before and after

before & after: artful ikea bookshelf modification

by Kate Pruitt

This is why I love Before & After projects: The ingenious hacks, makeovers and modifications you all come up with will never cease to amaze me. Tanya of Dans le Townhouse is never short on great ideas, but this is one of my favorites, as it puts works of art to use in a wonderfully functional way. In order to break up the grid visually and add some interest, Tanya created hanging canvases to cover certain cubbies. I love her combination of sharp, graphic zigzags and softer, abstract pastels; I also love that they can easily be switched, swapped out or removed as needed. Great job, Tanya! — 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 post after the jump!

Time: Creating the painted canvas “doors” can take as little as a few minutes, but I spent an evening painting them. I will probably spend a few more evenings tweaking and re-doing until I am completely satisfied. Wrapping a few stretchers in fun fabrics would make this project even simpler. But the install was straightforward and quick: it took only 20 minutes (and measuring took most of this time).

Cost: I paid about $5.00 for hardware (with lots to spare), and I purchased a pack of seven 12 x 12 canvases for less than $20.00 (with a coupon to an arts & crafts big box store) for a grand total of $25.00 — less than the price of just ONE Ikea Expedit door.

Basic Steps: First, I de-cluttered my Expedit bookcase and rearranged everything. I then taped up pieces of paper to get a rough idea of where the paintings should go. I lived with the arrangement for a week or so before committing to hooks, which was a good idea because I did change my mind on the placement. I created my paintings early in the process and let them dry while I pondered the arrangement. To hang the paintings, my handy hubby & I measured where the half-inch cup hooks should go (approx. 10 inches apart) and, using pliers, installed pairs of hooks under five of the shelves. We then measured each canvas, because they aren’t exactly uniform, and screwed in sets of complementary 4-mm screw eyes. Then we just hung each painting on a set of hooks and called it a day!

I recommend you measure hook-and-eye placement for each canvas individually. This project is really easy, and the canvases can be easily switched out or painted over for someone who has a hard time committing. I also figure that a dab of wood filler will hide the evidence should someone tire completely of the hanging “doors,” although I can’t imagine tiring of something that hides unsightly clutter so effortlessly. — Tanya

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  • yea, umm, this posting is purely pathetic. there was NOTHING done in this before and after shot. where as i sent Kate my stuff in the past and it was wayyyyy better and more rustic than a simple IKEA bookshelf. FYI, IKEA founder was a SS Youth member in Sweden. Yea, makes you think twice about that Billy book case, now doesn’t it??

    • Hi Michael,

      Sorry you feel that way but I’m going to have to defend my choice here. A) “Rustic” is not the only style that we look for here, and B) It’s not the bookcase, but the clever way in which Tanya modified it with with hanging art pieces, and the quality of her painted designs that made it stand out for us. You’re free to hate Ikea, but that’s not really the focus of this project, and I think using the word “pathetic” is rude and mean-spirited.

  • OH wow. What a beautiful idea. I have this same shelf and it’s just cluttered with books! Some of the books and records are nice to look at, but I really like the hanging canvases to cover some of the more unsightly items.

  • Hi Sarah, the turquoise piece is vintage (marked Staffa F) and the taller white vase is handmade in Sri Lanka, purchased at Winner’s (like a Canadian T.J. Maxx) for $10. The orange piece on the top left is vintage Hull pottery. Similar pieces can likely be found at home goods stores and vintage shops.

    The sculpture in the before photo (which has since moved spots) was made by my grandfather, who had an art gallery back in the day.

    Hi Michael, I DIY’d my own artwork which I attached using screw eyes and hooks, so there was most definitely some work involved. There’s a tutorial over on my blog. This is a simple modification, to be sure, but sometimes simple is just right!

    Thanks, everyone, for your kind comments.

  • While I don’t find the addition “pathetic”, it is rather underwhelming. I appreciate that the owner did the paint herself, but from the pictures alone, it looks like some boxes were slid into the spots.

    I also find the functionality awkward. How do you access the spaces beneath the paintings? You’d have to hold it with one hand and grab stuff with the other.

    While word choice can be tricky, I do think it’s ok to be critical of the work that’s posted here. Everything won’t resonate with everyone, and I find it fascinating to know why.

