IKEA Billy Bookcase Makeover

by Diane Henkler on 04/12/2012

I have not one, but two IKEA Billy bookcases that need to be transformed so they coordinate with the new color scheme I am doing my studioffice in.   They are 20 years old –a true testament that they are indeed a classic IKEA item that you can use by itself or in many combinations.   IKEA makes glass doors, solid doors, lights, and extenders so that you can customize this classic bookshelf in many different ways.

I customize mine by using fabric covered cardboard inserts that can be easily changed almost instantly giving them a brand new look.  You can do this bookcase makeover on any bookshelf, cabinet, or china closet to add a permanent or temporary change.

Bookshelf Decorating Ideas


I moved everything out of the one on the right so I could begin to change the fabric.

Home Office Decorating with Billy Bookshelves from IKEA


The 18 year old fabric is going bye-bye.  I used it in the decorating book I wrote. One of the projects was to show how easy it was to change the bookcases for the seasons. This fabric was used for the summer look.  It, too is a classic and still looks good even after all these years.

I used cardboard from large appliance boxes to make the fabric covered inserts.  Once the shelves were set, I measured the width and height above each shelf and cut the cardboard to size.  I marked the back of each piece of cardboard with – top middle, bottom, etc.  If I have to remove them, I won’t have to guess where they go when I put them back on.




I removed the old fabric and added the new fabric which is actually a flat sheet. You may remember how I used the fitted sheet as a window treatment in this post – In An Instant No-Sew Window Treatment.

I cut white fabric to the same size to use as a liner for the sheet which is slightly transparent.  Without the liner – the brown cardboard would make the white – look off white.  When I made these backdrops the dollar store didn’t sell white foam board.  I have lots of white fabric and instead of buying and cutting all new boards it was easier to just make a white fabric liner. The color of the cardboard only matters with thin see-through fabrics.

Cut the fabric about 5 inches longer and wider than the size of the cardboard so you can wrap the excess to the back and secure with packing tape.  It is as easy as wrapping a gift box. 

How to make shelf backdrops with fabric


Once the fabric is secured onto the cardboard – place into the shelf.   As you can see I had a little help.



I didn’t worry about matching the pattern, since I know there will be stuff on each shelf to hide anything that is not lined up.

How to make fabric backdrops for book shelves



Fabric, like paint is the easiest and most inexpensive way to transform just about anything.  My Billy has a brand new look and it only took about an hour of my time.  Now I have to do its buddy on the other side of the room. 

Decorating a Billy Bookcase

IKEA used to sell lights for Billy. I have one on each of mine. They add the perfect mood light at night.  This is a view from the side – from the front you hardly notice it.  I checked the IKEA website, but I couldn’t find the lights.

They are just one more way that you can customize a Billy bookshelf or any bookshelf you may have.

IKEA Billy Bookcase light




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{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ginger April 12, 2012 at 11:10 pm

That is beautiful, what a great idea!


2 Mandy M April 12, 2012 at 11:12 pm

Omg, what a clever and easy way to make a change. It’s so easy, I can’t begin to tell you why I wouldn’t have thought if it myself. Thanks for sharing, I just may have to use this idea some day.


3 Lynne April 12, 2012 at 11:37 pm

Really nice IDEA . . . IKEA GAL!


4 Alicia S April 12, 2012 at 11:57 pm

What a wonderful and easy idea! I don’t have a Billy but I have a lovely bookcase that I adore and I’m definitely going to dress her up like you did with Billy! Can’t wait to go look at fabrics. I’m redoing my bedroom in Teal and Brown or Blue and Brown, depending on which bed set I can find in my price range.


5 Alicia S April 12, 2012 at 11:59 pm

By the way, I love your blog. I lurk and don’t leave comments…shame on me, but I love your post with the fitted sheet window treatments! Definitely going to do that as well!


6 Sarah April 13, 2012 at 1:36 am

There are some ugly book cases here on the base that could use this simple touch up. I have some Afghan scarves I bought at the bazaar I can use for this. You know, I bet with some hot glue and interfacing you could make these reversable. Great job, thank you for the idea!


7 Laura @Ms Smartie Pants April 13, 2012 at 1:49 am

They look great! I did the same thing to my niece’s baby nursery but we bought black and white wrapping paper on sale after Christmas cover them backs. I love the piece between to 2 shelves, so pretty!


8 Johanna April 13, 2012 at 2:28 am

Diane, very nice work! Everything than can be modified/changed/varied are my favourites, since I do tend to change my mind quite often. I especially love the fabric choise. Sadly, I have not found any similarto buy from here Finland or from Ebay in Europe.


9 Kathy @ Creative Home Expressions April 13, 2012 at 6:59 am

I love this project, Diane! Probably because I did it the same exact way as you when I did my kitchen cabinet that has glass doors, when we moved into our new place. All I had available {that wasn’t packed up} was cardboard boxes and shipping tape! I also love this project because it is easily removable and you could change it out for holidays or just when you grow tired of the fabric you’ve used. Nice update for your bookcases. I think the new pattern is a classic, too.


10 Shelley @ Calypso In The Country April 13, 2012 at 8:34 am

So pretty! Whenever I see a great makeover on those Billy bookcases, I want to run out and buy one! Gotta love Ikea!


