How to make a Built-in from an Ikea Billy Bookcase

Good day dear friends. I am here to tell you that THAT day has finally come, the day that I show you that big project I have been hinting about for months now. The project that had a steep learning curve for me, and made me overcome some pretty serious fears.

I gave an ordinary IKEA Billy Bookcase a Built-in, custom made look:



This post has been in the making for months, so now that I am finally here, excuse me if I will ramble on a bit. There are so many steps and stages, and thoughts and emotions that I want to share with you that I fear I might end up a bit longwinded. But hang in there because at the end of it all you will know how to make a Built-in Billy Bookcase too, and how to avoid my mistakes!


Billy Built-in Bookcase Tutorial


This bookcase didn’t start out like this. It lived the first 10 years of his life as a very ordinary Ikea Billy Bookcase.


Billy Bookcase Before


Everyone knows Billy, don’t you. He has been a house guest in many homes all over the world for 30 years now. All in all about 41 million Billy’s have been produced and Ikea still makes about 3.1 million of them each year. Well this particular Billy was at least 10 years old, but still going strong. Just plain boring, like Billy kinda is. But it fit perfectly just behind the bed in our tiny guest room. So I wanted to keep it but make it look a bit less, yeah what, ugly I guess.

So this is what I did. First I went to the clearance section at Ikea and bought myself two extensions to put on top of the Billy. I didn’t care about the color because I knew I’d be painting it anyway.


Billy Bookcase Before 2 See how tiny this room is, just a door and a Billy wide, and a bed long.


Then I slept on it a couple of days….

Then on clearance I saw this big and mighty power tool I had secretly been craving. So I went to buy it and totally scared away. The tooth on this baby were big, it scared the hell out of me.



In came one email with power-tool-rocking-Donna, who advised me to get over the fear and just buy it if the price was really good (and it was),

So I slept over it some more and bought my own miter saw.

Next it stood in my basement unused for a couple of weeks until I had the courage to find out how to use it.

And then I decided that the worst thing that could happen was that the project would be a total fail. I could live with that. So I educated myself on the safe way to use a miter saw and dove in.

I bought some MDF to fill up the space between the top of my extended bookcase and the ceiling (we have an old house with high ceilings), a nice long stretch of crown molding and various small wood trimmings and started cutting.

And cutting.


Billy Built-in Halfway Project Point


Figuring out how to cut the crown molding so that all of the corners fit together nicely was the hardest thing of it all. I used up that 2.5 m (about 2.7 yards) almost completely before I had it right.

I would try to explain it here, but in the end trial and error works best, oh and searching YouTube for videos on how to cut mitered corners in crown molding also helps.


Billy Built-in Bookcase Crown Moulding Detail 2


We screwed a little wood against the wall to help keep the MDF up and prevent it from caving in. Then we used liquid nails to glue everything in place and as you can see some painters tape to keep it in place while the glue dried. You can also see here, that there were some gaps en cracks left, but I wasn’t worried about them because plaster and caulk would seal those up nicely.

I concealed the crack between the MDF and the bookcase with a small piece of molding. And I applied some decorative wood to the front as well.

Because of my lack of experience it took me about one day of work to get to this point.

Then I solicited the help of another blog friend.

You see I had it in my head that I wanted to use the infamous beadboard wallpaper to cover the back of the bookcase. Except you can’t get that stuff anywhere here. Graham and Brown the producers are an English company but they don’t sell the beadboard stuff anywhere else than in America. I surfed the internet for days, called the Dutch suppliers for G&B products and even emailed the English headquarters. Nothing could be done.

So I asked the darling Brenda from the blog Cozy Little House if I could have a role delivered to her house and if she would be so kind to send it along. And she did!! Thank you Brenda, you are a life saver.

It took about six weeks before it arrived, but then I had my precious beadboard wallpaper in my hands.


Beadboard Wallpaper


Here you see it covering the back of my bookcase nicely but that isn’t the end of this story.


