Not Another Ikea VITTSJO Hack

You know it. You’ve seen it. Just google “VITTSJO hack” and behold the sheer quantity of times this versatile and economical shelving system has been painted, had stuff glued to it, it’s glass swapped for wood. VITTSJO has been reborn as everything from glam to industrial. Recently, due to my own budget limitations and a menacing new kitten (details to follow) I challenged myself to tackle the VITTSJO in a way perhaps, I hadn’t seen before.

It all started with a need. New house + no furniture = empty spaces. Don’t know about you, but I need a place to hang. I need to chill out every night before I go to bed. Preferably in front of a television. Mind you, one that is perched on a decent looking console surrounded by family artifacts, books and collections. OK? I need that. When I need something I get sort of panicky about it, which then leads to hasty and quick decision-making. Enter VITTSJO and the ensuing google search. It’s so affordable! Ikea is literally blocks away! According to the internet, I can turn it into anything I want! Done.

I bought two single shelves and one tv unit for $150. When I first put it together and set it up against the olive green walls that came with our house, it looked a little cheap—almost dorm-quality, definitely as if it belongs in a 90’s apartment, probably a guy’s, lined with DVDs. It’s dated, is what I’m saying. That brown of the metal, the dark wood grain… at this moment I realized, all of those hacks weren’t for fun, they were born of necessity!

 

 

That TV! Such a cutie, does not belong. That rug tho, crazy to me. I think I like it. I mean, I bought it so I guess I’d better. (It’s still available from Rugs USA if you have also fallen down the rainbow kaleidoscope rabbit hole!) The whole idea here was to be inspired by the abandon of our cross-country adventure and our daughter, who is such a light. I wanted to truly stray from the safety of my past designs and embrace color. This rug was my jumping off point and considering the wood of the baseboard, I chose my wall color (Swiss Coffee by Sherwin Williams) and a new, brave, color for the shelves.

 

 

That is a deep teal. And I really went for it with the high gloss. If you also feel brave, you can get it from Target right here. Following the plethora of online suggestions for painting your VITTSJO, I decided to take it all outside. The metal frames were sprayed on a tarp in the front yard. I did multiple light coats versus a heavy spray. Still, I went through way too many cans of paint. I blame the high gloss because as you move along, the inevitable mist would land on previously high-glossed areas and create a speckle and therefore an annoying texture. Maybe if I weren’t outside, and the paint had longer to dry, those speckles would have had a chance to settle. Don’t quote me on that. In the end, my efforts awarded me a pretty high-gloss look, but I would opt for a satin finish next time.

The glass shelves were left untouched but the wooden ones were also painted. I did this on the screened porch to avoid bugs or dust settling onto the surfaces. I roughed it up with sandpaper and rolled a coat of Kilz on first. Followed that with a few coats of spray paint and I was done.

So it looked like this for a while. Yes, we got an appropriately sized TV. Nothing groundbreaking here, although the color was unusual. I will admit, I wasn’t sure about it. I pulled that color from the rug but truthfully, I prefer a much darker teal. Or a navy. Or even black. Ikea, why don’t you make this in black? But I decided to live with it, continue to decorate the rest of the room and see if it either 1. grew on me or 2. began to make sense. Because right now, although logically it all worked, something was off.

 

 

Right away though, functionality of these three units was spot on. The baskets on the bottom are the perfect storage for our daughter. Left to right they contain: crafts, artwork, schoolwork, books on rotation. Everything above is mostly decorative and personal. Other than that it looked a little flimsy, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what wasn’t working. I had seen these shelves used successfully by others. Maybe I needed to separate them, use the two towers elsewhere, get something else for the TV. I pondered it casually, refusing to make any sudden moves.

Enter Sandman.

This little guy was brought into our family at the persistence of our daughter Thora. She had been asking and dreaming and wishing for a little grey kitten of her own for a solid two years. Finally this fall, Santa came early and we found this beastie at a local shelter. He was already named Ragnar and well, is that destiny or what? She was smitten immediately. And Ragnar, he was smitten with my shelves.

