before and after

before & after: faux arched bookshelves

by Kate Pruitt

IKEA bookshelves are great because they can act as blank canvases: simple and attractive on their own but also perfect for manipulating into whatever their owner may desire. The wooden arches that Jenny Komenda built onto these shelves give this wall of books an awesome new look — it’s such a simple visual shift, but it makes a huge difference, and these plain IKEA Billies are now a sophisticated and dramatic pause-point in Jenny’s stylish living room. Great job, Jenny! — Kate

Have a Before & After you’d like to share? Shoot me an email with your images right here! (Low res, under 500k per image, please.)

Read the full steps on how to create Jenny’s arched bookshelves after the jump!

Time: 3 hours

Cost: $85 ($50 for bookshelves and the rest for supplies)

Basic Steps:

1. Have four pieces of 1/4″ thick MDF cut in to 14″ x 32″ rectangles at a lumber yard or a home improvement store like Home Depot or Lowe’s. Also buy three 8′ lengths of 1/4″ thick x 2″ wide and two lengths of 1/4″ thick x 1″ wide flat trim moulding.

2. Sketch out your first arch on one piece of MDF. If you’re not comfortable measuring out and eyeballing this step, you can use a flexible curve ruler or maybe even the old pencil tied to a string trick to give you a more exact curve. To get arches that look like mine, the top of the curve is two inches from the top of the MDF. No matter how high your arch is, though, you’ll need the bottom edges to be 1″ wide.

3. Use a hand-held electric jig saw to cut out your first arch. I have this $30 model, and it works great. Go slow and cut carefully. My advice is if you start to move off your line while cutting, slowly readjust back to your line. The goal is as smooth a curve as possible.

4. Use this first arch as a template for the other three arches. Cut these out with your jig saw.

5. With the help of a friend, hold your first arch against the top shelf and drill four pilot holes. Then drill in 1″ screws. Try to really get the screws in flush with the MDF or even counter-sunk. Install the flat trim in the same way. The idea is that the 2″ wide flat trim covers where the bookshelves butt up to one another. The 1″ wide flat trim is for the two far ends of the bookshelf walls, and it’s not entirely necessary but provides continuity.

6. Fill all cracks and holes from the screws with putty. Once that’s dry, prime and paint all the wood.

Word of warning: For some reason, IKEA makes their Billy shelves almost paint repellant! It took three whole coats of primer and three coats of paint to get full, durable coverage! Had I known it would have been that much of a hassle, I would have probably left the backs white or gone with contact paper or wallpaper as an easier solution. — Jenny

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  • Sorry, could you clarify if the bookshelves in the first picture are the same ones, just modified, in the second? Where is the step to add two more shelves to each bookcase?

  • How did you add the extra shelf? The original had 7 (counting the top), but the makeover has 8.

  • Hi Helen,

    The shelves in the first photo are a part of the after. I added two rows of the extender shelves to add some height. (link is in the body of the post).


  • check out little green notebook for more details – they are standard billy bookshelves from ikea with two extender shelves each.

  • Add a little one inch wide board to fill in the toe kick and some molding all the way across bottom and you would literally never know it was Ikea (unless you were let in on the secret) We added a shelf in the middle that was deeper than the Ikea book shelves. It just fit our t.v. and instant wall to wall “custom” built in entertainment center. We now call it our multi-media room.

  • What kind of primer did you use, Jenny? I’m currently painting all my IKEA bookcases and haven’t had any problems getting the paint to stick — two coats of primer and two coats of paint seem to be doing the job very nicely. Then again, my bookcases are beech and birch veneer Expedits and Billys, not white Billys (I assume yours were white). I think veneer is easier to paint than the foil used on white Billys.

    Anyhow, nice job — I may try this one day!

  • These look beautiful! Wow I am thankful for the warning, I was planning on painting my little Billy bookcases this weekend. I’ll find some nice wallpaper instead!

  • Wow, the transformation is fantastic, The selves, the decor, everything! I was attracted to the first photo though. I’m thinking the before isn’t looking that way intentionally but it reminds me of the chaotic bedroom in Bad Timing. Maybe that’s a stretch but having all those shadeless lamps up at the top reminds me of something Milena would have done in her apartment. It has been awhile since I’ve seen that movie so who knows. Grace, if you are out there a “Living In” would be awesome of that film!

  • Hi Elaine! I used Zinsser for the primer and then Behr’s Paint+Primer in one for the paint. I’ve never seen primer just roll right off laminate like that! It was pretty crazy, but after a couple coats it started to stick.

    Bethany, I’m cracking up about your comment on the before photo. It KILLS me that I had to use that horrible photo from our move in day. There was crap everywhere that week! Somehow I forgot to take a good before shot when I started the actual project, so I was forced to use the move in day one. Bummer. :)

    Thanks everyone for your lovely comments! Design*Sponge readers are the best.


  • Wow…as an avid reader who loves a comfy office, this space is so inspiring. Not just talking about the bookcase now (thumbs up) but I’m loving the daybed and the white side table (if you ever get tired of that table, I’ll gladly take it off your hands :-) ).

  • OH–I am SO glad somebody besides me likes lamps ALOT. Love the look of the new (redone) room. But may I ask, where did you store the lamps? teehee