Important message for all beadboard-wallpaper-loving-gals


First as it turned out I had ordered the wrong wallpaper (or so I thought), after looking for it for months you would think I would have noticed there were two kinds. Pre-pasted and non-pasted, I ended up with the non-pasted kind. Well no worries I thought, I have wallpaper paste here, I’ll just paste it myself and so I did. That wallpaper was up in about an hour, measuring and cutting was the most time consuming and it sat snug as a bug.

It looked great! And I went to bed with the warm glow of thinking tomorrow I can finally start painting.


The next morning my wallpaper looked disastrous (I apologize for  not having a picture of the disaster, but when I discovered it my mood was so foul that taking pictures was the last thing on my mind).

The wallpaper had shrunk!!

Yes wallpaper can shrink, especially foam based wallpaper like the beadboard one.

The edges of the paper had come loose and there were big, irreparable gaps everywhere. Total fail!

I went to a specialist and learned this:

Wallpaper paste needs to be able to suck into the wall it is pasted on. You need a background with absorbent qualities. And a laminated bookcase back does no absorbing whatsoever. The pasted wallpaper dries up unevenly then and the edges shrink. He advised me to give the back a good sanding and hope for the best.

Rhoda from Southern Hospitality informed us recently that the manufacturer is replacing the pre-pasted wallpaper for non pasted one. So that is bad news for the kind of projects we do with it. Cabinets, backsplashes and doors, are all non-absorbent surfaces and you might get in trouble with it there. For more information on Graham and Browns changes to the beadboard wallpaper go to this post by Rhoda.

I suggest we should form a social media front of DIY women who demand pre-pasted beadboard wallpaper and while we are at it that it be made available in Europe and Australia as well.


Beadboard Wallpaper and Shelves Supports


Ok back to my built-in. I decided not to do the sanding (I had only enough wallpaper left for one try) and instead used double sided tape. It worked but it was much more difficult to get right, there is no room for wiggling and adjusting then. So my second attempt didn’t quite end up as snug and beautiful as the first, but at least it stayed stuck.

Then there was caulking, a lot of caulking


Billy Built-in Crown Moulding


As you see here, all the cracks and crevices were already practically invisible after the caulking.


Billy Built-in Shelf Support

Next up was cutting and gluing some fake supports for the shelves and filling up all the little tell-tale holes.

And here she is after all that. Ready for her first paint job.


Billy Built-in Halfway Project Point 2


I used a quality primer on it because of the combinations of materials: laminated wood, raw wood, MDF. I wanted something that would stick to anything. The stuff went on as a dream but it stank up the place for weeks.

I fully intended to let it cure for at least 48 hours to make sure it stuck to the laminate well. It ended up curing for almost two months, I guess it was dry after that…..


Billy Built-in Moulding


I choose a white with a grayish undertone for the finish. And all was well.

Except that it is so difficult to get a good shot of all that white on white. The camera had nothing to focus on. So you are not able to enjoy the full effect of how wonderful it looks.

But is does. The bookcase totally blends in with the room now and looks as if it was built especially for that spot (which in fact it kind of is).

And yes I know there is still a gap between the bookcase and the left wall. I hate it too. But in our old house the walls aren’t straight and I just couldn’t figure out a way to cover it up that would still look good. So I decided to live with it. After all, it doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.


Billy Built-in Makeover After


To see the full dramatic effect of the before and after hover your mouse over the next picture (you will have to come to the blog, if you are reading this in a reader).



Quite a change! So what do you think? Was it worth all the work?

I think it was, if only because of all the new things I learned.

And the courage it gave me that if I just start and try, I can do it. And so can you!


An empty bookcase begs to be filled.

I wrote a post on how to decorate and style a bookcase here.

See my BBB (Billy Built-in Bookcase) in full use here.

And the full room reveal of my tiny guest room is here.




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  1. Mel says

    Brilliant! All of your hard work paid off. Who would have thought that Billy could look so dashingly handsome?!

  2. Anne aka La Vie en Rose says

    I am your latest follower so hello! Fantastic job on that book case. It totally looks built in. Sorry you had to go through the wallpaper trauma to get there though. I feel inspired to go white for a while in my non furnished living room.