  • Tanya, this makeover is amazing. Love how the bookcase looks at once pulled together yet functional and made for real life living. You did a fabulous job and am so impressed with this DIY [side note: your paintings are gorgeous by the way!].
    Kate, thank you so much for sharing this! You always have such a great eye and feature the most lovely projects ;)

  • Great idea. I have Ikea pine Ivar shelving in my design studio and want to cover some of the open shelves. Fabric looks so cheap and temporary. I have some of the galvanized metal panels they offered that swing open from the top but they are discontinued. Could have more fabricated but the expense!!! Framed canvas is just what I need. Thank you.

  • Well I think it’s an amazing idea! Being critical is one thing but that was over the line. The whole reason I loathe Apartment Therapy is people being “critical”. Why can’t we just applaud someone who took a plain object and personalized it? Kudos to you Tanya!

  • I have this bookcase with several cubbies stuffed with the typical baskets, also purchased at Ikea. Thrilling, right? While it looks ‘nice’, I think the idea of hanging your own art is fabulous! I’m an artist and like to collect other artist’s work, so wall space is sometimes hard to find. This is one more way to personalize an otherwise ho hum space.

    Just wish I’d thought of this! : )

  • Awww, thanks to everyone for saying such nice things! Everyone is definitely entitled to their own opinion, but I think people always appreciate constructive comments.


    I thought the close-up photo of the hook made the hanging painting evident. In real-life, it looks great! Try it – you might like it ;)

    In terms of functionality, it is super easy to access what is behind: I just swing the panel out using one hand and grab the book with the other. I have two hands, so this method works well. It works kind of like a door, but hinged at the top. And I’m a PhD student, so I might even use my bookcase more than most.

    I think people like this project because it is easy & affordable. You don’t need major tools, a workshop, etc. Not everyone can build something rustic from scratch.

  • @Tanya – My point visually is that from afar, it looks like a zillion other bookshelves. I appreciate your craftiness, but it’s not a huge WOW before and after moment for me.

    And I’d find it really annoying to have to move the painting over with one hand and then rifle through my stuff with the other. I’m often digging through my books (sometimes two deep), and it just wouldn’t be highly functioning enough for me.

    I’m glad it’s inspiration for others, though. It takes a village.

  • I think it’s totally clever, but more importantly, functional. Scratching my head over the negative comments.

  • It is a nice idea – and for anyone who would care to tweak the idea further for side- hinged doors, you can line up several eye hooks on the side of the shelf opening and the side of the “door” and then run a dowel vertically through them for an inexpensive and quirky hinge. The framed canvases as doors is a very nice solution!

  • OMG. I have been wondering about a low cost way to create a stylish shelving unit to sit atop my ugly 1980’s bar in order to divide my kitchen/dining room. I was considering using an 8 cube Expedit bookcase but had no clue how to hide the back of the cubes that faced my dining room. I, like you refuse to pay $20 per door cover from Ikea. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR POSTING THIS and for allowing me to “sponge “off your idea!!!I will most likely be using contact paper to cover my canvases though. I am not nearly as artistic as you. Love the blue Chevron paintings! ;-).

  • i love this idea! great inspiration for another use…i might give it a go as a way to conceal a jewelry storage project that’s stumped me for years! thanks for the inspiration, it is greatly appreciated! you never know when someone’s (seemingly) simple idea might inspire something new for someone else. for me, that’s the purpose of reading this blog and others like it!

  • It’s a nice idea, but maybe a little underwhelming for a feature. The before and after pictures look nearly the same, and it took me a minute to figure out what was going on. It might have looked better on a lighter colored shelf – the contrast of the white canvases on the super dark shelving is a bit jarring.

  • A great idea! Simple and functional, and I would have to agree with Kim Nations post. Although it’s simple and not as drastic as the other projects, it definitely has inspired something new for me. Great job!

  • I enjoy seeing simple touches as well as major redos on D*S. Isn’t that how real life is? Sometimes we completely hack something and other times, we do just need to add a little here and there to make us smile. It is nice to get ideas for small and big projects. The title of the post is not misleading…it says modification, not hack.

    I love to incorporate art wherever I can and love different ideas to do that so I really like this. It gives another option rather than placing the art on the shelf which means you’d lose some storage. This way you can still keep the storage and display your art too. I’m such a sucker for chevron stripes too.

