One of my favorite rooms in the house, and one that I’m most proud of personally, is my home office.
Let me tell you how I turned a cool blue-grey room designed for two into a warm and welcoming oasis that gets me through my work day. As you can see in the before photo, my home office started as a workspace for two people. We had two of everything in the space — two desks, two bookcases, two chairs — but I am the only person who works from home! So here I was, working from home full-time every day, sitting in a corner against the wall while staring at an empty desk. It made no sense. It felt very lonely to look at an empty desk all day, plus we were just not taking advantage of the space! There was a chunk of open floor space in front of each bookcase. Neither bookcase offered any real storage, so they just ended up looking cluttered. The space was just not ideal as a full time home office.
Enter the IKEA Hack!
The whole makeover for this office started with the premise of having built-in bookcases with lots of closed storage with a desk in the center of the room. I knew it would be cumbersome to build the cabinets myself, so I decided to try my hand at an IKEA hack to create built-ins for less.
I think it all turned out pretty great, don’t you?
I constructed the built-ins using nine separate pieces that I purchased at IKEA. The three cabinets on the bottom are HAVSTA, and the six bookcases on the bottom are BILLY. I went with the taller 48 inch version of the HAVSTA cabinet plus bases. I wanted a tall cabinet so I could have lots of closed storage. I got the shortest and slimmest version of the BILLY bookcases to sit on top of HAVSTA. The BILLY bookcases are each a little less than half the width of the HAVSTA cabinets.
IKEA won’t show you the HAVSTA cabinets and BILLY bookcases together on their website, because they have pre-fab combos for each line that you can buy. They’ll show you a bunch of BILLY combinations with OXBERG doors and height extenders. And they’ll show you a bunch of HAVSTA combinations with upper shelving or even more upper cabinets. But my decision to put BILLY and HAVSTA together came down to three critical design needs:
- Overall combined height of the pieces — I wanted a combination of cabinets and bookcases that came as close to 96 inches in overall height as possible, to accommodate my 8 foot ceilings. This combination of HAVSTA (with bases) and BILLY comes to 94.5 inches total. That means I could have the most amount of useful cabinet + bookcase space with the least amount of trim.
- Inset bookcases look custom — something I don’t love about just adding lower cabinet doors to BILLY bookcases is the overall flat, one dimensional appearance of the structure. When you look at custom built-ins, the bookcases that sit on top of the cabinets are usually a little inset (aka, less deep) than the lower cabinet boxes. The HAVSTA cabinets are about 3 inches deeper than the BILLY bookcases, which causes them to look a little more dimensional and custom in appearance.
- Cabinet depth and height to maximize storage — the 11″ depth of the BILLY bookcase wasn’t going to cut it for me. I need storage space for things like large books, baskets, a printer, small boxes, etc. The nearly 14″ depth of the HAVSTA cabinets was very appealing. Plus, the closed-door internal storage height I was getting with HAVSTA was 48″ high by 13.5″ deep, whereas if I added OXBERG doors to BILLY, my closed-door storage would only be 36″ high by 10.5″ deep.
There’s nothing wrong with the combos that IKEA recommends, they just weren’t going to solve my overall design problems. I couldn’t find evidence of HAVSTA and BILLY being combined before, but I just knew it would work out well. How could it not?
Putting it all together – AKA, how to do this IKEA hack
After assembling all the pieces, I stacked them, double-checked the height, and then the real work began. I decided to put the bookcases “upside down” with the toe kick near the ceiling, because I planned to add trim near the ceiling to close any gap. If I stacked the bookcases and cabinets the “right” way around, then added ceiling trim, I would have lost about 6 inches of shelving space and I would have dead space between the cabinets and bookcases. By flipping the BILLY bookcases upside down, the cabinets and bookcase shelving were flush and looked like they were meant to go together (almost like I planned the whole thing!). Pretty neat! Click here and advance to story slides 5 through 8 to see a visual explanation of stacking BILLY upside down.
Note: If you are following this process but need to modify for taller ceilings, I recommend the BILLY bookcase extenders. You can attach them to the assembled bookcases and still flip them upside down. Another alternative is to use wider trim at the top of the bookcases and get bookcase lights that take up more vertical headspace.
Before mounting anything to the wall, I cut out a section of baseboard and slid the cabinets into place. This allowed all the pieces to sit flush with the wall. I used an oscillating multi-tool to cut the baseboard, then pried off the section to discard.
I trimmed the top with 1 inch by 4 inch MDF, and I trimmed the front of the bookcases with 2 inch wide hobby boards in oak. There’s no special reason I selected oak, it’s just what the store had on hand in 2 inch width that was very thin. You can use any 2 inch wide board for the front trim as long as it’s thin. I used a brad nailer (air nailer, nail gun, whichever) instead of wood glue, because I find it easier, faster, and more exact. My thinking on the hobby boards was to give myself a consistent front to the bookcases, sealing the gaps in between them.
I mounted each piece to the wall with L-brackets and bolts — IKEA includes this hardware with the cabinets and bookcases. I also attached the cabinets to each other, to get them nice and tight. I did not attach the bookcases to each other with the exception of them being joined by the trim.