  3. Joke van de Klift says

    Dag, Marianne
    Ik vind het nogal wat, schitterend en erg knap wat jij gepresteerd hebt, ik doe het je niet na!
    Ik vind het ook erg mooi geworden.
    Lieve groet,

  4. Miss Mustard Seed says

    It looks so great and was so clever of you! The "frakenshelf" look fabulous when it's all painted out. One would never know that it's not a built-in. Great work!

  5. Kelee Katillac says

    Great demo!

    We need pre-pasted papers, though! I love the look of your shelf….well done!

    love, kelee

  6. Rhoda @ Southern Hospitality says

    Hi, Marianne, I'm so happy to see your project, so that I can get an idea of all that went wrong! I'm SO bummed that they have discontinued the pre-pasted version. I'm totally going to write the GB company and tell them what a mistake this is. I've called already, but I need to get someone higher up to listen. I totally don't understand why they changed a good thing. Crazy!

    Anyway, your Billy bookcase turned out fabulous, I love it. In spite of the troubles. Looks great! I'm jealous of your miter saw, I want one too. Thanks for sharing your project with me. I don't know if there is anything I can do, but I'll sure try.

  7. Jennifer Juniper says

    THis looks so fantastic! Who would have guess his former life? How did all of us do projects before we made bloggy friends?!?

  8. Marianne says

    Het ziet geweldig uit. Trouwens heb je gedacht aan een sierlijstje of latje om de ruimte tussen de muur en de kast te maskeren?
    P.S. Ik zou deze hack insturen naar

  9. marty (A Stroll Thru Life) says

    Oh I think it looks fabulous. I love the built in look. You did such a fabulous job. Great tutorial too. Hugs, Marty

  10. Maryann @ Domestically-Speaking says

    It turned out wonderful! Sounds like it was a chore to get there though. I've got a roll of their beadboard wallpaper, but I think mine is the pasted… I'm hoping!

  11. Manuela@TPOH says

    That looks great! I know Billy very well LOL I love IKEA! Sorry to hear about the wallpaper. I wonder what made them decide to change it?


  12. Shel at Dreamy Nest says

    Great job! So proud of you for learning how to use a compound mitre saw! Isn't it empowering!? I just learned how to use one myself and I love it!
    I also love how you shared what NOT to do. :)
    Came over from the #FF from Beth at the stories of A to Z. Following you now.

  13. says

    wow! I love it, and I'm so glad you shared it with us. Yay! miter saw owner! Don't you LOVE it? You can do so much now. There's no stopping you!
    where the wall meets billy… I have two suggestions if it bothers you. I'm not bothered by such things, but in case you are. It's hard to tell exactly how much room is there without seeing it in real life.
    One suggestion is painter's caulk. (probably like you used for the crown molding) the other is some trim, possibly cove.
    I have the same problem in my bedroom where I just put down new baseboard. (bad walls) there is a gap, but it's pretty wavy.
    again, I just have to say awesome job! I'm so happy that your billy is no longer recognizable! :)

  14. Shel at Dreamy Nest says

    Well – Google Friend Connect seems to be down. Remind me on Twitter to come back and add you so I can keep up with your posts.
    Many blessings!

  15. Beth@The Stories of A2Z says

    It looks fantastic and I think it was totally worth it! Yay you for tackling, conquering, and mastering such a major project. I used unpasted beadboard wallpaper in my boys' room on drywall and it still shrunk a bit. I was able to caulk the gaps and make it work, but I think prepasted would have been WAY better!

  16. Martine says

    Your bookcase looks wonderful. Thank you for posting about the unpasted bead board wallpaper, I did not know about the shrinkage.

  17. Mary Ellen says

    Wow these are super!! Thank for the heads up about the wallpaper shrinking! I am wondering if you could use that spray adhesive on it. I used that when I papered my china closet with old music sheets.