 

 

Suddenly, my nightly two hours of peace was transformed into the near-constant sound of me berating him to Get Off The Shelves! Plants were eaten. Frames tipped over. He’d stick his head in the bowl of shells and pluck them out one by one. He liked to be on the first level and jump to the second, causing everything to toggle back and forth, nearly crashing it all to the ground.

He was small at first. Then he grew. And grew some more. Obviously, I had conditioned him that this was a great way to get my attention because we all know, he just wanted to play. But Ragnar, this is MY TIME! I implemented time-outs where I sent him to my office (don’t feel bad. He has a cat tree and a ton of toys in there) just to recoup 20 minutes. As cute as he is, and like, really soft, I was stressed out.

Each night we argued, that cat and I. And in between my huffs and puffs, I began strategizing a solution. It wasn’t really a bother if he crawled around that level the TV sits on, the real issues occurred when he jumped up to any of the higher spaces. If only I could block his ability to jump to the higher shelves… then I saw this:

The Knox series from Crate and Barrel, here

 

 

…then this Industrial Modern series from West Elm, here

 

 

…and the dreamiest of all, also from West Elm, the Linden

 

 

I loved the combinations of open storage and closed, of wood and metal. It was a wonderful ah-ha moment! The warmth of wood was totally missing from this room. The living room is adjacent to the dining room which harbors a beautiful midcentury credenza, which means walnut, a tone I can’t get enough of right now. I’d been trying to think of a way to bring the warmth over to the living room and this was it! Added bonus, the vertical panels would keep the cat out, or so it went in my head.

How could I adapt the look of these pieces to my simple VITTSJO? How do I do this affordably and within my scope of abilities? I landed on creating a single shelf that runs the length of the three pieces, hoping to make them read as a single unit. Then I would build two boxes to insert into the second shelves on either side. Visually it would be interesting, functionally, that’s the shelf Ragnar liked the most and in turn caused me maximum grief. I abandoned any thought of adding doors. It’s just not something I thought I could do well. Besides, they can always be added later as my skills grow.

Once the idea was there and the scheming began, it didn’t take long before I was standing in the lumber section of Menards. I had done some doodling and figured about what I would need wood-wise. My years of graphic design play out in my life in random and useful ways, like spatial relations. I literally see puzzle pieces in my head and know how they will fit together. I clean a closet or organize a cupboard like no one. I can also see how some random boards at Menards can be sliced and put together to make two boxes and one long shelf. So I bought these Solid Aspen boards:

1 board at 1 x 12 x 8′
1 board at  1 x 2 x 8′
2 boards at  1 x 16 x 6′

Aspen means nothing to me except that it’s solid wood, not plywood, not laminate. I figured (and crossed my fingers) I could stain it to maybe not look exactly like walnut, but at minimum, match the tone. I needed panels that were wider than 12″ which proved to be a challenge off-the-shelf. I was psyched to find the 6′ boards at 16″. But the bottom shelf was going to be almost 7′ long. The 12″ and 2″ boards could be combined side-by-side to create the depth I needed for the long shelf. I figured a seam that ran along the back would be less noticeable versus one that ran front-to-back. Make sense?

 

 

The rough plans. Silly me thought I might do mitered corners! I did not do that. Straight cuts for me and I hid the seams behind the metal frames.

 

 

I used my own miter saw and borrowed this amazing, and intimidating, Skilsaw Worm Drive from a generous neighbor. Mike helped with the Skilsaw to rip down the 16″ boards to my desired width. Then I switched to my miter for the rest. It can cut up to 12″ wide so I had to flip my boards for each cut. No big deal if I remembered to breathe and work slowly.

 

 

Then I did a dry fit to see if my plan was working. It was!

 

 

Very excitedly I sanded everything down outside using a progressive series of sandpaper.

 

 

Once everything was smooth I brought it inside to stain. Normally, I would do this right here on the porch, but winter is long my friends, and it was too cold for stain. I needed something that wasn’t stinky so I went with this Varathane Stain and Polyurethane in Dark Walnut. Not gonna lie, I might have been influenced by the packaging (always a designer). My only hesitation was the semi-gloss finish. I would have preferred a matte, but this stain and poly combo just doesn’t come that way. In interest of completing my project before running out of steam, I rolled the dice.

