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. Cricket Fitzpatrick says:

    love and envy:)

  2. Sarah says:

    This looks amazing! My husband and I are actually working on a similar project – I’m covering the back of my Billy bookcases in fabric.

    What paint color did you use for the trim? I’d love to add molding to mine but am nervous about finding the right white. Thanks!!

  3. Judy says:

    Now that’s amazing. They look completely custom…well they really are completely custom. You are so talented. Looks gorgeous.

  4. Kakau Netto says:

    Wow! Great idea!

  5. Looks great! I’ve done a similar thing on either side of my bed with 2 Billys, albeit less permanent as I’m a renter!

  6. I’m so excited to hear that they make the bookcases 15″ deep now. The transformation looks fabulous, as always. Can’t wait to see what you do with them!

  7. Chelsea says:

    Oh, I am about to cover the backs of my Ikea Bookshelves. Can’t wait for that enhancement to be in place. xo

  8. This is just crazy! What an amazing job, and how meticulous you guys are…wondering when the day will come when I’d be able to do this. Can’t wait to see what else you come up with. An ardent follower…

  9. Sara says:

    Did you just put them on top of the carpet? What happens when you, hypothetically, remove the carpet to install hardwoods? You did such a beautiful job, and I’m dying to do the same thing in my library!

  10. WOW! amazing! looks fabulous and expensive!

  11. Well, it’s official. You are my official DIY Idol. ;) The built-ins are stunning, Kate. There’s really no other word. They look fantastic! Pinning this straightaway!

  12. Kate! I was just eyeing the Billy this weekend wondering if it was solid enough for a project I have in mind (no IKEA nearby so it’s hard to judge the quality online). You just sent me over the edge…

    Awesome work, as always!

    – e

  13. I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time! But using Ikea’s Besta series instead of Billys (I had no idea deeper Billys existed). Thanks for the inspiration!

  14. Christy says:

    These are FABULOUS! Truly looks like a several thousand dollar built in! Can
    t wait to see the chairs painted and the bookcase styled. Thanks for all the wonderful inspiration!

  15. I’m in love! You would never know these were from Ikea. I love how easy it can be to make “built in” furniture in home just by adding things like molding!

  16. Fab! You’re so clever!

    TDM xx

  17. Molly says:

    It looks wonderful! Thanks for the breakdown of what you did. We have a set of bookshelves that
    need to be done that way too! I am sure that yours will be very lovely when decorated!

  18. livingwithhue says:

    Amazing!!! I absolutely love, love, love built in bookcases but they are generally so expensive. This is a great affordable alternative. Huge fan of your blog.

  19. Dorothy says:

    Gorgeous! I’ve had my eye on those 15″ deep Billy bookcases myself–finally they are DEEP ENOUGH!

  20. Jen says:

    Looks amazing! And OMW, those chairs are fantastic.

  21. Amanda Allen says:

    This is gorgeous! Great job!

  22. whislerpotpie says:

    Looks terrific. I love your drapes, too!

  23. Ikea is the best. I tried to stay away from there, but reality hit me. Why waste money when you can take an inexpensive piece of furniture and make it look just as expensive as designer furniture. I know your checking account is happy.

  24. laurie says:

    Fantastic work. Definitely paint the back. Love the chairs.

  25. Wag Doll says:

    Fabulous -amazing improvement adding the wood trim the plain bookcases, looks fab!

  26. Gotta love IKEA – looks fabulous. Can’t wait to see them full of your personality and style.

    My best- Diane

  27. Elizabeth K says:

    Those are fantastic! You’d never guess they were Ikea.

  28. Whoa! I love it! Pinning right now. :)

  29. Abbey says:

    It looks great! What color paint did you use to approximate the white shade of the Billy’s? Thank you!

  30. Michele Owens says:

    There you go inspiriting me again! Wowzer these look great friend! Enjoy them!

  31. That looks so great! I love the custom look with the Ikea price :-) Great job!

  32. Justine says:

    This is amazing! I’m obsessed with having a wall of bookcases, so I’ll definitely keep this in mind.

    ~Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One

  33. Mary says:

    I’m wondering what shade of white paint you used for the trim. Does it match the shade of white on the bookcase?
    Great job!

  34. Liz says:

    This looks amazing! And I’m so jealous!

  35. Rach says:

    It does look great! I wonder also like the commenter above about the carpet and possible flooring change. We are going to do this in our library…however one or both sides would be exposed due to our very open floor plan….do you think that will look bad?

    It looks amazing…thanks for sharing it!

  36. Megan says:

    Love them! They look so custom. This has been on my wish list for years too!

  37. Devi says:

    This looks great! I’d also like to know what color of paint you used to match the Ikea white!


  38. L.Duncan says:

    Oh you did a FABULOUS job at this!!!!!!! I have been thinking of using some Billy bookcases in my family room. I need to show this to the hubs:)

  39. ashlee says:

    this is fantastic. i’m absolutely in love with it. if it were me (which, of couse, it’s not) i think i would leave it pure white as opposed to painting the interior. the white is STUNNING. & i LOVE what you’ve done with the molding. how inspirational! i have an area of my home that is the perfect place for built ins, as well. i just wish we had an ikea nearby (i’m in eastern canada).