  18. Dawn says

    That looks SO great!! I used beadboard wallpaper on a shelving project too and I LOVE IT. Ours was prepasted… in fact, that's all the hardware store carried. I wonder if it's just a certain brand that stopped carrying it?

  19. Helmi says

    Good work, Marianne! What a beauty your Billy is now!!

    Billy lives in our family, too. He is quite old and full of books. But I do not like his colour anymore, so I was about to get rid of him (yeah, have to say "him" instead of "it"…). I'vebeen thinking about to paint it, but…. THANKS for all this information!! I think, I'm going to try, too.

  20. Miss Marple says

    Gigantisch meid!…Ik zie nu al beelden van mijn gepimpte Billy boekenwand voor me…wanneer kom je? 😉
    Een heel fijn weekend – Irma

  21. Tarnished and Tattered says

    I love this!! What a frugal way to achieve beautiful built-ins. There is nothing better than elivating the ordinary into something extraordinary. Kudo's on the power tool use. I don't know how you did the tricky computer thing to switch back & forth to the before & after but it's almost as cool as the billy built-in! Lisa

  22. Brenda@Cozy Little House says

    It looks fantastic, Marianne! Now I know why you wanted that wallpaper. I'm so sorry you had such a problem with it though. And after working so hard to find a way to get it too. But the end result looks simply phenomenal!

  23. Anonymous says

    Hallo Marianne. Die kast is prachtig geworden, ik ben benieuwd hoe hij er in 't echt uitziet.
    Doei, Ans

  24. Korrie@RedHenHome says

    Good for you! I bought my first miter saw about a month ago, and I still haven't been brave enough to use it!

  25. Amanda says

    I just wanted to stop by and let you know that I linked to this post today from the new Home & Garden channel at Craft Gossip. :) My hope is to share many of the fabulous projects I see everyday with the vast CG audience. I hope you will not only stop by and subscribe to CG, but will tell your friends about the new category! Hope you see some traffic from it!

    Your feature will appear in the main Craft Gossip RSS feed, on the main home page and can be found directly here

    If you would like a "featured by" button, you can grab one here!

  26. InMyOwnStyle says

    Hi Marianne-

    It was worth all your effort!!! What a difference – kinda like Semi-Homemade. You know that show where she uses store bought food and makes it look like she made it from scratch. Your Billy Bookcase now looks like a custom carpenter was at your home. You must love it.
    My best – Diane

  27. Cindy says

    You totally rocked it!!!!! It looks just lovely…and I'm so proud of you for learning to use that saw. I'm looking into taking a woodworking class myself this winter….hoping to overcome my own fear of powertools :)

    It just looks stunning. Great job!

  28. the cape on the corner says

    that looks great! glad you conquered your miter saw fear and just went for it. it really look fantastic!

    coming over from diy show off

  29. Cerys says

    Just found this post whilst looking for ideas on what to do with my dire bookcase situation and this is the answer I've been looking for! It looks great and I'm definately going to be trying the beadboard wallpaper out too to give it a bit of ooomph! Sadly I'm in the UK so limited options here too. Although I am going on holiday to the US soon……

  30. Yingzhi says

    Wow, it is really amazing! Would you mind telling me, which kind of paint you used? I also get an ugly brown billy, which I want to make white.. ThanX…

  31. Anonymous says

    Thanks so much for this post. I was going to use crown molding to add more height to a bookcase for it to reach the ceiling, but I still needed more height. I didn't know what to do, so I did a seach and found your post. You saved me from having to using a gigantic piece of molding that would've made it look weird.

  32. Anonymous says

    Great job….and thanks for all the detailed instructions. You could use caulk along the left edge of the bookcase and it would just blend the wall and bookcase together and not show at all. My white kitchen cabinets were filled like this where they met the wall; it produced good results. The off-kilter wall disappears.

  33. Anonymous says

    Great job! The space between the wall and the case could be fixed by using a strip of narrow moulding and then painted…just a thought.

