Updated: Nov 7
How to transform bargain IKEA bookcases into bespoke-looking alcove built-ins.
A quick note before we get into the nitty gritty of the IKEA alcove hack DIY... I accidentally made life much harder than I needed to because it wasn't my initial plan to have floor to ceiling alcove units so I'd previously hacked some IKEA 'Brusali' cabinets, which at £70 each were a total bargain. The problem arose when I came to add the shelving on top as the Brusali had been discontinued (along with the shelving units from the same range) and the replacement range the 'Havsta' was slightly wider. The width difference was actually only 1cm or so, but this was increased by the amount I had cut out to 'build them in' around the faux chimney breast. If I was starting this project from scratch I would buy the cabinets from the Havsta range as well and I wouldnt cut anything off the sides, but rather butt them right up to the sides and make them look built in by adding the shelf in step 5 and the mdf strips in step 6.
If you're an IKEA hack fan, I've just added a new post with my 5 tips for a successful IKEA hack...don't miss it! And I've just written a whole post dedicated to my 10 money saving home decor hacks which you can read here.
1. Shelf configuration
IKEA suggest four equally spaced sections, but only the middle shelf is fixed in, so there is some flexibility as to which other shelves you add. I wanted to create a more bespoke look and these units were more for aesthetics than function, as I have plenty of shelf storage from the previous IKEA hack where I created a wall of built in Billy bookcases. I liked the idea of having a large square section to house a tall lamp of vase and the easy way to create this would have been to keep the middle shelf and not put one in below this (below). The only issue with this was that the top section either had to be a mirror image (& two squares didn't look right) or you could have it split into two compartments using the pre-drilled holes.
I spent a lot of time sketching out various combinations and decided that I really wanted the larger section in the middle of the unit so decided to move the central, structural shelf. This was easy to do and just required a couple of new drill holes (you can use the holes in the centre as a guide and just bring them down to the first shelf height).
2. Picture (light) this...
Another way to elevate an IKEA hack, or any built-in furniture project for that matter, is to add some lighting. I'd seen these pretty brass picture lights ages ago and thought they'd be perfect, of course I didn't let that stop me spending 345434 hours trawling the internet looking at every sconce, wall and picture light ever made, just to be sure. In fact, I even ordered some other wall lights which turned out to be all wrong, so I went back to 'Plan A' (that reminds me, I really must return those other lights!)
In order to install a light above the units you need a sturdy base to attach to the backplate to. I'm not a builder (in case you hadn't noticed!) and I hate waste, so I always build my stud work frames (that almost sounds like I know what I'm doing...don't be fooled!) with odds and ends of wood that I have left over from other projects. The end result can look a bit unorthodox, but I'm saving money and reducing waste and it's going to be hidden behind a panel, so as long as it's strong and secure I'm happy. (That's a long way of saying don't laugh at my 'during' pics!) I used screws to attach both the frame to the top of the bookcases and a piece of wood to the ceiling each side to ensure they were sturdy.
3. Safety first
Once I'd decided on my preferred configuration and built and attached the frame to attached the mdf panel to I securely attached both units to the wall, this is good practise for any large piece of furniture and helps prevent any movement after you've built everything in, but is also essential if like me, you have kids!
You need to make sure you use the appropriate fixings for your wall type.
4. Top panel
Once the units were fixed to the wall, I attached the mdf panel that covers the gap between the top of the units and the ceiling (& the attractive frames!). I'd pre-measured where I wanted to the picture lights to go, marked out the template for the backplate of the light and made the hole that would be required (by the electrician) to bring the wires through from behind.
You can see from the before pics that there were some wall lights about half way up the wall that needed to be removed (by an electrician) so the plan was for the same wires to be used for the picture lights.
As the Havsta unit sits on top of the cabinet below, there is an obvious step where the bottom shelf is, this is one area which can easily be improved to give that high end look. I had a couple of pine shelves which I wasn't using and happily they were the perfect size to fill this gap and give an overhang on each side to add to the 'built-in' look.
If you don't have shelves hanging around, you could easily pick up some wood from your local hardware store and many of the big chains will even cut them to size for you.
6. Fake it 'til you make it.
The IKEA Havsta range is actually made of real wood and is one of their better quality designs which is definitely noticeable if you are used to dealing with the likes of the infamous Billy bookcase! That said, I decided that I could make the final piece look even more bespoke by adding some MDF strips around the edges of the unit. This gave the appearance of thicker wood on the unit and allowed me to balance out the width difference between the top and bottom units (this wouldn't be an issue if you use the Havsta cabinet, but would still give a more bespoke look).
Note: The MDF strips I used here, were ones I had previously used for wall panelling, so they needed to have the glue residue removed from them first, and you'll notice they are all different colours, this is from where they were in different rooms!
7. Glue, caulk, paint and repeat
Once the additional MDF strips had been glued to both units (I always use No More Nails if B&Q have it in stock as it's so quick setting and strong), I filled any gaps with filler and waited for it to dry. As these panels had been installed previously I painted straight onto them, but if they were new they would need a coat or two of MDF primer first, as the rest of the units did. I also filled the predrilled holes for the shelf supports to go into. Once the filler had dried I sanded lightly to ensure the surface was really smooth and painted.
8. Add a side panel
I added a small panel to cover the gap on the top side of the units. I made a cut in the coving and slid the panel into it and then glued the other sides. Once the glue had dried I caulked and gaps and primed and painted so you couldn't see the panel and the side looked like it was formed of one continuous piece.
9. Love Handles!
Another great way to elevate IKEA furniture is to change the handles and I found some beautiful half moon shaped handles for this project.
10. Postal tube texture
I'm a bit obsessed with adding texture to my interiors and love reeded and fluted furniture. I wanted to add a twist to this project by using postal tubes to create a softer, rounded reeded effect. I'm going to write a separate blog post on this aspect as I know it wont be to everyone's taste!
11. Finishing Touches
Once the units were completely built in, I went over them meticulously filling in any gaps and cracks I could find and them painted the whole thing from top to bottom in the paint I had chosen. Now the units really looked like they are custom built with more of a luxe feel that the standard IKEA furniture.
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