Introduction: IKEA Hack: Built-in Cabinets and Bookshelves

About: Quilter, crafter, maker, baker, coder, cook.

My condo is one of those slightly brutalist modern places built for the young urban couple who doesn't appear to have possessions or even hobbies outside of drinking, so it doesn't have a garage or much useful storage space. Which sucks when you're a maker. But, we could afford it, which is easier said than done in the Bay Area, so project #1 before the ink was even dry on the escrow paperwork was to build in some storage so that we could get rid of bulky mismatched furniture and make a more usable workspace out of the spare bedroom.

All told, the project cost about $1500, and we were able to get rid of two huge and unwieldy freestanding bookcases that had been stacked two books deep, one POS folding tiny bookshelf, three IKEA Expedits, and a crappy china cabinet, and we STILL didn't use up all the space inside the freshly-installed cabinets. The space we cleared made the living room look a ton better and cleared enough room out of our tiny office to vastly improve the workspace.


- five IKEA billy bookcases

- five IKEA base cabinets of varying sizes

- four strips of symmetrical moulding for between the shelves

- two strips of half-round moulding for between end-shelves and walls

- wood screws

- finishing nails

- a quart of paint matched to IKEA white

- ten L-brackets


- circular saw

- clamps

- place to cut countertops (workbench thing)

- jigsaw or hole dozer

- power drill

- level

- measuring tape

- stud finder

Step 1: Measure and Plan

Measure your space!

Our home has very tall ceilings, so we measured and determined that we'd be able to install full counter-height cabinets with full-sized bookshelves on top, and we just needed to determine what width of each we needed. Since we decided on IKEA hack instead of building all the items from scratch, we headed over to the IKEA website to look at their Billy bookshelf series to determine what options and dimensions there were:

Our wall was the right size for five standard billy bookcases with a couple of inches of wiggle room between each. The wiggle room is useful. When you install these shelves, you'll probably find that your walls are not perfectly square, and you may have a couple of centimeters difference between the ceiling and floor. You can fudge the space between the shelves by covering it over with moulding once you have everything installed, so get as close as you can to filling your wall without stressing six inches or a foot of dead space. SYMMETRY IS ALSO IMPORTANT, at least if you're like me.

We also scouted out the kitchen cabinets, which are base cabinets from the IKEA Sektion line. ( ) There are two depths available, 15' or 24'. We went with the deep cabinets, which you'll want if you want to be able to set anything in front of the bookshelves. When figuring out how many cabinets you can fit in your space, make sure you leave a little room; I think the rule is to leave at least two inches between the side of the end-cabinets and the wall, but it's been a while since we finished this project so I can't remember. You can purchase paneling that covers over the gaps on either side so it looks smooth and contiguous. You'll also want counter tops, of which there are many options. Pick whatever fits your aesthetic. We went with a wood veneer countertop style and the cheapest white doors, to match the white bookcases, and honestly it looks really nice so don't stress yourself out too much.

Step 2: Install the Cabinets

The nice thing about going through IKEA is that they have super detailed instruction manuals for DIY installation of their kitchen cabinets. Instead of walking you through all the installation steps myself, I will simply encourage you to read the instructions. To show how easy it is, here are some photos from our installation process!!

It's all straightforward; I don't have a lot of advice outside of the instructions IKEA provides. Make sure you're really precise when installing the rail so it's level. Once the rail is up, you start with the center cabinet and work your way out, then you screw the countertops into place, and finally attach your doors.

We had never installed cabinets before, but my husband and I managed to do this step by ourselves in a day. It was a long day. Take breaks more frequently than you think you need them, make sure you get lunch, and make sure you've got beers in the fridge before you start because when you're done you're not gonna have the energy schlep all the way to BevMo ;)

Step 3: Install the Bookshelves

Partially assemble the shelves by attaching the sides, top, and center support to each other. Do not add the back or the base. The instructions call for the shelves to have a base that's a couple of inches off the floor, but we wanted the bottom of the shelving to be the countertop. Since we were screwing the shelves to each other and into the wall, we didn't worry about the loss of structural stability from leaving off the bottom. The back is that crappy cardboard stuff you're suppose to nail in with a zillion teeny nails, but we wanted to have the color of the wall coming through the back of the shelves, and it was nice to be able to run cords behind the back of the shelves. So leave that junk off.

Aaaaaanyway, once the shelves are assembled, put them on top of the counter. Determine exactly how much space you need between the shelves to make them even. We had less than an inch between each shelf and about an inch on each side. Use wood shims at the top, middle, and bottom between the shelves to get them in place snugly, and clamp them tightly together. Screw them to each other through the shims using wood screws at the top, middle, and bottom. Having the wood separators means you can screw into the wood and not through the next shelf, so you don't have screws sticking out. Make sure your wood separators don't stick out past the front of the shelves.

Now screw the shelves into the wall! We used L-brackets across the top of the shelves and along the middle support shelves, two on the top of each bookcase and two in the middle just above the center support shelf, for a total of ten brackets. For the top, use a stud-finder so that you get the best stability possible; the books will hide the brackets so you don't need to worry about them being hidden or perfectly symmetrical unless you have plans to use some as display shelves.

Screw the shelves on the ends into the walls on either side for extra stability.

Step 4: Moulding!!!

Go to your local hardware store to purchase moulding that's the right size to cover over the gaps between your bookshelves. Nail it in place with finishing nails. We used two different kinds of moulding, one symmetrical kind to cover the gaps between the shelves, and one quarter-round type to cover the gaps between the end shelves and the walls, which was a smaller gap. The end moulding is particularly useful to help hide any difference in the size of the gap between the shelves and the wall from the top to the bottom of the shelving.

Take one of the unused base pieces of the shelves into Home Depot and have them color match it and mix you up a quart of IKEA white colored paint. Apply blue painter's tape and then paint the moulding to match the shelves.

Step 5: Hide the Cables

You can see from our photos that the center cabinet is a teeny narrow one. We stored all of our TV-related electronics there in order to hide them, and we wanted to feed our cables from the TV down into that cabinet. In order to do so, we used a jigsaw to cut a hole in the countertop behind the TV. I didn't take any pictures of the process, sorry :( . We probably should have used a hole dozer if we'd wanted to be perfectly exact, but we don't see the hole ever so it isn't really a big deal.

If we had to do the project over again, the only thing we'd have changed was running power cables behind the cabinets before we finished installing them; as it was, we had to cut a hole in the barely-more-than-cardboard backs of the cabinets in order to reach the outlet and get power from it to the center cabinet where we stored our TV stuff, and it was not an easy or graceful process.

Step 6: Put in the Shelves, and Load 'em Up!!

We have a LOT of books, so we organized partially based on book size in order to get the most linear space possible out of our shelving. We had to buy five extra shelves, which IKEA sells for ten bucks a pop, in order to optimize the space.

I hope this inspires you to jump in and build your own storage shelving. We get a lot of compliments on the finished product, and the space feels much bigger as a result of having built it.

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