An Ikea Hack for Vittsjo Shelves

On Monday I shared Justin’s work office reveal and without question the star of the show was his shelving unit! Today I’m sharing all the details about the hack that took these three Ikea shelves and kicked them up several notches.

We bought three of these Vittsjo shelves from Ikea. Initially I had hoped to use this double Vittsjo, which is a bit more cost-effective, but it was out of stock in my store. This ended up being a blessing because I actually love the look and scale of three even better! The units came with glass inserts to create the shelves, but I was inspired by the chunkier look that Kim and Scott from Yellow Brick Home gave their Vittsjo and we decided to create a similar look. (Note: If you’re interested in doing this hack for yourself, I’ve included a full list of all the materials we used at the bottom of this post!)

Once all three units were assembled, we lined them up against the wall and Justin took measurements of the total length and width of one shelf spanning all three units and sketched out an outline, making sure to include all the places we would need to make notches to accommodate the vertical posts.

Each shelf would have a length of 60″ and a width of 14″. We bought a sheet of 1/2″ plywood, which was enough to make three long shelves and three small pieces for the bottom shelf . The sheet was 4′ x 8′, so our first step was to cut it down to the correct length. It was a gorgeous day, so Justin wheeled his work table outside!

Justin planned to use his circular saw for cutting the plywood to length so after measuring and marking the 60″ length, he also measured and marked out exactly where the edge of the circular saw’s guide would be when it cut the length. We clamped down a piece of scrap wood with a straight edge right where the circular saw guide would run so that Justin would have a solid wall to keep the saw’s guide flush against. This ensured a super straight cut! He also tossed a couple of larger blocks of scrap wood on top to keep the guide wood firmly in place.

After taking this picture, I was in charge of holding the side of the plywood hanging off the work table (since the saw couldn’t be directly over the table or it would have cut into it) and catching the part getting cut off. We saved that excess piece to make the bottom shelf pieces later!

Once the sheet was cut to length, the next step was cutting the width of each shelf. We repeated the same process as before – measuring and marking the width (14″) and also making a mark where the edge of the circular saw guide would be.

Here’s a close-up of the two marks he made. Can you see the little mark right on the edge where the guide wood is placed? That is exactly where the edge of the circular saw will be when Justin cuts the shelf to length. The other pencil mark along the edge is marking where the saw blade will cut the shelf to the correct width.

We repeated this process two more times to create three shelves with a 14″ width.

Next up was marking and cutting out all the notches. Using the outline he had drawn with all the shelf measurements, Justin used his combination square to mark where each notch should go.

This step took the longest, but creating a precise outline of the notch was necessary so he would know exactly where to cut. We highly recommend double checking measurements! Justin initially measured to the wrong spot and the notch would have been off but I noticed it in time and we were able to correct it before cutting. Measure twice (or three times!), cut once!

To cut out the notches, Justin used his jigsaw. He first cut the two parallel lines coming in from the edge.

Before cutting the top line, he drilled a small hole near the top of the notch.

This hole served as a place to start the jigsaw for a more precise cut on the final line at the top of the notch.

Justin repeated this process for all the notches and then lightly sanded all the edges and corners with 120-grit sandpaper. We tested this shelf to make sure it fit on our Vittsjo units (it did!) and then this one served as a template to trace notches on the remaining two shelves.

Once all the shelves were cut and we made sure they all fit, I started applying this 1/2″ edge banding on all the exposed edges. This step is definitely optional if you like the look of the layers of plywood, but we used it for our DIY play kitchen and I liked the cleaner look that edge banding provided.

The edge banding has dried glue on the back that is activated by heat. I turned my iron on to the cotton setting (a pretty high heat – around 400 degrees), placed the banding glue-side down on the side of the plywood, and ran the iron over the banding.

I kept the iron moving the whole time, rubbing back and forth over the same small area for 4-5 seconds, working my way slowly down to the end.

When I got near the end, I used a scissors to snip the band right at the edge of the plywood, and continued ironing to seal the end.

The nice thing about edge banding is if you get a little off and your band is crooked or slipped a bit, you just run the iron over it again to heat up the glue and then you can slide it to adjust positioning or even totally take it off and re-apply. I think it’s a very beginner-friendly DIY trick to elevate the look of plywood!

The edge banding was slightly wider than the plywood so we got this edge banding trimmer to shave off the excess. We had to adjust the blades so it didn’t shave too much off and the tool itself required quite a bit of forearm strength to use so Justin handled this task. šŸ˜‰

Once all the edge banding was trimmed, Justin did a quick round of sanding with 220-grit sandpaper on his orbital sander to give the shelves a nice smooth finish. I wiped them down with a tack cloth . . .

. . . and proceeded to stain them. We used stain and polyurethane we already had on hand and I used foam brushes to apply one coat of stain and two coats of polyurethane to the shelves.

After letting them dry, I very lightly buffed by hand using 400-grit sandpaper. Then it was time to assemble them in their new home in Justin’s office and style them!

You’ll notice we also cut three individual pieces to fit the lowest shelf. These were much more straightforward than the other shelves because the Vittsjo units came with a piece of rectangular wood to fit in each bottom shelf and we decided to keep that recessed look rather than cut another shelf like the other three. Justin just traced the wood three times onto the excess plywood we had after cutting the other three shelves to length, cut out each rectangle, and I stained them. No funky cuts or edge banding required!

We are thrilled with the way the edge banding looks. It creates the look of a solid piece of wood instead of plywood and looks so streamlined!

