Published on August 25, 2021

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Playrooms are arguably ephemeral when it comes to a child’s ever-changing needs and interests, but that doesn’t mean they have to appear like a temporary setup. Maria Gilzean, an Essex, England–based I.T. project manager, had already invested in handmade wardrobes for her 3-year-old daughter Helena’s bedroom, so when it came to designing the playroom, she wanted something equally stylish—but a little easier on the purse strings. 

Eyeing what she called the “decent nook” at one end of the space as a prime spot for building out storage, Gilzean then headed to IKEA “to see if we could try and make something look bespoke.” The resulting chic cupboard belies the structure’s flat-pack origins, thanks to some pretty Liberty fabric and a lick of cherry red paint. Here’s how she created the one-of-a-kind piece.

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Courtesy of Maria Gilzean

The Supplies

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Courtesy of Maria Gilzean

The Swedish furniture giant’s classic (and inexpensive) Billy bookcase appealed to Gilzean for its open, modular shelving. She picked up two units that come with the glass-paneled Oxberg doors.

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Courtesy of Maria Gilzean.

Next, Gilzean painted the doors with a wood primer and water-based acrylic paint by Dulux that was left over from Helena’s bedroom wardrobes. “We ended up needing four coats,” she admits, but the result was worth it, and she found a useful shortcut: “We painted the doors before attaching them to the unit and skipped the inside, so it wasn’t that much of an effort.”

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Courtesy of Maria Gilzean
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Courtesy of Maria Gilzean

Inspired by people who make their own fabric door liners on Pinterest, Gilzean decided that would be the perfect solution to hide away all the toys, books, and costumes. Liberty’s Capel print—a sweet 1930s-style floral—in a marigold hue complemented the room’s existing mustard blinds. Gilzean purchased a little over 4 yards and divided it up for each panel (around double the width of each pane of glass), and then set about creating the free-form pleated sections (aka through trial and error).

“I’m crafty, but I can’t sew,” explains Gilzean. “I wanted it to be quite neat looking but not perfect.” That meant there was no ironing or stapling required—just handmade creases held in place by clear drawing pins she picked up on Amazon. “After a while my fingers started to ache, so I resorted to a hammer to bang the pins in,” she recalls with a laugh.

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Courtesy of Maria Gilzean

Then Gilzean called on the pros. She hired a carpenter, who over the course of a day boxed in the unit (including the creation of a false wall above) and added MDF shelves to the side. This is what really elevates the project: “IKEA furniture doesn’t come with any moldings or decorative elements. It could have looked like a stand-alone box; now it looks fitted,” says Gilzean of the tailor-made storage system.

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Courtesy of Maria Gilzean

The cupboard cleverly disguises mismatched baskets filled with Helena’s toys and keeps books neatly lined up. And if the family gets tired of the printed fabric on the doors, it can easily be switched out for a new pattern—especially once Mom masters her desire to learn how to sew!

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