  34. Sarah, Three Boys says

    holy cr– you have no idea how excited I am to have found this today!!!! I am in the middle of doing this, seriously I just finished putting together 5 billy bookcases this afternoon, I have the crown moulding ready to cut, and I found pre-pasted, beadboard, paintable wallpaper at Lowe's for 15$ a roll!! I had no idea it was hard to come by. Ok, question what kind of trim did you use on all of the edges, shelves etc… I was at Lowe's yesterday and couldn't decide, I love yours what is it? I could kiss you!!!! Sarah

  35. Anonymous says


    It's a wonderfully well done structure!
    I am trying to do similar thing.
    Your ceiling is higher than mine, so
    my work will be easier than yours.
    My question is

    "Did you fix the case to the
    backing wall? If so, what did you use?
    Or, was enough stability achieved by
    the tight fitting of the case between floor and ceiling?"

    My main concern of this structure is that
    after a while, small movements of the wall/ceiling/floor/book case
    might cause some jarring between the book case and the wall surface ( a cosmetic issue.)


  36. Anonymous says

    So inspiring! I'm hoping to do this but since I don't already own the bookcases, I will buy white and then trim it out and only paint the trim. I'll also leave the holes so I can adjust the shelves if needed.

    But this looks great! Could you fill the gap by the wall with caulk or joint compound? (This assumes the bookcase is affixed to the wall, as is usually recommended for safety.) You could use a white flexible caulking so that small shifts in the house do not cause it to crack. You could also apply a very thin piece of narrow trim to the wall, butted up against the edge of the bookcase – something similar to what you used on the front of the bookcase. Thin trim like that (meaning 1/4" thick or something, and maybe an inch wide) is pretty flexible, so you could probably get it to fit the contours of the wall, using plenty of finish nails so that it stays fixed to those contours. The trim would probably be just thick enough (depth-wise) to cover the gap, and since it would be narrow, it would not be extremely obvious on the wall. Likewise, you might apply some quarter-round to the wall at that gap. Fill in any tiny gaps which who with caulk. It looks good now, but that gap would drive me nuts.

  37. Renee says

    I am so glad you were long-winded! I love doing these kinds of DIY projects, but I don't know what I am doing and need every detail!!! Thank you, what a transformation, great job.

  38. furniture stores in los angeles says

    You really did an awesome job in making the Bookcase. I hardly saw the changes when you painted the bookcase white.

  39. Lyn says

    Great job. Have you seen the Ikea Hacker site? If you wanted to get rid of the space you could just put some vertical beading along it. Worth it I reckon.

  40. says

    WOW!!! Beautiful, Creative, Frugal and Functional! You’ve covered it all! While I know it seems like it took forever and was a lot of hard work (and a lot of learning-by-mistake was involved), this project was so worth it! Thanks for sharing your creativity with us!! YOU INSPIRE ME!! Yeah for you!!!

  41. Karen@itsallgoodhome says

    Turned out great! I’m considering retro-fitting book shelves for a built in look too to put on either side of my fireplace. Guess I’ll go check out Billy!

  42. B J says

    You are a brave woman! You did an awesome job. You don’t like the gap on the left but you could put a small piece of white trim against the wall and on the left side of the bookcase. It would fill it in nicely.

  43. Ashleen Moreen says

    Thanks for that demo!
    It turned out great!
    I am considering myself of doing the same thing also cos I have 3 old bookcase at home!


  44. Sarah Rice says

    Great job! You handled a lot of issues and it looks fantastic. I had a couple of suggestions that I have used. The beadboard wallpapper: I knocked out one side of my wall creating a shallow pantry that used the 5″ depth of the wall plus 5 more inches beyond the wall for a total of 10″ (enough room for canned goods and boxed cereals). I wanted the same beadboard effect for the inside back. I used a sheet of beadboard paneling. Being only 1/8″ thick it was easy to cut and easy to install. It looks great and is easy to wipe off and clean. For the crack along the wall I would suggest using the spray insulation crack filler “Great Stuff”. After it dries you can cut anything that is beyond the edge. It cuts well. Then I would paint it and glue a very narrow strip of molding. I think that it would look seamless!