  • Nice work, Tanya. And I wholeheartedly agree with Tania…not everyone has the time or resources to take on major renovations or hacks of lackluster pieces. I think it is nice to see simple, yet impactful before and afters that could be taken on with minimal input. Sometimes all a piece of furniture/room/project needs is a little tweaking and you absolutely saw that here. Bravo on a beautiful “new” bookcase and don’t take the criticisms to heart.

  • So clever! I think this would make an amazing application where the Expedit is a room divider and you’re trying to hide/cover the other side of the bookcase. You can even do one large image over the whole bookcase on one side.

  • the timing of this is so wonderful for me! i just purchased a set of these shelves off craigslist to use as a room divider to have a workspace behind it. i can’t afford anything fancy to hide alllllllllllll my billions of craft supplies AND THEN I SAW THIS POST! i love personalizing every square inch of my space–esp with my own art–and this was truly the perfect solution for me. i like to think i’m creative but i had NOT come up with this ingenius solution! so thanks, tania. and D*S. for my money–i love the minor tweaks as much as the big costly renovations. i come here for inspiration and eye candy–the rest is up to me :)

  • I think this is a great idea and very inspiring as it would work for a variety of applications with a little tweaking. I am always happy to see a DIY project I really could do myself. Thanks to DS for providing diversity of ideas and inspiration. In terms of functionality, I too have two hands and can see it working just fine. Glad Tanya is keeping her sense of humor in spite of some negative feedback.

  • I think the greatness of Designsponge comes from the range or projects on offer. From reupholstering a lounge to doing a simple modification like adding some canvas’ to a bookshelf to add some personality. You can choose what level of project you want to tackle and tailor it to your own tastes. Just because this project is simple, with some hanging hooks and painted canvas’ desn’t mean it doesn’t have a valid place here. I for one will be looking for some 12 x 12 canvas’s this weekend to give it a go.

  • Love it! I did a similar thing with whiteboards covering my unsightly cubby holes. Only thing is, now the unsightly stuff is covered by unsightly scribblings, to do lists, clippings, etc. Sigh, oh well.

  • this one you could have skipped. It is like one one of those puzzles where you have to find the differences in the two pictures but can’t.

  • I love this idea! As a mother of 4 small kids in a small townhome, we have several of these Expedit shelves and they are wonderful! Nothing holds more for the money than these shelves, they have truly been a lifesaver for my family and all of our clutter (seriously, I have 5)! The only downside to them is the doors and bins IKEA sells are too expensive for what they are so they end up looking a bit cluttered, and now Tanya, you have solved that problem for me!!!
    I’ll admit when I first looked I couldn’t tell what had changed, but the great thing about this project is you can add as many or as few canvases as you like. Another plus, while I love Design Sponge and everything it features, many of the projects are too time consuming, costly (supplies), or just don’t speak to me as a busy mom. This is the first one in 2 years of my reading this blog every day that I will actually do and will make a huge impact in my life. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

  • Love the art idea, but unfortunately my grandfather painting skills were not passed on to me. :( For me I am ecstatic about buying some photo canvases to do this project with and alternating some with simple fabric covered canvases!

  • Oh Wow – this DIY has certainly managed to fluff some feathers and show the diversity of readers taste. I found Michael’s comments extremely disturbing. I have to commend Kate for the manner in which she dealt with Micheal’s totally aggressive attitude, which was so uncalled for.The words she used to describe him – ‘mean spirited and rude’- are spot on. In fact I would go on to add ‘immature and insensitive’ as well. This is my response to his comment:

    You need to be very careful how you tar & feather the character of another, thinking about your comment re:the Founder of IKEA. World War 2 ended 56 years ago. Too much time has lapse between then and now, with a world that has changed considerably as well, for that fact to hold any relevance today! It certainly has not bothered the millions of people that have bought IKEA products, why let it bother you, unless holding the moral high ground is important to you. But this certainly is not the portal to throw out that kinda information.

    In his case Frizz, for me it has little to do with the words that he used, but more about the attitude that drove the words. There is certainly a place for us to voice our disagreements, but there should be zero tolerance for destructive behaviour and talk. Don’t we already encounter enough of that sort of thing on a daily basis. I am just so glad that I went onto read the rest of the readers comments as well. They tipped the scales in favour of good wholesome positive and constructive input.

    That’s my take on Michael.