  40. ashlee says:

    ps. did you use oil primer when you painted your kitchen cabinets, as well? if i remember correctly, you painted cabinets in a guest suite or something?

  41. I am in LOVE!! I’ve been looking for a step by step for built in-s and you saved the day!!! Thanks so much!

  42. Matia says:

    Oooh! These are great! And so inspiring.

  43. denacho says:

    i think i’d paint or wall paper parts of the book case backings but not all. perhaps a fabric could work as well, then do cushions for the chairs in the same fabric to tie it all together?

  44. Abby says:

    This looks awesome! I’ve been wanting to do the same, but with a bench seat in the middle… and you make it look so easy!!! Love it!!!

  45. Lisa says:

    WOW, those are beautiful! Great job on making them built-ins! Thanks for the inspiration.

  46. Melodie says:

    What an awesome project! Socking this one away in the inspiration file to create storage in my basement.

  47. Gorgeous! What a difference!

  48. Kasey March says:

    I’ve been looking for a project like this to use as a storage solution in my craft room. Thank you for the great tutorial, I’m pinning this straight away!

  49. Jane says:

    They look great, but it’s too bad the shelves couldn’t reach the ceiling. Would have really given it a more “built-in” feel.

  50. OMG… I’m totally in love with this! You guys did such a GREAT job!

  51. Peggy says:

    I love this and it’s something I have always wanted to do to in my family room. Maybe I will start thinking about doing it again . . . only seriously this time!

  52. Priscilla says:

    Go Kate! This transformation is incredible. I’ve already pinned this project. I wish you were my BFF so that you could help me make this. Thanks for the great tutorial.

  53. Priscilla says:

    Sorry I forgot to ask, but what color paint did you use on the walls. It goes so well with your Billys.

  54. Allison says:

    You are my idol. Love.

  55. You would never know they are Billy cases — this looks awesome!

  56. Awesome, you would never know. The best part for you is they are done!!!

  57. Ban Clothing says:

    Really beautiful and looks completely custom/expensive. Great idea.

  58. Katrina says:

    Are you reading my mind!!!? lol We have just began talking about putting builtin bookcases in our living room!! We going to do ours a little different since we need room for a TV — but were using upper kitchen cabinets and then building / or buying pre-existing bookcases and creating a built-in look – we want floor to ceiling.

    Ok, back to your project I’m in love with it!! Thanks for the tips on keeping the old baseboards! :) I’m on the fence about painting the back of your cabinets, but regardless I can’t wait for you to style it!

  59. Julie says:

    I’m a new follower and just have to say I love what you do! Beautiful work!

  60. OMG these are gorgeous!!! This is why I love Ikea so much. I love that you can customize plain pieces at a great price….but no one would know that you spent so little on these “built-ins”. Great job.

    Kate, may I ask what color is on the walls of this room? It looks like a gray color and I’ve been looking for the perfect color for our Great Room. Thanks! :)

  61. Sherry says:

    Absolutey Grand! Time well spent on that project!
    Have fun filling those shelves!

  62. cyndi heaps says:

    These are so great!!! I didn’t quite understand what you meant when you said you notched out the outlets? I didn’t see outlets in the pic. Can you explain a little more to me?

  63. Loribeth says:

    Wow! That looks fantastic! I wish we had a wall where something like that would work. Actually, we do have, but I’d have to find a new place for my beloved antique library table…so, uh, nope, not going to happen! But now you have me thinking about where I could do something a little different.

    You and your husband did a beautiful job! I’d never guess they weren’t custom! Great job!!!!

    BTW, I vote for painting the backs of the shelves! Or wallpaper them! I’ve seen lots of pictures of shelves that have been wallpapered on the back, and they look wonderful!!! Just another idea to make it even harder to choose!!! LOL!

  64. Lindsay says:

    Awesome job! This looks great!!

  65. Carissa says:

    Thank you so much for this tutorial!!! I’ve been wondering how to ‘build in’ my own billy bookcases, and you answered all of my questions!

  66. My jaw literally just dropped. Impressive!

  67. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hey Abi, and Devi (and others) the paint color I used was Valspar’s ‘Dove White’ #7002-7 but Valspar’s ‘Cream Delight’ #7002-14 and ‘Ivory Dust’ #7003-24 are also very close matches too!

  68. Oh my word this looks AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I’m blown away and totally obsessed. It looks fantastic. Great job!!

  69. Sofie says:

    OMG I can’t wait to see what you do with them! <3

  70. Beth says:

    Thank you!!!

  71. They turned out fabulous! And it gives me great inspiration for my own Billy bookcase redo (which you can see in my magazine mirror frame photo that I’ve already turned one of them on their side with the intent to build out the others to create a wall-to-wall unit).

