I absolutely adored the blue, custom cabinetry and decided I was going to figure out a way to get a similar look in my own house with a non-custom budget. I initially assumed that we would make all the cabinetry from scratch, but Cory brought me back to reality with the truths that 1) we’d never built a cabinet in our lives, let alone lots of drawers, shelves and boxes, and 2) the cabinetry would take forever, and would make this room impossible to accomplish for the One Room Challenge. And in this search, the IKEA Pax kept coming up as the most common, highest-rated, and budget-friendly closet system.
But there were some upgrades that I wasn’t able to find any examples of in the wild, including recessing in-cabinet lighting and adding drawer fronts for an inset, full custom cabinetry look.
In order to achieve the high-end custom look I envisioned, we added baseboards, crown moulding, shoe moulding, recessed puck lights for in-cabinet lighting, refaced the fronts and sides of the wardrobe units with wood strips, added wood drawer fronts, added plugs to cover the unused shelving holes, wallpapered the back of the units, primed and painted everything, then swapped out the metal hanging rods for stained wooden rods, and finally added drawer hardware. We cataloged how much space we each needed for our clothes (High, Medium, Low) and storage type by clothing category in a spreadsheet, and then I referenced it as I created each of our sides of the closet to ensure we had enough space for our existing wardrobe items and our storage preferences.
This isn’t to say that they aren’t helpful to maximize storage, but it’s very challenging to make them look seamless in a high-end custom closet. If we had higher ceilings we would have elevated the units on a wooden base to ensure that we weren’t losing any potential storage space when we added baseboards.
We ordered these puck lights off Amazon and hardwired them into an electrical box, so we could switch them on and off when entering the room. In order to make the lights look very custom, we recessed them into the front of the top shelf in every unit. If we had more time, we would have used a Kreg Concealed Jig with a Forstner Drill Bit for a more perfect round circle, but they look pretty great. We set a routing depth equal to the thickness of the puck light, so it would be completely flush with the lower surface of the shelf.
We used a small bead of construction adhesive on the back of the puck light to secure it into the recessed hole in the shelf. We used these baseboards from Metrie, which are part of their Fashion Forward collection and play very nicely with applied wood trim.
Because the top of the baseboard profile is flat horizontally, it allows the wood that we applied later on to the fronts of the cabinetry to flow seamlessly. It’s critical that your baseboards are level across all the units, because you need to create square openings for your drawer fronts later on. For this, we used some scrap strips of 1/8th inch tempered hardboard to bring the shelf up to level and secured it with screws. We also used an orbital sander to sand down any visible faces as well, since this makes a huge difference in the finished look.
Turns out they don’t sell 5/8 inch Poplar, so Cory ended up finding stain grade flat pine board at Lowes that worked like a charm. We again used the same Fashion Forward crown moulding from Metrie and installed it along the top edge of all the wardrobe units.
This really capped off the built-in look and totally hid the gap from the top of the wardrobes to the ceiling. One of the tell-tale signs of an IKEA Pax is the seam that runs down the back wall of the wardrobe unis. I didn’t want to put all this work into making the Pax look custom only to have a seam give it away that these are indeed IKEA! So, I tracked down paintable faux grasscloth wallpaper and installed it on the back wall of the wardrobe units.
I wanted a paintable wallpaper so it looked seamless with the units and I also love the hint of added texture. A little known secret is that IKEA sells packs of plugs designed to hide the many, many holes in the Pax system that are used for shelving, etc.
As a note, we didn’t add in the plugs on the side where we have only shelves, since we wanted them to be adjustable long-term. A lot of you expressed concern over how we would paint the shiny IKEA laminate finish, and I can assure you it’s totally doable.
The key is to prime with a shellac based primer (specifically this one) and you will have no trouble at all painting over the IKEA finish. We applied the primer with a high-density foam roller and a paint brush in the spots that were most difficult to reach.
Most tutorials I read online indicated that they primed once, we actually did two coats because the primer dries really fast and we’re a little bit neurotic. For the paint, we used Farrow and Ball Inchyra Blue in the Modern Eggshell finish, and it’s one of my most favourite moody colours of all time. Depending on the time of day it can change from a peacock blue to a dark sage green. Another go-to paint for cabinetry is Benjamin Moore Advance, which has held up really well on our downstairs bathroom vanity and is more widely available and more budget-friendly.
We used our favourite laser level to ensure all the drawer pulls were aligned horizontally on both sides of the closet. We gave them a light sand and stained the wood rods using leftover Rubio Monocoat Oil from when we refinished the floors.
Now the closet looks super custom and you can see how all components came together in a space that feels much more high-end than a basic IKEA hack!