    Speaking as a professional in this field – we don’t need to have rocket science DIY posts thrown at us all the time – I place a great deal of value on expressing your personal creative flair into a space .This bookshelf modification did just that. I have a huge admiration for artists. They are prepared to brave the world and put their work out there. Tanya has done just that. Bravo!

  • i always love seeing new ideas for organizing my bookcase. it is the one spot in my house that includes absolutely everything i love!

  • Wow MICHAEL BROZGUL why don’t hate a bit more? Sometimes the simplest things are often the best!

  • Did you know a six bottle wine box fits beautifully inside ikea shelves turned to sit tall and wide? I covered mine in fabric but you could paint or cover in whatever takes your fancy – and it’s easy access storage. Your local wine store will probably give you the boxes, just try to get them all the same
    And I do love the artwork, not the negative comments

  • i’ve been wondering for months how to cover up my boyfriend’s ever-growing record collection in similar (but smaller) ikea shelving. i too considered fabric, but tanya’s idea seems much more functional.

    thanks, d*s, for your commitment to showing diverse design projects–both big and small. i’d love to see more projects of this scale.

  • I’ve been looking for a shelf exactly like this one at Ikea. I didn’t quickly notice the differences, but I love the after. The chevron boxes are awesome, and I think it has a great balance. I have been trying to convince my boyfriend this type of shelf would look better than your typical bookshelf, but he couldn’t visualize it until I showed him these pictures. Its simple and subtle, and I think it’s great.

  • Clever idea! I’ve got about 4 expedits strewn through my house so I’m always up for new ways to organize them. Maybe this will give me the kick in the butt I need to break out my paints?

    I’m wondering if it would be doable with a cabinet hinge. It’d definitely be a bit more expensive as far as hardware is concerned, but it could allow for easier accessibility. I usually have a kid in one arm.

    Another thing, you can stretch paper over stretcher bars. It’s much easier than fabric & you can get a really tight drum effect. I do this with my watercolors. All you do is get a thick enough paper & soak it in the tub for 20 minutes, then loosely staple it to the board. As the paper dries, it tightens around the frame.

  • i love the diy!!!!!!! my expedit always look so messy because of all the books and stuff i have but with the paintings i can give my expedit a more harmonic appearance :)

    thank you so much for sharing your diy!!!!!

  • I love this idea!

    I walk by my messy book cases everyday and think of ways to cover them. I was most recently thinking of some kind of curtain, but couldn’t think of a way to make it look neat and not just like a big sheet covering it, and I still need to be able to get into the shelves once in a while too.

    This project solves that problem beautifully. I can totally see myself using two hands, or if I really need to dig, maybe taking the canvas off for a minute and then putting it back. It isn’t that hard to deal with. I am thinking of maybe modge podge-ing something onto canvas, or maybe numbers instead of the painting. The author’s paintings are beautiful, but I don’t have that skill!

    I think this is a winner for a common problem!

  • loved your little personal touches to the otherwise a simple bookshelf. Ikea is Great!

  • Just looking through some older posts for some inspiration…
    I have the same shelf, and it has unfortunately due to size become the focal point of my tiny tiny apartment. I hate looking at all of the clutter! What a clever and wonderful way to turn it into something pleasant to look at- and something I could knock out on a day off. For those who don’t think they are great painters- think like a kid! I work at an arts and crafts studio where we frequently assist children painting, and I must say that some of my favorite canvases are made by toddlers. They are abstract and Jackson Pollack-esque! Pick your favorite colors and get ready for a splatter painting mess!
    Thanks for sharing!

  • I have an expedit as well! I love it and it has made it through 3 moves! Milk crates, the perfectly square ones fit perfect in these cubbies. I often put them at the bottom and then cover them with a square napkin or a piece of fabric. You could also spray paint them! I also have a wooden apple crate that fits inside, it juts out a bit, but I like how it breaks up the look. I love the idea of the paintings especially if you are using this as a room divider you could use one on each side!

  • I love this DIY, despite the controversial comments and, contrary to most of the DIY’s I see online – I loved it enough to do it! I have an Expedit in my art room, and it’s covered in bottles and bins of tiny things that start to look like horrible clutter extremely quickly. It took me months to get around to unpacking my moving boxes in that room, just because I didn’t want to stare at the stuff. I made a few more “doors” than you did and, for less than $20, I couldn’t be happier. To boot, the art looks very “at home” in a room with two sewing machines and an easel!