so many hardback books that are just dying to be displayed on some decent shelving for once (poor things). I think I might be able to tackle this job this weekend. Love this thanks so much!!

  6. annie says:

    Do you notice a difference between the rest of the trim in the room and the trim on the bookcases? We bought bookcases planning to do something similar and they are not white. I have many other “IKEA White” pieces that dont bother me, but the contrast between the bookcase and the baseboards is so pronounced. I am dreading needing to paint each bookcase.

  7. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hi Annie, it’s a preferential thing, we have Swiss Coffee trim which is a warm white so the contrast doesn’t bother me, but if it does bother you then yep, you’ll need to prime and paint!

  8. Carla says:

    OMG, this is so amazing! I pinned this like 6 months ago and was looking through my pins and noticed that this is my solution for my loft! I wanted to move my craft space up there and was looking at Ikea cabinets….which are decent priced but add up to a lot! I can’t wait to show this idea to my husband. Its so nice that the billys have a deeper shelf now and they also have extenders for the tops.
    Thank you from the bottom of my heart ;)

  9. Steffany says:

    Would this be sturdy enough do make a closet out of?

  10. CentsationalGirl says:

    Yes Steffany, I think so, great for shoes!

  11. msh says:

    I was just wondering: did you do anything about the small gap that adding a baseboard to billys creates? I was thinking about doing the same thing, but I can’t figure out what to do with the gap. What i mean is that the shelves, including the lowest one, are set a tiny bit deeper than the sides of the billy. If you attach baseboard to the fronts of the sides, there’s a gap between the baseboard and the lowest shelf.

    Does it make sense? My English sucks a bit;)

  12. CentsationalGirl says:

    Yep, makes sense MSH! I did two layers of latex paintable caulk to fill it in – it took two but I was able to do it! Kate

  13. Gabrielle says:

    We have all of the supplies to do this! One question: once we remove the baseboard and install the bookcases on top of the carpet with a platform to raise the bookcases so that we can re use the baseboard from the wall, won’t the baseboard be higher because it will not be installed over the carpet? Does yours look funny where is meets the “old” baseboard that was along the adjoining wall? Am I just being too particular?

  14. Pamela says:

    Awesome! I’ve wanted built-ins in my living room for 6 years but never bothered because I thought it was going to be too expensive. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Janet-Louisville, KY says:

    Hi, Love your bookcases! Did you use Valspar semi or gloss paint in white dove? I need to finish off mine this weekend.

  16. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hi Janet, I’m pretty sure we used satin sheen on the trim on bookcases.

  17. Shirley says:

    Hi Kate, your blog was really helpful to us; we just did our own IKEA built-in project (with Besta bookshelves, also 15″ deep, and with Pax closets flanking the bookshelves) in our living room. We painted the backs of the shelves/closets like you did (and also coincidentally had used Kelly-Moore Swiss Coffee for our trim color too, so your blog post was especially helpful!). We are totally thrilled with how it turned out. Thanks for the inspiration! In case you want to check it out, our blog post on the project is at:

  18. Angela says:

    Thanks for the tip. We just finished our built in billy’s with yours as the inspiration!


  19. Brooke says:

    I love this idea, what is the wall color you used in this room??

  20. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hi Brooke, that’s ‘Camouflage’ by Benjamin Moore!

  21. lea says:

    Hi! We are purchasing some Billy’s this weekend but were concerned about the cardboard backing. Does it look like cardboard? Do you think it takes away from looking built-in? We are planning to do the built in thing as well but afraid that we will go to all that work and the cardboard won’t look good or last, especially if painted.? Thanks for any help!

  22. Brandee says:

    Hi there. These look amazing!!! Can you tell me where you got your fabulous curtains??

  23. Liberty says:

    I was wondering about cutting through the bookcases to make an opening for a large TV— entertainment center style. Do you think that would be possible without comprising the integrity of the shelves/sides?

  24. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hi Liberty, all of the shelves are removable so you can make room for your TV by just removing one!

  25. juliemara says:

    Kate, last night we put together our billys for this project, the billys are very IKEA white, our walls are white white, we have to paint them, they look yellowish, what should I prime with??

  26. CentsationalGirl says:

    If you’re not a fan of “IKEA white” prime them with an adhesion primer, I prefer Zinsser Cover Stain, and then paint your color of choice!