One of the shelves holds Justin’s coffee maker and some drink options, so we’re glad we put two coats of polyurethane on top to help with durability in case of a spill.

The wood look also brings in a lot of warmth and contrast to a room that otherwise was pretty bland and sterile-looking. It also provides a great base for displaying a variety of pieces that reflect Justin’s personality and profession.

We’re so happy with the results of this Ikea hack! It gave the simple black shelves an elevated look full of character and was just what this space needed!

Materials Used (for a complete list of sources on the shelves, check out this post!)

-1/2 inch sheet of 4′ x 8′ plywood

-circular saw

-jigsaw

-drill

-measuring tape

-combination square

-sandpaper (we used 120 grit, 220 grit, and 400 grit)

1/2 inch edge banding

-steam iron

-scissors

-stain

-polyurethane

foam brushes

optional materials:

-clamps

-scrap wood with a straight edge

-orbital sander

edge band trimmers

A Quick Makeover for Justin’s Office

Yesterday I spent about three hours doing a flash room makeover to a room in desperate need of some help: Justin’s work office!

Justin works in the healthcare field and moved into a new office building in January 2021. Since moving in, he had done virtually nothing in terms of decorating his office space and asked me to help. Here’s what the room looked like prior to my, shall we say, intervention:

Not exactly an inspiring space, huh?

When thinking about what to do in the room, there were some obvious challenges. The room is painted the same color as all the other rooms on the floor and it’s obviously not our building so we couldn’t make any permanent updates. There’s no window, so I couldn’t use natural light or bring in real plants, and the light in there is fluorescent, which isn’t flattering to work with. While we couldn’t make any changes to the room itself, I was excited to think of ways to bring in interest, character, and functionality despite those limitations. My goal was to make this room more comfortable and reflective of Justin while still remaining functional and professional.

A bookshelf felt like an obvious choice to create some interest and offer a practical storage solution. I chose to create one large unit out of three Ikea Vittsjo shelves – I loved that these metal shelves brought in black accents but the slim frames and open back and sides kept them from overwhelming the space. In lieu of the glass inserts the Vittsjo came with, Justin and I made long shelves out of plywood (tutorial coming soon!) for a more substantial look. I love that the wood tones also help the shelving unit tie in to his desk.

I used a variety of wood tones, storage baskets with natural fibers, and faux plants to bring in warmth, texture, and life to the space and incorporated black and metal accents to keep a masculine vibe. A mirror placed on top of the shelves helps reflect the light and mimic the effects of a window.

While I wanted these shelves to look good, they also needed to be workhorses for storage. Justin has a lot of books, magazines, and papers he needs to be able to reference easily, plus several things he likes to have quick access to (coffee, mints, etc). I kept all but the largest of his books arranged vertically so he can easily pull what he needs from the shelf and corralled all his magazines in a black wire storage basket so they’re easy to flip through and find the one he’s looking for. His loose papers are now stored in simple file folders and stay neat and orderly tucked in a black file organizer.

His coffeemaker sits ready to go next to some other drink options and a medium sized basket above hides all his Keurig cups.

Another basket now discreetly stores his stash of mints so he can grab one easily as he walks in or out of his office.

I wanted to be very intentional about sprinkling little tidbits of Justin’s personality throughout the bookcase. A beer stein from a trip he took to Europe, a hat box that belonged to his maternal grandfather, and a little wooden engraving of The Lord’s Prayer given to him by his paternal grandparents – these sentimental items reflect his history and heritage.

A worn piece of scrap wood on the top shelf provides rustic sculptural interest while giving a nod to his passion for woodworking and salvaging old wood. I also purchased the digital downloads of two minimalist line drawings from BFF Print Shop, one with a father and son and one with a father and daughter, and displayed them in thrift store frames that I spray painted black. I love that they’re an artistic tribute to Justin’s role as father but the clean lines and black and white color palate keep them from feeling too busy among the other items. All these personal touches take the room from being a standard workspace to something that is distinctly Justin’s.

The grid-like pattern of the shelves combined with all the books, papers, and frames created a lot of sharp angles so things like the clock, rounded bookends, a circular basket, and the organic feel of all the leaves throughout helped soften the overall look.

On the wall to the other wide of his desk, I also included a gallery wall of black and white family photos. Justin faces this wall when seated at his desk and he wanted to be able to see us throughout his day (melt my heart!) I chose a mixed finish look with gold, silver, and light wood frames and kept all the pictures black and white for a more coordinated look.

I added a lamp and small faux plant to his desk as well to create a cozier feel for his desk and give him an option if he needs a break from the fluorescent light.

Given the limitations we had in this office space, it was never going to feel quite as homey as, well, our home; however, Justin spends so much time here that it was important to have a space that feels comfortable and inspiring. It turns out, the office didn’t require a complete overhaul to achieve that! I think this is true for any similar space. Maybe you work in an office (or are transitioning back to it soon) or you’re renting your current home or apartment and can’t make big changes or maybe you just don’t have the budget for a big change in your home – a functional piece of furniture, items with varying degrees of warmth and texture, and glimpses of personality throughout can be enough to totally transform a space!

Sources (note: anything not listed is either thrifted, old, or no longer sold)

Bookshelf: Ikea Vittsjo (tutorial coming soon!)

Faux plants: here, here, here, and here

Father and Son Line Drawing (digital download)

Father and Daughter Line Drawing (digital download)

Black Wire Basket

Black Clock

Keurig K-Mini

Round basket

Rectangular basket

Gallery Wall Frames: here, here, here, and here