Building a Beautiful Bookcase Library Wall with BILLY

library wall bookcase IKEA BILLY hack

Philippe works for a builder and has designed the last two houses we have lived in. I had a small built-in library in our previous house in Melbourne.

Given my absolute love of books, that library was jammed full, with smaller bookshelves around the house for all the extras. We decided to build by the coast in Adelaide and in order to get a view of the water from the upstairs living area we decided to raise the ceiling height downstairs to 3 metres (just under 10 feet).

My husband looked at the large wall we had (13ft x 10ft, 4m x 3m) and he said “Wow, you could put a library with a sliding ladder on that wall” … which I very promptly held him to.

the space before
library wall bookcase IKEA BILLY hack

The new house was built during Melbourne’s first Covid lockdown in 2020. I was stuck in Melbourne and Philippe was living in Adelaide and we didn’t see each other for 10 months. So keeping my spirits up with promises of a huge library was a bonus. We won’t mention how much it probably cost to move my book from one state to another!

We looked at purchasing modular bookcase options, or having one made professionally but they were very expensive.(Some options coming in around $8,000 not including a ladder). Philippe is very handy on the tools and had seen BILLY hacks on Pinterest. We decided to give it a go.

But first, planning

I got the IKEA graph paper out and put together a layout design and worked out what we needed. But it turned out to be a bit of fluid procedure. (i.e. At first we weren’t going to extend the GNEDBY around the corner, but it seemed like a good option as we were building). It took more than one visit to IKEA (either in store or online) before we got to the finished product.

Pricing and instructions are for the library bookcases only … but to mention the ladder.

That was another expensive option.

So we got found some ideas and instructions on You Tube. Made the safety handles out of galvanised plumbing tubing painted black, and purchased the ladder hardware from Amazon. All up the ladder would have cost a little bit more than the entire library! (Probably around A$1400).

How we made our BILLY library wall bookcase

We first removed the skirting board from the wall. Following that we put the MALM Desk in place and built a timber frame to the right of that for the BESTÅ frame unit (we used the 180cm x 38cm unit) to sit on. (The timber was what we call 4 x 2 in Aus).

To the right of that frame we built a smaller frame and extended it around the corner for the 3 GNEDBY units to sit on. The frames we built were the same height as the skirting board, which we replaced at the end to give the units a built-in look.

We sat the BILLY units on the BESTÅ unit (2x BILLY 40cm x 202cm, 1 x BILLY 80cm x 202cm and 1 x GNEDBY 20cm x 202cm were a perfect fit for the BESTÅ 180cm width). The other 3 GNEDBY were sat directly on the floor frame we made. We had 1 extra GNEDBY unit which we cut into 3 pieces to use as height extenders to bring them to the same height as the large BILLY units.

Philippe then made a shelf on top of the large BILLY units for the BILLY extender units to sit on. The frame was attached to wall 30cm from the ceiling (the height of the BILLY extended unit), The height of the shelf was determined by the difference between the height of the BILLY units and 30cm from the ceiling.

A fixed shelf for the extension units

The shelving frame was attached the wall, and melamine shelving from the local big box hardware was added for the BILLY extenders to sit on. For the units above the desk, Philippe added some timber onto the wall, added some more melamine shelving and attached the BILLY extenders on top of the shelving. All the units were fixed to the wall and to each other, and the units above the desk were also glued for extra support.

We had 3 extra single BILLY extenders which were cut narrower to fit the space at the very left of the library. We added OXBERG doors to the top BILLY extenders and LAPPVIKEN doors to the BESTÅ frame at the base.

Philippe made some moulding for the front fascias, again from timber, with some decorative carving added using a small router. (I told you he was handy on the tools!) He made vertical mouldings for where the units sat side by side and wider horizontal mouldings to cover the gaps at the top of the extenders at ceiling height, for in front of the shelf that the extenders sit on, and for above the desk to cover the timber that we attached to the wall. We ended up staining the timber, but we did consider painting them white at one stage.

Lastly, we added some ‘fake’ drawers at the base of the BILLY/GNEDBY units to hide the bottoms of the units. Added some nice Hampton looking black handles. These were just pieces of timber cut to size, painted, and again some decorative routing added.

library wall bookcase IKEA BILLY hack
Faux drawers at the base of the BILLY bookcases
library wall bookcase IKEA BILLY hack


IKEA units used:

BILLY 202 cm high…. 2 x 40 cm wide, 1 x 80 cm wide
BILLY extenders 4 x 80 cm wide, 7 x 40 cm wide (Plus 3 x 40 cm which we cut narrower to fill in the gap at the very left of the library)
GNEDBY 5 x 202 cm high
BESTÅ frame 1 x 180 cm x 38 cm high
8 x OXBERG doors
3 x LAPPVIKEN doors
MALM desk

Total cost of the IKEA units, a couple of extra shelves, doors and hinges was about A$1200. (Much cheaper than $8000!)

Timber, melamine and screws were about an extra A$200.

How long did it take?

The whole process took us a while because Philippe works full time. But overall it probably took the equivalent of maybe 2 or 3 weekends (that’s including the ladder which took a while).

What was the hardest part of the library wall bookcase hack?

I think the hardest part of the hack is the design and trying to figure out what you need to fit the space. Instead of finding it overwhelming, we drew up a starting point on graph paper and let it evolve.

We had some good collaboration (for example I initially had only 3 BILLY units on the BESTÅ frame and leaving gaps in between to cover with wide moulding, but Philippe pointed out we could also fit a GNEDBY on there with no gaps which worked out quite well). So, don’t be too fixated on a plan.

What do you like most about the hack?

I think the collaboration and coming up with solutions was the best part of the hack.

library wall bookcase IKEA BILLY hack

Philippe was the one who suggested getting extra BILLY extenders to cut narrower to fill in the gap left to the very left of the library which was much better than my initial plan of just leaving open shelving. He was the one who had the idea of using the extra GNEDBY unit as height extenders, whereas I was just going to use BILLY extenders. We are both pretty opinionated about what we think is right but we had some ‘meaningful discussions’ and came up with some good solutions.

What to pay special attention to?

You need to pay special attention to everything. But I would say that if your carpenter is like Philippe I strongly advise the ‘supervisor’ (me) to make sure the carpenter has removed the sticky labels from all the units before attaching them to the wall. Otherwise you end up balanced on a ladder with citrus oil trying to scrub off very sticky labels from units that are almost 3 metres up the wall.

Is there anything you would have done differently?

Looking back I don’t think there was anything we would have done differently. We certainly have learned through the process. We still have to finish off the library (i.e. covering up nail holes, that kind of thing). And there are still a couple of BESTÅ units to be assembled for another part of the room not connected to the library.

Don’t tell Philippe but I’m already thinking but possible IKEA hacks for our upstairs area. This IKEA hacking business is very addictive!

~ by Trish Rocis & Philippe Muller