How to Make Your Billy Bookcases Unboring

Last month I mentioned the tale of my three billy bookcases. Good old faithful billy bookcase 1, 2 & 3 have been a part of our family for 9 years! Although they are in good condition, the colour and look are not right for what we have in mind for our basement family room. See what I mean?

Rather than throw away perfectly good stuff, I decided to hack the bookshelves and turn them from blah Billys to sophisticated Bellas!

Okay, I know it’s not an extreme makeover but I really wanted the Billy bookcases to match the DIY media cabinet and adding the trim really helps connect the pieces together.

How to Give Your Billy Bookcase a Facelift

Materials & Supplies

  • Ikea Billy Bookcase
  • 2 – 1 x 2 pre-finished trim @ 67 7/8″*
  • 2 – 1 x 2 pre-finished trim @ 28 1/8″*
  • 1 – 1 x 3 pre-finished trim @ 28 1/8″*
  • Finishing nails
  • Wood Glue
  • Sandpaper
  • Tack Cloth
  • Paint and Primer of your choice
*Note: The measurements given are based on my old Billy bookcase. For best results, measure your own bookcase before cutting the required trim.

Start by removing all the adjustable shelves and shelf pins. Keep the pins in a safe place because you’ll need them later!

Lightly sand both sides of the adjustable shelves and the interior and sides of the bookcase. Don’t sand too hard. You want to just rough up the shelves and bookcase enough so the primer has something to grab onto.

Apply 2-3 even coats of primer to all the shelves and the bookcase. Allow time for the primer to dry and cure. The instructions on the Zinnser can recommends 7 days. Please bear in mind that this is my first Ikea Hack. At the time of this post, I’m not aware of any issues with using water based primer. I think that you’re safe to use water based products if you take the time to rough up the smooth laminate surface before applying your first coat.

Once the primer has dried and cured completely you can get started with the painting. Start by painting your shelves. I used a foam roller to apply 3 coats of Behr Ultra Satin Enamel Paint in Polar Bear ( same as my media cabinet) on each side. While you’re waiting for one side of the shelves to dry, paint the interior of the bookcase. Again, I applied 3 coats of paint.

When the interior and removable shelves have dried you can reinsert the shelf pins. The pinholes may be tight because of the layers of paint. Gently tap the pins in place with a hammer if necessary. Position the shelves back onto the bookcase.

Now you are ready to add the trim. Start with the bottom 1 x 3 @ 28 1/8″. Line the trim so it is flush with the bottom edge of the bookcase. There will be a gap between lowest shelf and the trim. Attach with glue and finishing nails (two on each end worked for me).

At the top end of the shelf, line up and attach the two  1 x2 @ 28 1/8″ trim like this:

Finally, line up the remaining trim against the sides of the bookcase. Use glue and finishing nails to secure the trim onto the bookcase.

Now you are a ready to paint the trim and exterior sides of the bookcase. Three coats should do the trick. Give your bookcase a day or two to dry completely and voila, you’ve got yourself a brand new custom Billy.

Is it me or does my made over Billy resemble the new Hemnes bookcase, only without the legs?  The biggest difference would be the price. I made over two Billys for less than $50 whereas the Hemnes bookcases are $195 each!

You’ve seen the “Before” picture of the faux birch Billys flanking my media cabinet  –  now here is the “After”:

What do you think? I like the white MUCH better than the faux birch. Our basement is fairly dark so the white really brightens up the room.

Have you considered giving your Ikea pieces a makeover?

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  1. Wow, this blows me away! I have a boring bookcase in the den which could totally use this makeover! You are incredibly Handy Shani! Not Handy Manny. Thanks for the tutorial!

  2. I think if you added a board, painted to match, across the top of the two taller units it would sort of tie the whole thing together.

  3. Niiiice! I don’t have any Billys to make over, but I have some laminate maple shelving units from Pier 1 that are begging for an update. Thanks for the details!

    • If you makeover your units, I want to see them! I can’t get enough of before and afters!

      • you might want to warn folks that once they nail/glue the side pieces they cant raise or lower any of the shelves (since they slide in and out to adjust)…be sure they are where you want them to begin or change the mounting hardware


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