Before & After: An IKEA Bookcase Goes on an Epic Epoxy Adventure


Nick found himself with the familiar small space dilemma of moving to a new spot and needing more storage. He decided to give his plain IKEA bookshelf an EPIC makeover, turning it into a high glam, conversation-starting storage piece.

From Nick: A couple of years ago, my boyfriend and I lived in Queens, where we had enough room for a studio for my graphic design work. This bookcase used to live there and worked perfectly as is. It was just your run-of-the-mill IKEA Kallax bookcase in white with some drawer inserts.Once we moved into Manhattan, my working space had to move to the living room, so I needed to transform the bookcase into something I wouldn’t mind looking at in that space. There was also the need for hidden storage. Our new kitchen is tiny, so I wanted doors to hide the pots and pans that needed to be stored in it.

The project was rewarding but fraught with surprises, unexpected expenses, and setbacks. I was inspired by Chinese wedding cabinets, but wanted a sleeker, more modern look for my living room. From the beginning, however, I knew I wanted the front of the piece to be super high-gloss black lacquer (or something that looked like it).

This was, by far, the longest part of the process. I tried various methods. I started with painting on a water-based lacquer and sanding it dozens of times with ever-increasing fine sandpaper (down to using car finishing paste for the last step). I got a moderately shiny finish, but by no means reflective.

I then moved to high-gloss spray paint (which I applied on my fire escape). It was a messy, expensive process and was even less successful than the paint I tried previously.

Finally, I came across self-leveling epoxy and it was like a gift from heaven. The MDF drawers and doors were already painted black from all the previous steps, but I also tinted the epoxy, to get an extra depth and darkness to the color.

The hardest part of using epoxy is ensuring there is no dust that can get stuck to the surface during the 24 hour curing period. Living in a small apartment with a wool rug and a dog, that was pretty much impossible. I figured the shower would be the most dust free place, so I wrapped it in plastic to protect it and poured the epoxy there.

By comparison, applying the walnut veneer was a walk in the park. I used 3M backed natural Walnut veneer, sanded it and applied a poly coat at the end to protect it.

Installing the doors also presented some challenges (though not as interesting), since I wanted the hinges to be totally hidden, but could route out holes in the thin MDF doors. Once the whole piece was assembled, I installed the brass Chinese wedding cabinet faceplate/handles to the doors and some mid-century brass knobs to the drawers.

I didn’t use any outside help and in total (I’m ashamed to say) I must have spent at least $300, though I took so many trips to The Home Depot, I lost count.

I love how it suggests a traditional Asian piece of furniture, but combines it with a more modern aesthetic. I also love the super high-gloss finish I was able to achieve after so many attempts. I also get an Art Deco vibe from it, which I really love. It’s an understated statement piece and balances out the black mass of the television above it.

Aside from going straight to epoxy, I probably would spend more time to make sure the inside part of the piece was finished. As it is, it still pretty much looks like an IKEA bookcase on the inside.

Nick’s words of wisdom: Be generous with the epoxy, you really want it to pillow above the wood and spill over if necessary. That will give you a really nice, smooth finish.

Thank you, Nick!

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