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When Elise Joseph sought out a quote for built-ins for her Nashville fixer-upper, she was given an estimate of $3,000. That’s the kind of number you expect when you want to build a small deck or retile a walk-in shower, not add extra storage to the living room. Since paying a small fortune for custom millwork was out of the question, Joseph and her husband were faced with a few different options: Leave the blank wall as is, attempt to find stand-alone shelves for a comparable price, or hack the entire thing for just $500. The choice was an easy one. 

The couple purchased five IKEA Billy bookcases for a grand total of $295, along with additional materials for securing the units to one another and filling in the gaps between the floor and the ceiling. “The project took a full (long) day, and my husband and dad did it together. I supervised,” Joseph says, laughing. Here, the art director, blogger, and shop owner behind Duende, a new Instagram platform for vintage goods, shares her tips for creating a bespoke book nook that looks like it’s always been there. 

Reach for the Sky (Er, Ceiling)

After building the five units, the trio added white height extensions (essentially extra shelves, also from IKEA) to each piece so they stretched floor to ceiling à la real built-ins. 

Secure the Furniture

In order to ensure that the wall unit as a whole was sturdy and safe, they screwed two-by-fours to the backs and sides of the bookcases and affixed them to the wall via those pieces. 

Touch Up the Top

Even with the extensions, there will probably be a narrow gap at the ceiling. To hide the spaces, the pair added a trim board in between the bookcase units and the ceiling to the top. “The following day, we used caulk on the top trim board to create a smooth line,” shares Joseph. “We chose to leave the holes on the interior of the units visible so that we could easily adjust the shelves in the future, but it would be simple to fill them with caulk and make them look totally seamless, too.” 

Color-Match the Trim 

The key to faking custom built-ins? Cohesion. To create the illusion that the units are actually one with the room, Joseph painted the frames with Benjamin Moore’s Chantilly Lace, the same color as the walls. “It pairs well with the IKEA white, so we didn’t need to paint the entire unit,” she explains. 

Bring on the Books!

Now for the fun part: filling the shelves. Sort your reading material in whatever ways speaks to you (switch up your vertical and horizontal stacks or follow a color-coding scheme). Pepper in a few small potted plants, picture frames, and ceramics, and your little library is complete. IKEA saves the day yet again.

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