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The First DIY Adventure: The IKEA Billy Hack!

Have you ever found yourself scrolling through Instagram, inspired by the endless possibilities of DIY projects, but doubting your own ability to create something beautiful? That was me over a year ago. The YouTube reels I consumed were exclusively DIY content (I kid you not!) and yet, I would never take the leap to make my own version.

At that point, my husband and I had been slowly furnishing our apartment over a year. Each configuration and art piece was us experimenting as we noodled around to find our personal (and combined) home style. We had bought the IKEA Billy with every intention of DIY-ing it, but had slipped into our daily motions for months until I stumbled upon Katie Bookser's Instagram page (@katiebookser), and her stunning customizations of the IKEA Billy bookshelf. She had us dreaming of our own unique piece and over a summer weekend, we finally took the leap. Here's how we transformed our basic Billy bookshelf into a stylish statement piece, all within the confines of our one-bedroom apartment..

The IKEA Billy cutomised with wood slats and the Behr Mesa Taupe paint
The Ikea Billy

Preparation and Planning

Materials Needed:

  • IKEA Billy bookshelf

  • Primer (We used this shellac based primer)

  • Paint (Any color of your choice. We went with the same color from Katie's post because we loved it!)

  • Paintbrushes and rollers

  • Wooden knobs (my husband's personal creative touch)

  • Wood glue

  • Accessories (We used paint stirring sticks)

  • Screws and a screwdriver

  • Drop cloth or tarp (we used an 8 x 10 tarp)

  • Finally, patience..

Step 1: Assembling the Billy (or Not!)

We were already using our Billy when we decided to customize it, but this would be where you start. I've seen both versions where people paint the individual pieces before assembling or paint the assembled piece afterward. For us, it was easier to paint the assembled piece as opposed to taking it apart, so that's the route we went with.

Step 2: Cleaning the Surface

Next, we set up our 8 x 10 tarp in the living room. This was crucial for keeping our apartment clean and protecting the floors. Since our shelf was in use, we needed to wipe it down and give it a good clean. This is an essential step to help the primer and paint adhere better to the surface. Using Clorox wipes, we gently wiped the entire bookshelf, paying extra attention to any spots and allowed it to fully dry before proceeding.

Step 3: Priming the Bookshelf

With the surface prepped, we applied a coat of primer. Primer helps create a smooth base for the paint and ensures better coverage. We used a brush for the corners and edges and a roller for the larger surfaces. After applying the primer, we let it dry completely, following the manufacturer's instructions for drying time.

Step 4: Painting

Now for the fun part – painting! We went with the same soft, muted color that Katie has used as we were still figuring out our home style and color palette. Using the same technique as with the primer, we applied two coats of paint, allowing ample drying time between each coat. The transformation was already starting to take shape, and we could see our vision coming to life.

Note: I've read in multiple other blogs the need to sand between coats. While I didn't personally sand between coats, I do think it would provide a smoother finish than what I achieved.

Step 5: Adding Wooden Paint Sticks

One of the key creative steps in our project was adding wooden paint sticks to the doors of the bookshelf. This idea was inspired by several DIY projects we had seen online, and it added a unique texture and dimension to the otherwise plain doors.

  1. Measuring: We measured the length of the doors and laid the wooden paint sticks to fit, ensuring they were all at the same height from the base.

  2. Arranging the Sticks: Before gluing, we arranged the sticks on the doors to see how they would look and to make sure we had enough to cover the entire surface and that they were evenly spaced.

  3. Gluing the Sticks: We applied wood glue to the back of each stick and pressed them firmly onto the door, starting from the inner edge and working our way out. We used clamps and weights to hold the sticks in place while the glue dried, ensuring they adhered properly and stayed in place.

Note: We added the wooden pieces after painting because we wanted the wooden texture to add contrast to the taupe paint. If you wanted to paint over the sticks, I would do this step before priming the piece.

Step 5: Adding Wooden Knobs

One of the most creative aspects of our project was adding custom wooden knobs. My husband took the lead on this part, selecting beautifully crafted wooden knobs that added a rustic touch to our bookshelf. Using screws, we carefully attached the knobs to the doors of the Billy. This small detail made a huge difference in the overall look of the piece.

Step 6: Final Touches

With the painting and knob installation complete, we stepped back to admire our work. The bookshelf looked amazing, and we couldn’t believe we had done it ourselves. To ensure durability, we applied a clear protective finish over the paint. This would help keep our bookshelf looking fresh and new for years to come.

Reflection on Our DIY Experience

Working on this project in our one-bedroom apartment was both challenging and rewarding. The 8 x 10 tarp became our creative workspace, and we learned to navigate around it while going about our daily lives. Despite the limited space, we managed to complete the project without any major mishaps (except the one primer stain on the floor).

This DIY adventure brought us closer together and taught us a lot about patience, teamwork, and creativity. My husband’s eye for detail, especially with the wooden knobs, added a personal touch that made the piece uniquely ours. It was our first DIY attempt, and seeing the finished product filled us with a sense of pride and accomplishment.

We loved how it turned out that we repeated the same treatment to our Target Bookshelf which now acts as our coffee bar/drink station!

The IKEA Billy cutomised with wood slats and the Behr Mesa Taupe paint

The Target bookshelf cutomised with wood slats and the Behr Mesa Taupe paint

The IKEA Billy cutomised with wood slats and the Behr Mesa Taupe paint


We owe a huge thank you to Katie Bookser for inspiring us to take on this project. Her beautiful customizations showed us what was possible and motivated us to create something special. If you're considering a DIY project, don’t let anything hold you back. With a bit of planning, creativity, and perseverance, you can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.


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