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 ...and thanks for stopping by. I'm Claire Douglas,  DIY and home interiors writer specialising in money-saving and creative home interior projects. I've spent years developing my 'bespoke on a budget' approach to DIY and home interiors and I love sharing all my tips and tricks in tutorials and posts here on my blog, in articles I write for some of the leading titles, in the press, on Instagram, Tiktok and my online course

  • Claire Douglas

How to make IKEA furniture look expensive

Updated: Jun 9

Top tips for transforming basic flatpacks to make your IKEA furniture look expensive

I regularly use IKEA hacks to make IKEA furniture look expensive and have spent many an hour perfecting the process. I've written extensively for about IKEA hacks and have featured several of my projects in the press.

I know lots of you are DIY home decor enthusiasts who are keen to have a go, so here are my top tips for how to make IKEA furniture look expensive. Whether you're building budget built-ins distressing an old IKEA bench, hacking some IKEA shelves to create a cool coffee station or creating alcove storage I've got the DIY tips and tricks you need. If you find any of these tips useful or like what you see, please subscribe (scroll down to the box at the bottom of the page) to my mailing list. No spam I promise!

1. Paint your IKEA furniture.

As long as you prime it first, you can paint IKEA furniture, and in my opinion, painting is a game changer. A lick of paint can elevate the piece and opens up a whole spectrum of colour to really put your stamp on it.

By painting IKEA furniture, you can totally change its look and style and it's also the perfect way of blending it in with any extra panels you might add to give the 'built-in' look, but more on that in a minute.

What paint should I use on IKEA furniture?

Before you start a painting project of any kind you should read these painting hacks! Once you're ready to go, the following primers are great for painting IKEA furniture to make it look high-end and allow you to easily paint over the top with your preferred top coat without the worry that the layers of paint might start peeling as they do without that vital priming step.

I often use a hardwearing matt emulsion on top as these can be easily colour-matched to my favourite designer shades for a fraction of the price and can be wiped and cleaned, which is essential for a hardworking piece of furniture in a family home. If your furniture is likely to get a lot of use then it's better to use a harder-wearing paint like an eggshell for example. This has a slight sheen and holds up better to wear and tear.

2. Build in freestanding IKEA units

If you've read my previous blog posts about my BILLY Bookcase hack and my HAVSTA alcove hack then you'll know that I love built-in furniture but don't love the price tag that come with custom joinery. Don't get me wrong, I know the level of skill involved and understand the value associated with a custom piece; however, not everyone has hundreds (perhaps thousands) in the budget for this kind of luxury so an IKEA hack can provide an affordable alternative when you don't want to sacrifice on style.

How to build in IKEA bookcases and shelves, is one of the things I get asked about most, so here are the key points.

  • Build and affix a frame between the IKEA bookcase and the walls and/or ceiling. I often use odds and ends of wood for this job as it's a good way of saving money and reducing waste.

  • Make sure your IKEA furniture is fixed to the wall.

  • Ensure you use the appropriate fixings for your walls and ceilings eg if fixing into plasterboard then you should use drywall anchors. I also find grab adhesive handy in some instances (eg No More Nails is really good).

  • Once the frame is in place, attach a panel over the top. MDF sheeting is very useful for this as it's lightweight, easy to cut to size and comes in varying thickness so you can choose the correct one for your requirements.

  • Fill any gaps or cracks to ensure a smooth and continuous surface and sand once dry if required.

  • Prime and paint to complete.

3. Swap IKEA cabinet handles

The standard issue IKEA handles can look a bit generic and upgrading them is a low-effort way to get a more luxury look and make IKEA furniture look expensive.

These days you can easily get your hands on a huge selection of stylish cupboard and cabinet door handles, knobs and pulls in a range of finishes. I opted for some gold half-moon handles for my latest HAVSTA alcove cabinets and they've given the piece a totally different vibe.

Note: You will need to fill the standard holes on the IKEA cabinets if you choose handles with different dimensions to those supplied. This is easy to do with some polyfiller, one the filler has dried, lightly sand to ensure a smooth finish on the surface of the door and then prime and paint and you'll never know the holes were there.

