Updated: Nov 17
How to customise IKEA bargain flat pack furniture so no one will believe it's not bespoke.
I'm a huge lover of built-in furniture and its ability to elevate even the most ordinary of rooms. Aside from the obvious home storage and organisation benefits, built-in furniture can also make a room feel more considered and stylish. In today's post, I'm looking back to when I hacked a pair of IKEA's bargain BRUSALI cabinets into built-in alcove units for under £150. I'm reluctant to call this one a tutorial because a) I made it up as I went along! and b) I had to adapt the units to work in my tricky front room (more on that in a minute) that didn't really have proper alcoves as such. I was, however, really pleased with the outcome and as I know, many of you DIY home decor fans are always on the lookout for IKEA hacks and DIY tips and tricks I thought I'd share this project in case some of it is useful.
The living room in question presented lots of challenges and felt more like a corridor at times because of its location in relation to the other rooms. It's at the front of the house, just inside the front door and you have to pass through it to get to every other room, but it isn't wide enough to create a path anywhere but straight through the middle of the room. The ceiling is low and the room is small but had a large TV (too large in my opinion, but I was outvoted!) See below pic of the room as it was just before we bought the house (for dramatic effect more than anything else,; they didn't leave the furniture!)... crack den chic?!
I decided to create a focal point in the room to add some character and make it feel more like a room with purpose, as opposed to a thoroughfare with a sofa and TV thrown in. We had a local builder put the faux chimney breast in and I upcycled a mantlepiece and cast iron fireplace insert (both from Facebook Marketplace). This definitely helped and I loved having a mantle to decorate (especially at xmas as OTT mantle displays are one of my fave things to create! See pic below) but we needed more storage for the fifty million kids' toys that were always lying around so I decided to put some alcove cabinets in.
As is the case with most of my money-saving decor, I didn't want to spend a fortune and love getting stuck into some home DIY projects so I researched low-price units that I could 'hack', like I had done in the past with my BILLY bookcase hack and thought I'd hit gold when I came across the BRUSALI cabinets on the IKEA website.
This was a really simple project to complete and didn't have much DIY involved at this stage (I subsequently went on to add built-in shelves on top of the alcove units, which were more involved & you can read about that here, I'll add that link to the bottom of this post too if you prefer to read things in order!)
1. First, I cut the legs off!
The units are actually quite tall ( and I wanted there to be more of a difference between the height of the mantle and the top of the units, so I cut the legs off which dropped them down a few inches. I also wasn't a fan of the base of these units as they weren't on a plinth with built in skirting like the more expensive HAVSTA range so I decided to add skirting to mine but more on that later.
2. Then I cut the side off!
I wanted the units butted right up against the side of the faux chimney breast with no gaps, so first removed the skirting at the base of the wall and then measured and cut the edge of the BRUSALI units to allow them to fit in position.
3. Repurposed laminate flooring
I try to repurpose materials as much as I can with my DIYs and here I managed to use some left over laminate flooring to fill in the gaps at the side and create new end panels. I cut the laminate to size and then glued in place caulking the edges to give a neat finish ready for painting.
4. Add skirting board.
I added a low level skirting around both alcove units and the chimney breast as it tied the whole thing together and helped give a more 'finished' look. I used a mitre block to get neat angles on the joins of the skirting and once fitted I caulked the edges so they were neat and gap free.
5. Always prime IKEA furniture
I always paint my IKEA furniture (it's one of my top tips for making IKEA furniture look expensive) so I need to prime it beforehand. In this case, I actually used leftover kitchen cupboard paint that I had as it works really well.
6. Swap the handles
I love to replace the standard handles on IKEA furniture as you can upgrade personality and style and in fact, I've swapped them twice on these units (I just can't help myself!). The first swap was for some lovely heavy, gold-reeded knobs and then most recently I changed them for some beautiful gold half-moon handles. It's such a quick fix but can make a huge difference to the look and feel of the furniture.
The IKEA BRUSALI cabinet doors come with pre-drilled holes for their standard handles, so you might have to fill them in, depending on the hole centres of your chosen replacement handles. This can be easily achieved with some polyfiller, then lightly sand to ensure the surface is left smooth and level and prime and paint. No-one will ever know they were there!
7. Caulk, fill and repeat
Before painting, I went over the units once more, making sure that I filled any gaps or cracks where the IKEA cabinets touched the walls or floor. Attention to detail is key and I wanted to ensure that the units looked like they had been built really neatly and deliberately around the chimney breast.
Then it was time to paint. I use hardwearing matt emulsion because it's scrubbable which is a must with a young family! A couple of coats is usually enough to get the furniture looking very un-flatpack-like! More painting tips and tricks available here...
9. The results
Here are the 'after' pictures I took when I had finished this part of the project. I had a niggling feeling that they still didn't look quite finished and that I should add some shelving on top. I hadn't done this initially because I thought it might be a bit overpowering with the chimney breast as well, in such a small room and because I had recently completed a whole wall of built-ins using IKEA's bargain BILLY bookcases and didn't want to make the rooms feel too similar.
However, after living with the units like this for a while I gave in and transformed them into floor to ceiling built ins and haven't looked back. You can read how I did this here.
Thanks 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). I've got lots more tips that I hope you'll love just click on one of the links below to be taken straight to the relevant page..
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