How I Turned IKEA’s $25 Lack Shelf Into a Sculptural Fireplace Mantel

Embracing randomness is key.

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green fireplace mantel
Photography by Judith Achumba-Wöllenstein

When my family and I moved into our rental house in Brighton, England, last December, we discovered a modern white box void of its original historical charm. The initial allure of a blank canvas soon faded, leaving us longing for the house’s lost soul. The living room fireplace seemed like a good place to start. But rather than purchase a salvaged wood mantel on eBay (which I considered momentarily), I landed on a more imaginative solution. Enter the ingenious IKEA Lack shelf hack.

Partly inspired by Ferm Living’s Tuck vase and loosely drawing on a DIY tutorial of said vase by Lena from @allthepeachesplease, I opted to transform the simple $25 ledge into a sculptural floating mantel using more than six pounds of air-drying clay. Miraculously, despite the additional weight, the shelf still securely adorns our wall—knock on wood (the kind made of compressed wood chips layered with foam, aluminum foil, and clay)!

The Supplies

Step 1: Expand the Shelf’s Boundaries

foam on a shelf
Photography by Judith Achumba-Wöllenstein

Lay the shelf on a flat, protected surface, such as a drop cloth or flattened cardboard box, making sure the screw holes face downward so you don’t accidentally fill them with foam. Follow the instructions on the expanding foam bottle: Apply it to the shelf’s front, sides, and facing surface generously. Skip the back! Let the foam dry completely as per the instructions on the bottle. When applying the foam, remember that as it dries, it will expand to at least twice its size. 

Step 2: Sculpt a Foam-tastic Shape

foam scraps on floor
Photography by Judith Achumba-Wöllenstein

Grab a perforated kitchen knife—nothing fancy, just make sure it’s not completely dull. Slice off thin slivers of foam, rounding the corners on all three sides of the shelf. The foam volume at the base should be even and smooth.

Step 3: Create Organic Contortions Using Aluminum Foil

tin foil shapes on shelf
Photography by Judith Achumba-Wöllenstein

Unleash some shape-shifting drama by crumpling recycled paper and wrapping it in aluminum foil, crafting bulky, snakelike formations. Attach these creative twists to the foam using double-sided tape, draping them in an irregular fashion around the shelf’s bottom and sides. I aimed for an organic yet balanced look, embracing randomness and charm.

Step 4: Craft a Clay Cover

rolled out clay
Photography by Judith Achumba-Wöllenstein
applying clay to foil
Photography by Judith Achumba-Wöllenstein

Slice sections of air-drying clay from the block, then roll them flat into delicate 2 to 3mm sheets. With care, drape these sheets over the aluminum foil, gradually covering the bottom and sides. Dip your fingers in water and use them to seamlessly blend the clay sections together. Allow the clay to dry, then flip the shelf to repeat the process on the top, ensuring the screw holes stay clear of the clay.

Step 5: Illuminate the Silhouette With Paint

sculptural clay plank
Photography by Judith Achumba-Wöllenstein

Coat your shelf with ceramic-compatible paint. I chose a glossy green finish to accentuate its lively form by allowing light to dance off the intricate details and shadows it creates.

Step 6: Mount Your Masterpiece

Utilize all the screw holes in the mounting bracket to firmly anchor the shelf to the wall. Because of the extra weight you added, exercise caution and ensure that the screws and plugs can withstand both the shelf’s new load and the wall’s support, safeguarding your pièce de résistance from unexpected wobbles or crashes.

green fireplace mantel
Photography by Judith Achumba-Wöllenstein

I adorned mine with whimsical lightweight embellishments so as to not exceed the shelf’s 20-pound weight limit (such as my More Liquid vase and McMullin & Co. candleholders). Now my living room isn’t lacking in the character department.