  27. AJ says:

    Love it – and I’m considering doing the same, although I have a slightly larger wall! I have two questions for you:
    1) Did you consider *not* using the backs that came with the Billy bookcases and just having them open to the wall?
    2) Did you cut the carpet or put the cases/plywood down on-top of the existing carpet? It looks like you have similar Berber carpet to what I have…
    Thanks for posting this!

  28. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hi AJ, yes you could have them open to the wall, there’s a cutout on the bottom which allows the Billys to sit just about flush to the wall and you don’t need to remove the baseboard – we did because we wanted to reuse it but it’s not necessary. Yes we put the plywood down on existing carpet, didn’t remove our Berber. Good luck with yours!

  29. Stacy Anthony says:

    I saw a pin the other day where a girl wrapped some foam board with cute fabric and placed it in the back of a bookcase- so cute and she could change it out if she wanted- you could use fabric, sheets, tablecloths, etc. to do that

  30. Biest says:

    Thank you for this tutorial. You inspired me to do it myself and my way. I made the built ins with billy, benno and Arstid. Without your blog I wouldn’t have done it.

  31. kenzie says:

    I would love to know where you got your white chairs from!

  32. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hi Kenzie, they were a thrift store find, wish I could have found four!

  33. Jessica says:

    Thinking about doing this for a new studio space!Did you fill in all of the tiny shelf holes? I don’t notice them in your final photos, but in person I always notice them on these types of shelves…would love to know!

  34. CentsationalGirl says:

    Nope, I didn’t fill the holes Jessica – I have the same holes in my family room’s real built ins, I think they’re common so you can adjust the shelves, and all the books or collectibles usually hide most of them.

  35. VK says:

    I am just wondering what paint color you found best matched the white of the bookcases. I am not trying to match to my original baseboards, just the white that the Billy IKEA bookcases come in.


  36. CentsationalGirl says:

    HI VK, I linked to a color match white paint in the post!

  37. Megan says:

    I LOVE the way your “built-in’s” came out! Your blog inspired us to go to Ikea today and create a similar look in our office:) Thank you for posting about the paint colors that match the shelf- That saved a lot of time! Looks great!

  38. Megan says:

    One more question, did you use the foam-type moldings that they have at the home improvement stores or the real wood type? Thanks!

  39. CentsationalGirl says:

    Real wood Megan!

  40. Christina says:

    I LOVE this!!! I am now inspired to do the same thing in our bonus room! And I absolutely LOVE, LOVE, LOVE these curtains! Where did you find them?

  41. Ritz says:

    Kate, when you said that you notched the location of the outlets with a box cutter, what exactly did you mean? I love this tutorial. I cannot wait to buy a home to put these built ins into :)

  42. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hi Ritz, I meant we cut out the location of the outlet on the back board with a knife so we could access outlets!

  43. Anja says:

    I really, really love those built-ins! You definitely were lucky considering the width of that wall. Great project!

    PS I love those IKEA guys too, and even though they recommend two people I have become the ultimate pro at assembling IKEA Billys or furniture in general! ;-)

  44. Stacey says:

    Where, oh where did you get the curtains?? I am in LOVE.

  45. Davita says:

    Hey, great idea! I live in Norway and We have Billy bookcases too in our apartment. We have three pushed together, so I just thought I’d mention that you can screw them to each other, there by eliminating the gap. Although the idea that you put molding there was seriously inspired! Thanks for the inspiration!

  46. Faeridust says:

    I am so glad I found this page. We have a library and not enough shelves for all the books. I am getting ready to do this in the next two months, I but I am extending it with the Billy corner combo so that the shelves will wrap around into an L shape.

  47. Mike Smyth says:

    In two of the pictures, outlets (or coax cable or light switches) are seen that were covered by the bookshelves. Did you remove those, cover them, or otherwise deal with them? If so, how?

  48. CentsationalGirl says:

    There is just one outlet behind the unit Mike, we did not cover it, we simply ran a power strip to attach all four lights from that one outlet.

  49. Yury says:

    Very cool! My installation was pretty much similar except we can’t adjust gaps between cabinets to one size.

    Instead of wood trim I used roll of white veneer and hot iron – was very easy to apply and trim it after to perfection. After paint it looks like solid construction.

  50. CentsationalGirl says:

    Sounds like a fantastic solution Yury!