 

 

Then I set everything out on the dining room table. (A heated garage would be nice for my wood-working future.)

 

 

I held my breathe that the stain would look like walnut. It mostly did!

 

 

I brushed on one coat. Gave everything a light sanding, then did another. I really recommend this stain. It wasn’t smelly at all and dried quickly, but not so quickly that I couldn’t work it in or wipe drips. Win win.

Everything was assembled right on the shelves using just my nail gun. I’m still not 100% sure about the teal paint color. As such, there’s a possibility of me painting them again down the line, probably black if I do. This way, I can still easily slide everything out to repaint the shelves. Then I would reassemble and use wood glue at the seams. But this works for now. If I were filling up my boxes with books or albums, I would definitely use more than these simple nails!

 

 

I love this so much. Such a simple way to unite the three units. It looks much more substantial. Dare I saw, like a real piece of furniture? Almost. It’s no Linden, but it works for us.

 

 

Seeing these panels of wood versus the all open metal shelving, really warms up the space and pulls some of the coolness away from the teal. The boxes slide in from the side. They are flush with the outside of the metal frame, yet inset on the front. I chose this not only because I thought it was visually interesting, but it was easier to build. I did not have to account for screws that bump out or remove any of the shelf supports that are original to the VITTSJO. I even kept the glass shelves, they sit in the supports and float above the boxes.

 

 

The seam that is created between the two long boards on the bottom is hardly noticeable. Amazingly, it required just a little sanding to make a perfectly tight fit. They are simply placed on top of the original shelves.

 

 

This view makes my heart happy. Our more valuable/precious items are now protected within the boxes away from Ragnar’s curious paw.

 

 

I still need to touch up some of the paint from when I wedged in the long shelf. No biggie.

 

 

Our living room is on the small side—typical as our house was built in 1929—yet another reason the VITTSJO works here. Anything more would make our room feel tight. Those orange chairs are another thing I’m not too sure about. But man, are they comfortable and the cost was $0 from Craigslist. Plus, I’m having a mild obsession with the 70’s right now and that color fits the bill. Of course, orange and blue are opposites on the color wheel, which means they are naturally jarring. It might be too much.

The yellow pillows need to go. I’ve been on the hunt for pillows with orange in them that also go with the rug… no luck so far! Hunting is fun anyway. Target’s Opalhouse collection is promising, but also bordering on too wacky for me, at least in combo with that rug. I have been dying for this throw from Anthropologie. What a challenge!

Can’t wait to get my hands on that dark entryway…

 

 

Looking from the front corner towards the dining room. We painted below the chair rail Blacktop from Sherwin Williams. It looks so good with the old baseboards. Here you can see why I’m tempted to paint the shelves black. Is that boring? Too safe?

 

 

Projects are never really done, right? But for now I am enjoying this pretty simple transformation. I am reclaiming my nights as Ragnar has started to move on. I promised to play with him more and he gives me good warning before he tries to jump on the shelves. We’re working on it. I’m happy to report it’s almost his 1st birthday and he has already started sleeping more. We are almost out of the kitten phase!

 

 



6 thoughts on “Not Another Ikea VITTSJO Hack”

    • I’m sorry you feel that way. Yes, in the “after” I styled the shelves better than the “before” and the tv was an upgrade. But I don’t think that’s out of the realm of showing my process, or being unfair to the original.

  • I think your upgrade looks beautiful and I don’t know what Gary’s problem is. You obviously put a lot of work into this project and I’m inspired!

  • Beautiful!! It looks like you ended up not using the back panels in your final product. Curious why did you decide against that? We are looking at similar mods to our shelving. Thanks!

    • Thanks! During my dry fit, those panels in the back are actually just the top piece. I set them there to hold everything in place. I never intended to put back panels on as I generally like the look of the open shelving and seeing the wall as you look through. This also lets in a little more light. That said, I do think closing it up with a back could look great too, especially if items falling behind is a concern. Would love to see your project if you did it!

Leave a Reply

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