With all the pieces put together and arranged, the next step would be filling all the cracks, holes, and seams.
If you have the option to pick an order of operations here, I would recommend spackle, wood filler, all the sanding, all the caulking. Why? You want to end with caulking after you have vacuumed and wiped away all the sanding dust. Fresh caulking might seem dry — and be dry enough to paint — but it’s still tacky enough to collect all of your sanding dust. The other reason I recommend starting with spackle is because some of the seams, like the gap between the bases of the cabinets at the floor, are DEEP. You want to give yourself lots of time to layer on the spackle over several applications so it can really dry. If you just fill the seam in one fell swoop, the spackle on the inside will take days to truly dry, long after you’ve painted. By the time it fully dries, it will shrink and ruin your paint finish. I recommend adding light layers and building it up. Put some spackle on the seams, then fill all the adjustable shelving holes for one bookcase. Put on another layer of spackle, then do another bookcase. Repeat until you’re done.
While filling the adjustable bookcase holes is a personal preference, I think it makes the piece look seamless, custom, and classy. Adjustable bookcase holes are busy and distracting. A standard part of the look of IKEA furniture (for better or worse) is those unused holes but filling them gives you a chic finish that looks like something other than standard IKEA fare. If you’re nervous you might want to adjust the shelves down the road, just leave a few open — 3 or 4 options in several places should be sufficient compared to the 28 holes IKEA puts on there.
I dry fit the shelves, fussing with the pegs and placement for awhile. When I finally settled on the shelving location, I removed the shelves but left the pegs in place. This ensured I did not fill in the bookcase holes I actually wanted to keep.
After filling the bookcase holes and seams, plus the nail holes in the oak trim, it’s time to sand. This is messy. Wear a mask. You have to get basically inside the bookcases to sand them, and the dust is everywhere. Don’t forget to remove the shelving pegs at this point! After cleaning up from sanding, you can caulk all the seams. ALL OF THEM! Caulk where the bookcases meet the walls, caulk where the thin bookcase backer board meets the inside of the bookcase, caulk where the baseboard meets the cabinets, and so on. I also put caulk around the mounting brackets, to help me make them disappear later with primer and paint. Be sure to choose paintable caulk.
How to paint IKEA laminate furniture
If you were to ask me, “what part of DIY work do you like the least? Also, can I borrow $20?” – I’d tell you, I don’t carry cash on me, and painting. Painting is the pits. But, unfortunately, painting (including all the tedious prep work) is also the most important thing that you can do to end up with a beautiful piece that you’ll enjoy for years.
Step one is to make sure your piece is clean. Vacuum every bit of it, wipe it with a damp cloth, dry it, then wipe it with a tack cloth. Nothing will grind your gears more than putting in all this effort and having a crappy finish on your paint. Don’t rush it, do it right, and it’ll be done right forever.
Step two is to prime. A good primer is THE KEY to a nice painted finish on IKEA furniture, or any laminate furniture for that matter. I used a shellac primer by Zinsser called BIN. BIN offers unparalleled adhesion to glossy surfaces — including glass — without the need for scuff sanding. It’s a bit runny and it’ll ruin a paint brush (especially a brand new silver tip Wooster brush) (don’t ask how I know that), so you’ll want to apply it with a disposable sponge brush in small sections. It dries very fast but it takes a day or more to cure to a long lasting hard surface. Which brings me to step three.
Step three is to let the primer cure. This is a step a lot of people kind of jump over but it’s so critical to a great finish on your paint that will last for years. The shellac primer needs time to fully cure on a laminate surface. The can specifies this takes 1-3 days, and I think giving it 3 full days for the first coat to cure is the best advice I can give. Don’t make it all the way to this step and then rush it. Apply an even coat of primer and let it cure for 3 days. Add a second coat and let it cure for at least 1 day.
Step four is to paint! Hooray! You made it! This is basically the last step. I decided to prime and paint the shelving separately from the built in unit, just to reduce the amount of cutting in and boxes I had to paint. The paint formula I selected was Behr Ultra Scuff Defense in an extra durable flat finish. I previously used this paint formula in my entryway and LOVE IT. For me, it’s the ultimate paint. It dries to a powdery, beautiful flat finish but it has the durability of a gloss paint. I did not want glossy or shiny cabinets, but I wanted them to be ultra DURABLE, so this was the winner! The colour I picked is called Incognito which is a green with lots of earthy grey undertones.
To paint the cabinets (and doors and shelves), I used a 10 mm nap microfiber mini roller. Microfiber gives me a nice finish without streaks or lint. I used a mini roller because it looks like a big piece but you have to paint it all in small sections, so this made more sense than fighting with a large roller.
I set up a work table in my garage for the shelves. All 12 of them got their own little stand made of scrap wood and brad nails so they could stand up and be primed/painted on the sides, front, top, and bottom all at once. I wriggled each of the shelves a bit off the scrap wood base to make sure they didn’t stick to the wood once they were primed and painted. Click here and advance to story slide 16 and 17 to see a visual of this. My method worked like a charm – 12 shelves primed and dried, all on one table and I didn’t have to wait for each side to dry. This is the work table I use for all of my projects: it’s portable, foldable, storable, and sturdy. I trusted this table to precariously balance the shelves while painting because it doesn’t wobble at all.