  51. Clement says:


    Very nice work! I am determined to do a built-in with Ikea Billy bookcases as well but I was wondering why you did not want to fill the bookcases all the way to the ceiling (with mouldings)? Is this because of your taste or just because it is more difficult to do?

  52. CentsationalGirl says:

    It was a personal choice Clement, IKEA does have extenders so it’s possible.

  53. JadedSabre says:

    Out of curiosity, how close of a color match was your (original) white crown moulding and baseboard to the IKEA white of the Billys? You mentioned painting the baseboard/moulding/trim around the Billys. Did you have to also paint the rest of the moulding in the room to match?

    My husband and I have installed Billys inside of two closets that take up an entire wall in the room. We removed the sliding doors and have the Billys set flush with the front of the closet, so they are framed by the white moulding around the closets. Like this: _|¯¯|_|¯¯|_

    We need to add additional trim/moulding to complete the “built-in” look. The problem is that all of my moulding, baseboards and crown moulding are bright Ben Moore White. The Billys are much more yellow. The room has a TON of moulding (and I prefer the bright white), so I don’t want to repaint all of it to match the Billys, but I really don’t want to paint the Billys either. I’m afraid I may have no other choice, but I was curious if you had any ideas or suggestions on how to blend the Billys without repainting everything?

  54. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hello Jaded, I have that same issue in my kitchen, my crown and trim is a brighter white than the creamy colored cabinets – I say just go with it! If it bothers you too much you’ll have to repaint one or the other but give it a few weeks or months, you might find you’re okay with it.

  55. Rachelle says:

    Hi :)
    Just wanted to let you know that I just loved this! I’d been looking for ideas all over the internet on how to create a library space for my mass of books, and this just inspired me, from 5000 miles away. So much so, that I actually did it! It’s turned out really well, I’m so pleased – Thank you.

    Rachelle :)

  56. Ana says:

    Hi! I just wanted you to know that my husband and I just finished building these bookcases for his new home office space. It came out spectacular and nowhere can you tell the project was born from an Ikea bookshelf. The total for the project was only about $300. We painted the wall behind a really dark navy blue and sanded/primed & repainted all of the bookcases in bright white. I will mention that the wall we did it on was quite small. There was not enough space to put in three Billy’s but there was enough space for two. In the middle one we just added two custom wooden shelves cut to size. They look amazing!!!!!!!!!!!! Thanks again for the inspiration.

  57. CentsationalGirl says:

    Fantastic Ana, so excited to read about your project, so glad it worke for your home!

  58. this may be the solution I’ve been looking for for YEARS. Wanting built ins with paying thousands for them. GENIUS!!!!

  59. question: I see you had some switches on that wall. did You just cover them?

  60. CentsationalGirl says:

    I cut out boxes in the back of the cabinets where the switches were Mary to have access to them.

  61. Michelle says:

    You are a goddess and I worship you. When you say the spacing between the four cabinets was 2¼ inches, does that measurement include the thickness of the side cabinet walls? In other words, was your vertical trim 2¼ inches wide, or was it actually wider than that? Given the shape of my room, we need to put a 2.5 inch gap between each cabinet, so our trim will have to be around 3 or 4 inches wide, and I worry that that is too wide and will look strange. Thank you.

  62. CentsationalGirl says:

    I don’t think that will look strange Michelle, and yes the total width including the thickness of the cabinets was 2 ¼ inches.

  63. Zach Prez says:

    Found you on Houzz and immediately loved this project and had to do it! I considered using the Billy bookcase extensions and making these go full height of the room, but opted against it. I want to use the top space as a shelf for plants or decor.

    I blog for a living and have never spent so much time on a single blog post as this one. Absolutely incredible information and I truly appreciate the detail. I re-read the post a dozen times to plan and then follow step-by-step. Every time I thought I had a question, like about the anchors, the paint, or even the chair, I continued reading and you answered them.

    I wasn’t sold on the darker blue paint and then I saw your post about the paint colors on your walls and am totally going to steal your lighter blue concept!

    I like the product placement of the Zinsser Cover Stain Primer in the photo which helps me know exactly what to get.

    I think I spent more time at Ikea buying the bookcases than it will take me to finish the entire job!

    Thanks CentsationalGirl for your hard work on this post. And thanks @JadedSabre for the comment about the built-ins for the closet – great idea.

  64. tammigirl says:

    The price of these Billy Bookcases in the deep (15″) size sure has increased from Nov 2011-July 2014! In less than three years they went from $69 – $99!

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