Monday, October 15, 2012

Mock Built-In Bookshelves From IKEA Billys


The best decoration is a massive wall of books (or four massive walls of books).

I adore huge, wall-to-wall bookcases. But they're expensive and permanent, and Nick and I rent and tend to move around a lot, so they always seemed like a "someday" thing. But a couple years ago I saw a brilliant post on Centsational Girl about making a wall of "built-in" bookshelves from IKEA Billys. Basically, she set up IKEA bookshelves and then put wood molding around them so it looked like they had been built into the wall. At first I was skeptical, because Billys were those wobbly bookshelves that had followed me since college. But her results were completely amazeballs. (Seriously, go check them out at her site. I'll wait.)

See? I've been wanting to try my hand at a set of those since I saw them, but was never in a space that would accommodate them. Until now.

My Heidelberg, Germany, apartment has white walls and a somewhat oddly long living room. I knew that if I put a set of Billys along the wall opposite the window, we'd get a lot of storage and the lost foot of floor space would not be missed.

Nick was ambivalent about the idea, but I think that was mainly because he's a bit gun-shy about my projects. It's fair. There's always a significant chance that I'll get about halfway through and wander off, leaving wood shavings and half-assembled furniture behind me. (I'm really never going to live down that chaise.)

But somehow I talked him into it, and now we have a wall of bookshelves. Here's how we did ours:

IKEA Billys are 80 cm wide, and my room is 411 cm wide, so we could fit five. Five times 80 is 400, but we could make it work by spacing the Billys slightly apart.

Nick and I live in the Old Town of Heidelberg, but it's a newer construction building. People who have seen our apartment have observed that we don't have the high ceilings characteristic of a lot of the houses in the area, but the ceilings in the old buildings must really tower, because these seem pretty high to me. Given all the head space in here, I also bought five height extender units for the Billys.

Nick took the baseboards off along the walls next to the bookshelves. The one behind the shelves is still on, because the Billys have a little groove cut into them to go over a baseboard. Taking off the baseboards required no special tools. They weren't very well attached, so Nick just popped them off with his hands. We were able to find the exact baseboard in our apartment at Bauhaus (it wasn't hard, just look for the cheapest laminate baseboards in the store), so we bought that and will cut it to fit the wall with the bookshelves and put it where the originals were. The original baseboards have been put in storage so we can put them back on when we move.

I put together the five Billys and height extender units and set them along the wall, eyeballing the distance between them. Then I measured the gaps and discovered that a 5-centimeter molding would fit perfectly over the edges of the bookshelves, including where they meet the wall.


Once again it turns out our floor and walls are somewhat warped, so I had to level the bookshelves by sliding pieces of cardboard underneath them to even them out. That worked pretty well, and no one will see the cardboard once the molding is on the shelves.

Once the shelves were in, I went to Bauhaus, which is sort of like Home Depot, to look for molding.

Molding turned out to be a bit of an adventure, because the selection at Bauhaus was not what I would expect to see at, say, a Home Depot. The baseboards in particular were a surprise, because they were very short. To cover the base of the bookshelves, we needed something just over 3.5 inches wide. Nothing that wide existed, so I wound up buying five-centimeter baseboards and gluing them together to make one 10-centimeter baseboard.

The baseboard we wound up with had a molded stripe effect. There was a similar set of molding with rounded edges, so we got those to use as the vertical slats on the bookshelves.


We sawed the molding to fit and painted them with two coats of plain white paint.


Now, Centsational Girl's Billys are mounted into wood and the molding is nailed in place and everything is very solid. But I don't have kids and don't live in an earthquake prone area. The Billys were in pretty solidly, and I was pretty sure plain old glue would work for my needs. I bought a kind of hardcore wood/laminate/home decor glue at Bauhaus and used that to attach my molding:


First I put on the baseboard:


Then the vertical slats:


Then, to attach the molding to the top, I glued scrap wood along the back to create a ledge.


Note: This initial run failed because I used plain wood glue and, as you can see, glued the wood support to a painted wood surface. The glue was strong, but the paint was not. As soon as I set this on top of the shelf, the supports broke right off. I sanded the paint off the back of the molding and re-attached the supports with the stronger glue.

Once the new supports were on, I covered the underside of the supports with glue, and put the glue on the front of the vertical slats:


(The above photo is blurry because I was on a ladder and the glue sets in about 10 seconds, so I was in a bit of a hurry.) Second time is a charm. The glue worked perfectly.

The only thing left to handle was the weird gaps between the baseboard and the bottom of the bookshelf.


I filled that with bathroom caulk, and now it looks like this:


And that was it! Here's the final product:


This was a relatively quick project. I think the whole thing would have gone together in two days if there hadn't been some minor setbacks, like when I ran out of glue and when one of the vertical molding slats turned out to be unusably warped. As it was, stuff got in the way and it took two weekends to complete.

The costs, unfortunately, wound up being a little higher than I anticipated, but many things are more expensive in Germany. (I blame the wood slats. They were like 10 euros apiece.)

Cost breakdown:
IKEA order (5 Billy bookshelves, 5 extender units, delivery): 344 euros
Bauhaus supplies (molding, paint, replacement baseboard strip, paintbrushes, saw, saw guide, glue): 180 euros
Second Bauhaus trip (extra molding, more glue, caulk): 20 euros

Total cost: 544 euros or $702.03

Phew. I sort of wish I hadn't added up all the expenses just now. I was more comfortable with the project when I was just like, "Gosh, that cost more than I thought it would!" But then I had to go and do math at it.

Oh well, I still love them. Now all that's left is to fill them up.

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