4. Increase IKEA shelf thickness... more is more!

One of the questions I get asked the most is how I got the IKEA shelves to look thicker when I did my wall of BILLY bargain built-ins. The answer is actually very simple...

  • I used 50mm thick strips of mdf to cover the edges and glued them in place.

  • I lined the MDF up with the level of the shelf so the strip hangs down lower that the original shelf.

  • Once the glue had dried I filled any gaps or cracks to ensure a really smooth and uniform finish and then primed and painted the whole thing.

The end result looked like the shelves were much thicker and more substantial and didn't resemble the thin chipboard associated with BILLY bargain bookcases.

5. Play around with IKEA shelf configuration

Being more adventurous than the standard IKEA shelf configurations is another way to make your furniture look more bespoke and expensive. With my BILLY bookcase hack, I had four individual IKEA BILLY bookcases to play with so was able to create a central, four-compartment feature by diving the open part of the two middle bookcases in half.

I then played around even more with this configuration in my BILLY built-ins to DIY home office on a budget transformation

With my IKEA HAVSTA built-in alcove unit hack, I again decided not to follow IKEA's suggested shelf layout and instead created a large central compartment with narrower compartments above and below.

To create this layout, I took out the central supporting shelf, which is designed to form part of the structure as is fixed into the unit's sides (as opposed to the shelves, which rest on metal cups in the predrilled holes) and drilled new holes lower down so that the unit would not sacrifice any strength as a result of the change in design.

For more details on how I did this, pop over to my IKEA Havsta Hack tutorial blog post here.

6. Add texture for a refined look

With the IKEA hack I did to create an antique-looking rustic bench, I roughed up the surface of the wood to give it an aged look, finishing with a wood stain to complete the antique-ish aesthetic. This texture made a big difference to the end piece and the same principal can be applied to lots of IKEA's flatpack particle board products. Of course, you don't always want to be attacking the furniture with tools! Layering texture could be as simple as tiling the top of a table or shelf, painting with a textured paint or adding microcement - as I did with the IKEA shelf hack to create a DIY coffee station.

How do I make IKEA furniture look expensive?

As we have seen, the way to make IKEA furniture look expensive can be super simple yet effective. Don't feel you have to settle for off-the-shelf (no pun intended!) or generic furniture in your home, instead, use your DIY skills to create a piece of furniture that reflects your style and better suits your creative vision. Change up the factory-issued yet easily customisable parts like the hardware to create bespoke and stylish items. Paint or stain your IKEA furniture to create a customised piece that you'll feel a connection to. Build-in

Thanks so much for reading. I'd love to keep you up to date with future DIY, decorating, interior styling and upcycling projects, if you would like to receive my (not more than weekly & no spamming I promise) emails then please subscribe (scroll down to the box at the bottom of the page).

Why not check out some of my other posts...


Modern minimalist microcement budget kitchen makeover

If you have budget reno plans or aspirations, read about my Kitchen makeover on a budget where I transformed this vital room with a series of creative DIYs.

I have lots of posts related to Interior decorating and styling if that's your bag, why not find out about my money saving home decor hacks, my styling tips for a beautiful bedroom or my budget bedroom makeover to beat the lockdown blues (always a winner with a £24 tester pot wall mural)!

I've also recently added a couple of exciting new areas to my website. If you like finding great value and super stylish homeware and home accessories then you need to keep an eye on my shopping page where I curate guides and shoppable mood boards full of gorgeousness and a Real Home Tours section where we get to have a nose round the beautiful homes of lovely people (exciting right?!)

2 comentarios

Miembro desconocido
19 feb 2022

“Billy is my Hero” oh my goodness! I want that wall! I want the bespoke billies, I want your ornaments, I want your colour scheme! The black, white and khaki are simply devine and I’m definitely going to copy a few of these ideas. Please can you tell me - have you covered the entire couch in that crinkle material or just the arms and skirt for photography purposes? I’m dying to know.

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Miembro desconocido
20 feb 2022
Contestando a

Ah thanks! Just the arms and the skirt so the sofa is still comfy to use and you don’t actually notice the reeding when you’re sitting on it! Thanks again. Claire

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