Published on September 14th, 2010 | by Jules Yap


Ivar bookshelf

Materials: Ivar verticals, Ivar shelves, 6mm dowels, twine, varnish

When we left the last city we lived in and sold all of our Ikea furniture, I swore “No more pressboard. No more low-end Ikea. Next time, solid wood and antiques only.”

Of course, within weeks of the move, I was back inside an Ikea, looking for inexpensive furniture to supplement what was already in our furnished flat – especially bookshelves. But, the furniture we get now will go into the place we eventually buy, and I was determined to stay away from Billy shelves. Nothing against them, really. Just… the pressboard thing. And, I wanted a different look for the office. Did I mention that we’re broke from the move. Yeah, that too.

Anyway, we bought two of the tall Ivar verticles and eight shelves.

You may be aware that Ivar shelves have no sides. That means that to use them as bookshelves, you have to put bookends everywhere, resulting in lost space and potential book-spills. So, we needed something to hold the books in. Answer: 6mm diameter wood dowels, cut to 10 1/4″ and positioned inside the holes for the shelf supports.

When we bought the shelves, I knew that they would need a cross-brace, but we didn’t see the metal ones in the warehouse area of the Ikea and were too tired to keep looking. So, we needed crossbracing to prevent the shelves from racking. Answer: twine knotted and anchored at each back shelf support, crossing behind each shelf. The shelves are now surprisingly laterally stable.

Finally, Ivar shelves are unfinished. It’s a look. A look perhaps best suited to dorm rooms, basements and garages. I decided to have some fun and use two colors of varnish, with a coat of gloss over top (I painted our BEKVAM Step Stool the same way).

These shelves will be great for books, and I really like their light, airy look.

~ Deidre Miller, Glasgow, Scotland

More hacks on IKEAHackers.net

Malma meets Venice
Teen boy lounge bed

The Author

Jules Yap

"I am Jules, the engine behind IKEAHackers and the one who keeps this site up and running. My mission is to capture all the wonderful, inspiring, clever hacks and ideas for our much loved IKEA items".

27 Responses to Ivar bookshelf

  1. Hazel says:

    I’m looking at Ivar at the moment (also sick of Billy – but then also just moved and in need of bookcases…) and thought about doweling to stop books falling out! Lovely to see that’s a possibility (and the sizes I’ll need!) Thanks for posting this.

  2. Dee says:

    Hi – just looked back at this page to remember exactly what I’d done so I could add a second matching bookcase. I noticed that a lot of people asked about how to get the dowels in. You just shove them all the way to one side and then slide them halfway back into the other side.

  3. Ryan says:

    Wonderful! I’m going to buy Ivar based on this! A couple of questions–can you position the bottom shelf higher than it appears? I’m going to put these in my basement where we sometimes flood. Also, can you buy separate shelves and a corner unit solo? It appears online you have to buy in combinations.


  4. jane says:

    do you need to anchor the shelf to the wall?

  5. JaanJaan says:

    Does it end up leaning forward much? I have that problem with my current IKEA bookshelf. But I love this! I’m going to use it, I just need to know how much leaning to expect!

  6. Andy K. says:

    Did you use water-based or oil-based stain on the vertical side unit? I’m trying myself and am having trouble getting the water-based stain to penetrate all of the grain evenly. I am getting more of a striped appearance, with some stripes of grain seeming to take little stain and other taking a lot. It isn’t blochy, it’s just coming out heavily contrasted between the light and dark stripes. Did you use oil based stain? Your result is fantastic! I am thinking that pine, which is notoriously resistant to even and consistent staining, might be better suited to oil-based products. Many thanks!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Funny, I’ve had IVAR shelving since college (university for those non US people), so since 1990? My wife hates them, but I can’t bring myself to spend $400-$500 for a nice set of solid wood shelves, when the IVAR work so well! I did seriously consider the Billy, but again, pressboard? I just can’t bring myself to do it…

    And, whenever I get sick of how my office is arranged, I pull some boards and pegs and rearrange!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Great ideas! Thanks for sharing. About to move and looking for ideas to freshen our Ivar collection.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Beautiful. I assume you just bent the dowels to put them in place. How did you get the twine taut? I may have to get a knot book.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I just did this with all my Ivars — stained the uprights rosewood and the boards golden oak. Looks fantastic! To solve the bookend problem, I went simpler — just got some cheap 1/4″ by 6″ poplar boards cut to 12″ at the lumberyard and stained them to match the shelves. They work great.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Same opinion about pressboard furniture… Never again !
    Love the two tones.
    Great work, Deidre.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Did you have to take apart the Ivar verticals to put the dowels in?

  13. cyaneus says:

    Impressive what a few finishing touches can do to make these shelves look great! Sadly I’ve already screwed mine into the wall, or I’d try the combination of varnish colors you did. The dowels seem like a very good idea, though.

  14. Anittah says:

    OMG! This is exactly what I said to myself when I moved recently! I sold ALL my Billies, swore off Ikea … and then .. the IVAR beckoned.

    Thank you so much for sharing your idea regarding the towels. simply ingenious!!!

  15. Dee says:

    Thanks, everyone! For the people who asked about the varnish: it’s the cheapest combined varnish/polyurethane from our local hardware store. I’m away from home for the week and can’t remember the brand, but you could only improve on it. The colors are “medium oak” and “mahogany.”

  16. Anonymous says:

    Looks great. Really clever use of the dowels.

  17. Anonymous says:

    What color stain/varnish is that?

  18. Very nice,I like them so much.

  19. Fluzzio Flicler says:

    What type of varnish did you use?

  20. Anonymous says:

    great idea!

    the varnish finish could have been a bit better (but i’m not blaming, since i’m quite bad with staining wood furniture myself, it’s a learned art).

    i would totally do this in black or clearcoat.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Wonderful, a true elegant, modern hack.

  22. This looks great, great improvement on the original Ivar!

  23. Anonymous says:

    the shelves look great – i really like the contrasting colours.

    thanks for sharing the bit about the twine, its a great idea, looks good and i would not have guessed the stability it provides.

    have had enough of billy myself so happy to look to this ‘new’ low cost alternative – did i mention we’re about to move…..

  24. Anonymous says:

    I’ve always been a huge fan of Ivar. They’re beautifully engineered shelves, I’ve moved a dozen times with them and they still hold up like brand new. I keep buying and expanding to them because they’re so modular, they’ve always managed to fill in odd spaces where I needed something special. Plus, because the parts are so easy to find, I have no problem cutting the sides parts to get the perfect height for a particular solution, at the next house, I just repurchase the sides if necessary.

    I’ve always wanted to try staining them though, it seemed like a pain and I wasn’t sure how it would look with all the little holes. Thanks for taking the plunge, looks like they turned out great!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Back to Top ↑