11 Mandy Mo. April 13, 2012 at 9:07 am

Oh my goodness, cardboard inserts, what a fabulous idea! I’ll definitely be trying this out for myself. I love your blog, you never cease to amaze!


12 A Lived in Home April 13, 2012 at 10:06 am

What a gorgeous shelf! The fabric makes it so beautiful!


13 Vanessa April 13, 2012 at 11:01 am

Hi, Diane

I just love what you did with the bookshelf. I am going to do this to my Billy bookcase. Have a great weekend.



14 Carrie @ The Internet Made Me Do It April 13, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Well, you’ve now just given me an afternoon project, as we also have one, but the big hulk of bookshelf is hidden away in a bedroom, but its desperately needed in the family room. Thank you for saving my family room from one more eye sore! Great post!


15 window innovations April 13, 2012 at 2:42 pm

That looks so good!! I have an old book case I was going to throw away but I might revive it now! I love the black line design in the back! I think I have a project for the weekend now :)


16 Melissa, The Happier Homemaker April 13, 2012 at 7:51 pm

Love it! That sheet pattern is perfection! Great minds think alike ;)


17 laurie April 13, 2012 at 10:40 pm

GREAT idea, Diane!! So easy and cheap! :)

xoxo laurie


18 Kristal April 13, 2012 at 11:49 pm

So awesome!! I’ve been thinking about getting some of these bookcases….and I think now I may be sold!!


19 pam clark April 14, 2012 at 8:39 am

thanks so much for the inspiration! I’ve wanted to put fabric or paper in the back of my shelves, but didn’t want to make it permanent… such a clever solution!!!!


20 Diane April 14, 2012 at 9:53 am

Hi Pam – I have covered the cardboard with both gift wrap and wallpaper in my china cabinet. So many options and they all work equally well.


21 Denise April 16, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Gorgeous! I don’t know why someone as talented as you doesn’t have her own magazine, her own show or her own something! You are talented, talented, TALENTED!

Cutting cardboard inserts is genius and I will be blatantly copying this idea!


22 Mrs. Handyverger April 17, 2012 at 12:43 pm

What a fantastic makeover, Diane! :) I love seeing that you have kitty-helpers, too! I can’t get through a single project without mine assisting or supervising. (And I can’t manage to take more than a few photos without one getting involved, too!)


23 Holly Lefevre April 19, 2012 at 1:13 am

These look great! I need some Billy bookcases and I need to do this to them!


24 Brandi April 22, 2012 at 2:24 am

I really enjoy reading your blog! I just started mine and would love for you to stop by!




25 Judy May 15, 2012 at 1:51 pm

The cardboard is genius. I will be doing this for sure. I have wanted to add fabric to the back of our bookshelves, but didn’t want to adhere it directly. Thanks for the inspiration.


26 Jenna, SAS Interiors July 18, 2012 at 1:52 pm

This is a great idea Diane and something that I’ve had in mind to do for a while! I hope to get around to it very soon. Looks beautiful.
xo Jenna


27 Michelleocm July 18, 2012 at 6:04 pm

What a brilliant idea!


28 Rocco September 15, 2012 at 11:37 am

Where did you get the BILLY-Light? I can’t find it on their website.


29 Nicole October 8, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Awesome idea! I have been wanting to update my Billy bookcases but didn’t want to do anything permanent. Thanks for sharing!


30 Audrey @ Primera Interiors October 31, 2012 at 1:50 am

Great! Diane, that’s an easy and creative idea. :) You know what bookcase makeover has always been a problem for me. I will surely implement it soon. Thanks for sharing such amazing idea. :)


31 Conniek20 November 15, 2012 at 2:05 pm

I’m so glad you published this, Diane. I had seen it long ago (longer than I am willing to admit) but had completely forgotten about it. I am about to purchase the Billy bookcases to redo my office so the timing is perfect. Now I can add a little “oomph” easily.


32 Priscilla January 24, 2013 at 7:12 pm

What a great transformation! Where did you get your graphic sheets?


33 Diane Henkler March 12, 2013 at 9:17 pm

Hi Priscilla – I don’t think I answered your question yet – sorry for the delay. I found the sheets at Ross. Not sure if you have them in your area. It is like TJ Maxx or Marshalls


34 Priscilla March 13, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Thanks so much for getting back to me on the sheets. You are very creative!


35 Kayla March 8, 2013 at 1:37 pm

This is such a great idea to spruce up any bookshelf, and very inexpensive!! LOVE IT! :)


36 Jennie August 25, 2013 at 7:16 pm

Great idea, thanks for taking the time to put this together and in a way that us not so handy people can follow. I love working with sheets, so much fabric and patterns. I once did a bedroom wall with them and it turned out great.


37 Donna Lee December 11, 2013 at 8:26 pm

I will be following your blog, just a few things I’ve seen just loving the easy tricks of changing. My shelves will get a make over with the backs after Christmas. Thanks


38 Laura Franklin December 16, 2013 at 9:57 am

Yes, I have done this a lot. You can also use wall paper or scrapbook paper on smaller things like wall shelf’s so your nick nacks pop


39 Elizabeth January 19, 2014 at 4:20 pm

Oh my goodness! this is genius! I’m about to buy Billy bookcases myself (decorating home office YAY!) and I was under the assumption I had to cover the whole back, but this is way more awesome! Great work!


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