2 IKEA cabinets for this beautiful living room built-in

built-in living room cabinet

The initial plan was to have floor to ceiling alcove units next to the fireplace so Claire hacked two IKEA BRUSALI cabinets and placed them on the left and right. 

The problem arose when it came to add the open shelving on top. The BRUSALI had been discontinued (aren’t we familiar with this issue!) and the closest match came from the HAVSTA range. 

The HAVSTA was slightly wider than the BRUSALI with a width difference of about 1cm.

But she thought it was possible to marry the BRUSALI cabinet and HAVSTA shelf unit into a cohesive built-in living room cabinet. 

It needed a lot of thought and careful planning but in the end, Claire successfully joined the two different units together.  Definitely, a custom cabinetry hack with a dose of derring-do.

before: alcove and fireplace
BEFORE: The space with BRUSALI cabinets in the alcove
built-in living room cabinet flanking fireplace. IKEA HAVSTA and BRUSALI hack
AFTER – built-in living room cabinet on both sides of the fireplace

Built-in living room cabinet with IKEA HAVSTA + BRUSALI

This is so much easier if you’re using the HAVSTA storage combination instead of a BRUSALI base and HAVSTA shelf unit at the top. In any case the BRUSALI is no longer available, so the HAVSTA storage combination is it.

IKEA shelving units and cabinets
Photo: IKEA.com
IKEA item used: 

BRUSALI cabinet x 2
HAVSTA shelf unit x 2

Other materials and tools:

Picture lights
MDF wood strips
Half-moon cabinet handles
Postal tubes
Wood glue (No More Nails)

Here’s what Claire did.

Part 1: Hacking the HAVSTA

1. Reposition the middle shelf

The IKEA HAVSTA comes originally with a fixed middle shelf and 2 adjustable shelves. I wanted to create a more bespoke look as these units are more for aesthetics than function. I have plenty of shelf storage from the previous BILLY bookcase hack

After spending a lot of time sketching out various shelf configurations, I settled on having a large open display area — a space to set a tall lamp or vase. I really wanted this open shelving section to be in the middle of the unit. That meant the fixed, structural shelf in the middle had to go. 

BRUSALI and HAVSTA combination
The fixed middle shelf has to go

Fortunately this was an easy problem. It just required a couple of new drill holes (you can use the holes in the centre as a guide and just bring them down to the first shelf height).

2. Adding picture lights above the shelves

In order to elevate the style of an IKEA hack, I wanted to add some lighting. I’ve seen a set of pretty brass picture lights and thought they would be perfect for this project.

To install a light above the HAVSTA units, I needed a sturdy base to attach to the backplate to. I’m not a builder and I don’t like to waste, so I always build my stud work frames with odds and ends of wood that I have left over from other projects. 

I used screws to attach both the frame to the top of the HAVSTA shelf units and a piece of wood to the ceiling each side to ensure they were sturdy.

3. Wall anchors

Next, I secured the HAVSTA shelf units to the wall, anchored into studs.

4. Closing up the top 

Once the units were fixed to the wall, I cut MDF panel to size and covered up the gap between the top of the units and the ceiling, The panels were secured to the frames. I’d pre-measured where I wanted to the picture lights to go, marked out the template for the backplate of the light and made the hole that would be required (by the electrician) to bring the wires through from behind.

Part 2: Matching the BRUSALI

5. Closing the gap

As the HAVSTA unit sits on top of the BRUSALI base cabinet below, there is an obvious step where it meets the bottom shelf below. I had a couple of pine shelves which I wasn’t using and happily they were the perfect size to fill this gap and give an overhang on each side to add to the ‘built-in’ look.

If you don’t have shelves hanging around, you could easily pick up some wood from your local hardware store and many of the big chains will even cut them to size for you.

6. Adding a few bespoke touches

I added some MDF strips around the edges of the unit to give the final piece the look of bespoke cabinetry. The strips lent the appearance of thicker wood on the unit and allowed me to balance out the width difference between the top and bottom units, 

7. Caulk, sand and paint  

Once the additional MDF strips had been glued to both units I filled any gaps with filler and waited for it to dry. As these panels had been installed previously I painted straight onto them. I also filled the predrilled holes for the shelf supports to go into. Once the filler had dried I sanded lightly to ensure the surface was really smooth and painted.

8. Attention to the sides

I added a small panel to cover the gap on the top side of the cabinet. I made a cut in the coving and slid the panel into it and then glued the other sides. Once the glue had dried I caulked and gaps and primed and painted so you couldn’t see the panel and the side looked like it was formed of one continuous piece.

9. Handles 

I replaced the BRUSALI knobs with some beautiful half moon shaped handles.

10. A bit of texture

I’m a bit obsessed with adding texture to my interiors and love reeded and fluted furniture. I wanted to add a twist to this project by using postal tubes to create a softer, rounded reeded effect. This step is optional as it may not be suited to everyone’s taste. 

11. Finishing Touches 

Once the units were completely built in, I went over them meticulously filling in any gaps and cracks I could find and them painted the whole thing from top to bottom in the paint I had chosen. 


built-in living room cabinets flanking fireplace. IKEA HAVSTA and BRUSALI hack

Now the units really looked like they are custom built-in living room cabinets with more of a luxe feel that the standard IKEA furniture.

built-in living room cabinets flanking fireplace. IKEA HAVSTA and BRUSALI hack
built-in living room cabinets flanking fireplace. IKEA HAVSTA and BRUSALI hack

See the full tutorial on Claire Douglas Styling.
Follow Claire on @instahome_uk

Jules Yap