After you finish 2 nice coats of paint, it’s time to pat yourself on the back and admire your work!
The remaining steps for this project are installing the cabinet doors, adding cabinet hardware, installing bookcase lights (if you choose to add them) and styling the shelves.
A word to the wise: get a pair of helping hands when it comes time to install the doors. After all of your hard work painting, you don’t want to scratch it while you’re fussing with hinges. Hinges, I might add, that are notoriously frustrating to work with. Yes, you can prop the door up with your foot, but, trust me, these 48 inch tall doors are unwieldy. Save yourself the headache.
HAVSTA comes with cabinet hardware that you can use, and it’s perfectly fine, but I opted to replace mine for these beautiful golden champagne finger pulls. Finally, you can install picture lights if you like that look. Mine are battery operated so I did not have to fuss with electrical.
And, that’s it! That’s the whole project, soup to nuts.
Commonly asked questions about this IKEA hack
I get a lot of questions about this project. A LOT. It is, hands down, the most popular project I have ever shared. Other than everything I have already answered above, a number of questions repeat themselves so I thought I would include them here.
What would you do differently if you were starting over?
Nothing. I’ve been asked this question several times by my Instagram community and the truthful answer is nothing. I wouldn’t change a thing. I love every single thing about this piece and I would do it exactly the same way again if I was doing it all over.
I agonized over the details before I got started. I know it’s a cliché, but I really believe in measuring twice (or three times or twelve times) before making a final decision, and I did just that – I measured my office an absurd amount of times. I thought about building from scratch. I considered other pre-manufactured options. I researched the crap out of stock cabinets, cabinet depth, office cabinets, and everything in between. I made my decision by actually writing down my must-haves, which were, in my case, the height, the inset bookcases, and the closed/hidden storage space. When I had all that, and I considered the cost and time of building from scratch, my final choice was clear.
My only hesitation then was that I couldn’t find evidence of anyone else who had combined HAVSTA cabinets and BILLY bookcases before. But I got past that, and I went for it, and I encourage anyone else (who has done their research and knows their must-haves) to do the same.
Can a novice DIYer complete this project?
YES! You’ll see me say this all the time: if I can do it, anyone can do it. I don’t have any special skills or training. All I have is what all of us have, if we’re willing to use it: patience, critical thinking, time, and self-forgiveness. I make mistakes all the time, and that’s okay. That’s how we learn.
But know your must-haves and know your limits. People always talk about the monetary cost, and people often talk about the time cost, but DIYers only rarely talk about the mental energy/sanity cost. It’s okay to have a helping hand. “Do It Yourself” doesn’t have to mean “Do It All By Yourself.” It’s also okay to get a head start with something partially built like IKEA pieces if that’s what’s right for you! Make use of the resources you have around you as well. Most big box lumber stores will cut wood for you, so if you know the size of the trim pieces you need, they can cut them instead of you needing to use a saw. Or, maybe you don’t mind using a saw but you don’t own one. In that case, you could check out your local tool library for rentals.
How well does the paint hold up?
Amazingly well. The pictures in this post were all taken at different times over the last year. I have banged into the cabinets countless times with my chair, spilled coffee on them, scraped up against them… no marks. The paint is indestructible thanks to that shellac primer. And I’m guessing the scuff defense paint doesn’t hurt, either!
How much did it cost?
Using the prices I paid in October 2021:
- 48″ HAVSTA cabinets with bases: $260 x 3 = $780
- BILLY Bookcases: $45 x 6 = $270
- MDF trim and wood trim = $48.55
- Caulk, spackle, and wood filler = $12.22
- Zinsser BIN shellac primer = $28.72
- Paint, tape, rollers, and tray liners = $89.11
- Brass cabinet hardware = $32.45
- Bookcase lights and C batteries = $382.94
- Misc (sand paper, screws, putty knife, nails) = $28.62
- Total = $1672.61 CAD (approximately $1300 USD)
What if there is an electrical outlet where I want to put the cabinets?
You can cut through the backer board of the cabinets with a multi-tool or a jig saw. You could even use a serrated utility knife, just drill a few holes at your corners to give the blade somewhere to get started and make turns.
How did you run the electrical for the bookcase lights?
I didn’t. 🙂 They are battery operated bookcase lights. All I had to do was mount them in place!
Did you paint the inside of the cabinets?
Only the first 3 inches all the way around the inside, plus the front of the shelves. I painted just enough that there would be no white peeking through the doors. It seemed entirely pointless to paint any more than that.
How long did it take you to complete the project?
It took me about 4 weeks of weekend work. I have a full time job, so I was only chipping away at this on the weekends and the occasional early morning or late evening. It could be accomplished in a week, including all the paint/primer drying time, if you were dedicated to the project full time.
Good luck and happy DIYing – I know you can do it! Hit me up in the comments with questions! I’ve included some more resources and links below so you can see more!
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