    Thanks for the share and re-motivation needed to get ours going!


  72. Leanne says:

    We have three Billys and I’ve been trying to get my hubby to approve doing something like this for literally years! He’s always vetoed it because I think he can’t visualize it like I can – your pictures capture the beauty and functionality I’ve been trying to describe. I cannot wait to show him! :-)

  73. Julie says:

    HOLY CR@P!!! THIS is why I love you so much! Beautiful work – I’m wracking my brain for an empty wall in my house but sadly, I can’t figure out a single place I could do this. :(

  74. Mindy says:

    Wow, this has quite the impact! It really has changed your space in a good way of course:) Love it!!!

  75. crissy armstrong says:

    love this! i have a wall of these in my office and i’m thinking about the next evolution of them. did you paint the entire shelf? or did you just paint the wood that covered the seam? they are a little off white so i wondered. great job!

  76. Melanie A. says:

    Can’t wait to see how you style this! I have a wall of Billys in my dining room and it’s always a challenge to keep them useful AND beautiful! I’m showing this post to my husband, who would like to make them look more built in. Thanks!

  77. Charity says:

    Is there anyway you can tell me where you got the fabric/curtains for the window next to you fabulous built-ins? That fabric is exactly what I’ve been looking for.

  78. Great tips on trimming out this beauty. After our reno I’m hoping to have a wall of shelves in my bedroom now, thanks to you, I’ll know how to “build” it. Jo @ Let’s Face the Music

  79. Melissa says:

    Those looks amazing! If you hadn’t told us, I would have been convinced they were custom. Such a great project!

  80. Lisa says:

    Amazing Kate!! That wall looks fabulous and now all across America Ikea will be selling out of the Billy!

  81. Donna says:

    Love this project! A few questions:

    – is there trim at the ends too, against the walls?
    – can you share what the top looks like? I’d love to see how they’re anchored in a hidden way
    – can you share pictures of the “notched out” holes for the power outlets?

  82. Mrs T says:

    This is great! I would love to do this in our spare room!

  83. Kristen says:

    wow, that looks fantastic, can’t wait to see them styled.

    What color did you paint the trim to match the billy bookcases? Or, did you take a shelf and get the paint matched?


  84. How fun, Kate!! I love how it turned out, fab job. This is exactly what Layla & her team did on the house redo here in GA. Great idea on the Billy’s. Great way to do it on the cheap. Now, I’ll have a fun built in to look at when I come for a visit NEXT year! :) xoxo

  85. Mara says:

    Looks fabulous!! We did something similar in our family room, a whole wall of shorter bookcases which we finished with an MDF top, molding and baseboard. We actually used beadboard backs for the bookcases instead of the paper backs that came with the Billy to dress it up a bit. I love how it looks! But 15″ backing would have been even better!!

  86. SDRachel says:

    Those look really impressive- such a great upgrade! Kath of Kath Eats Real Food recently bought a house and used Billy bookshelves for a built-in look, too. Great idea!

  87. Wow I love I’m in love! Great job with the baseboards! This looks fantastic! Great addition to the Garage Mahal!

  88. Linda says:

    These are beautiful! No way would I ever think they were anything but custom made – love the finished look of the crown and baseboards. Thanks for sharing!

  89. Becky says:

    It looks incredible! You did a fantastic job for such a good price. I’m going to paint my built ins white now for sure!

  90. EGreene says:

    These look fabulous! Thank you for sharing. I have a long wall in my basement that I’ve wanted built-ins on for years. This showed me that I can have expensive, custom-looking bookcases affordably! (Also, would you be willing to share the paint color for the walls?- I’ve scoured your sight, but couldn’t find it when I searched “paint” or “garage”. Thanks!)

  91. Nancy B says:

    Kate, once again your creativity has blown me away. We are in the process of adding bookcases to my sewing room (I finally have a sewing room!!!) and we are using billy’s too. You just made them so glamorous. I too have a question about the top of the bookcases. Did you attach the plywood at the top or just lay it on?

    Keep up the fabulous work.

  92. Linda Braden says:

    Really amazing Kate! Oh, and I don’t remember you having such hairy arms on the Nate Berkus Show!

  93. Lisa says:

    Wow! Your bookshelf looks custom made. I love that you’re going to paint the back of them. I like that look. Your chairs are awesome as well.

  94. No. Way. That’s amazing! You’re such an inspiration!

  95. CentsationalGirl says:

    Ha Linda too funny! That’s the mister doing the cuts, would be kinda scary if they were mine!

  96. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hey Nancy, I really should update the post! The plywood on top is a long strip the same as the base we used and nailed into the tops of the billys (along the frame) to hold them up so they don’t budge or tip to the side, then that entire plywood top is bracketed to the wall with ‘L’ brackets for stability.

  97. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hey Erin, that wall color is Ben Moore’s ‘Camouflage’ – a really nice grayish green color.

  98. Candace says:

    Wow! Looks wonderful, nice work!

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