ikea pax hack for built-in custom look
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Ultimate Ikea Pax Hack for Custom Look Built-In Cabinetry

Ikea Pax Hack for a custom built-in look. Follow this step-by-step process for customizing the Ikea Pax closet system, from boring white frames to beautiful custom-looking cabinetry.

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In interior design, a certain thrill comes with transforming something functional into a personalized masterpiece seamlessly integrating with your living space. 

When we moved into our new house, we thought custom built-ins would be a great way to make our long, narrow living room feel more connected.

We have an awkward empty space on the right side of the living room and a dated built-in desk to the left.

With a lack of entry closet space, the right side of the living room quickly became a dumping zone for everything.

We knew investing in built-in storage would be a perfect solution.

In addition to serving a very practical purpose, I wanted a beautiful statement upon entering our home instead of piles of coats and shoes.

Custom vs. DIY

As I started researching options, it didn’t take long to realize custom closets were far out of our price range. 

If we wanted the look of high-end, custom cabinetry, we would have to get creative!

That’s when I came across the Ikea Pax Wardrobe System.

Ikea’s Pax system is super customizable and relatively easy for intermediate DIY-ers to “hack” and make look like custom built-ins.

This project was not “cheap” by any means, but it beat the price of custom cabinetry with the aesthetic I wanted. (See cost breakdown).

These built-ins greatly impacted the style and function of our living room and entry area. It also allowed us to add some charm and value to the bones of our 1993 builder-grade home! 

This blog post shares our step-by-step process for taking the Ikea Pax closet system, from boring white frames to beautiful custom-looking cabinetry.

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How To Create a High-End, Custom Look

Depending on personal style and budget, many aesthetic elements can be adjusted for these built-ins.

I splurged on a few elements to really make it feel high-end and expensive. 

Pine vs. Poplar

One big element we upgraded was the type of lumber.

The Premium Quality Pine looked too dented and warped for a project that would be so visible in our home.

We upgraded to Poplar instead, which is often used in finishing projects.

These cabinets will get a lot of wear, and since they are in the main living area, we wanted them to look nice and hold up well.

Unlacquered Brass Hardware

I also did a huge splurge and ordered unlacquered brass hardware from Rejuvenation.

You can tell these are high-quality brass fixtures, and they will get a lovely patina over time, adding to their charm.

Custom Cabinet Doors

The last thing we splurged on was ordering the cabinet doors from Fast Cabinet Doors.

We are not woodworkers, and this DIY built-in is the biggest project we’ve ever tackled. Paying someone else to make our doors saved us time and money!

How To: Ikea Pax Hack for a Built-In Look

Tools

  • Miter saw
  • Brad Nailer / Nail Gun
  • Multi-tool – Optional: for removing wall treatments and sanding hard-to-reach corners
  • Clamps
  • Tape Measurer
  • Long level
  • Drill
  • Flat head and Philips head screwdrivers 

Materials

Step 1: Ikea Pax Hack Planning & Designing

First, plan out how the cabinets should function.

Shoe and coat storage are most important for us. We also wanted some open shelving since they are in the living room.

Ultimately, we landed on a “step-back” style unit. 

One large (22 7/8 x 29 1/2″) cabinet with all closed storage and one smaller (13 3/4 x 19 1/2″) cabinet with open shelving on top and closed on the bottom.

The larger frame offers a ton of closed storage, while the open shelving allows plenty of space for books and decor. 

Although we plan to add this cabinetry on both sides of the living room, we decided to focus on the entry cabinet first. We plan to tackle the other built-in next year!

Front View

Side View

I used the Pax wardrobe planner on the Ikea website to play around with the cabinet’s structure and solidify the dimensions.

Next, I uploaded a screenshot of the diagram to Canva and added the board sizes required for the trim. It was helpful to visualize everything in one place.

NOTE: If you plan to do inset doors like we did, be aware that the pull-out Komplement shelves and drawers will not work inside the cabinets because the tracks will not clear the doors.

ikea pax hack built-in look

Step 2: Ikea Pax Hack Assembly & Placement

Assemble the Ikea Pax frame according to the Ikea instructions. 

Next, decide on placement.

At this point, we decided how far from the wall we wanted the inside cabinet to be. We decided to use the width of a 1×6 board in this gap.

This allows cabinet doors and drawers to open comfortably and not feel crowded against the wall.

Once you are happy with the location of the cabinets, add all the internal elements that will be stationary to ensure everything looks okay.

Notice that there are two stationary shelves in our layout. The shelf near the top forms the ceiling of the built-in and provides another place to secure the 1×8 boards. The second stationary shelf divides the cabinet section from the drawer section.

ikea pax hack

TIP: I’m very visual, and knowing what size boards to purchase was difficult without playing around with them. We purchased the different board sizes in the cheapest wood available to determine which size would work in each area. This was very helpful and probably saved us money in the long run.

Step 3: Demo, Prep the Walls, Build Base Frame

Demo

Remove baseboards, crown molding, or wall treatments.  We removed our existing baseboards and molding to ensure a perfect fit.

Our multi-tool was super handy for removing the board and batten accent.

Prep the Walls / Build Platform

If you plan to build a platform, now is the time. We didn’t need a platform because we purchased the tallest shelves possible, and they just cleared the ceiling.

I wanted these cabinets to be very secure, so using the wall anchors that came with the frames did not seem sufficient.

We attached a 1×4 board to the studs at the level of the brackets. This way, the cabinet is still super secure even if the brackets are not in a stud.

We also added corner brackets to the bottom of the smaller cabinet for extra stability and secured them into a 1×4 board across the bottom of the wall.

Note: We should have added some blocks to fill the gaps between the wall and cabinet frame on the right side. This would have ensured a secure attachment to the wall and given us something else to attach the trim to. Lesson learned!

Step 4: Level Cabinets & Attach to Wall

Once everything is ready, move the cabinets into place and ensure they are level.

Using shims, level them side to side, front to back, and vertically floor to ceiling. Ensure the cabinets are level with each other as well.

Next, secure them to the wall.

Ikea Pax hack trimming the cabinet frame

Step 5: Ikea Pax Hack Trimming the Cabinet Frames

Once the frames are attached to the wall and level, begin trimming the frames.

First, using brad nails, we added the 1×8 boards to frames at the top and bottom of the cabinets. 

Next, we added the 1×12 board to the side of the large unit. We glued and clamped it and then angled brad nails into the 1×8 boards.

(We were unsure how to secure the 1×12 because it was cumbersome. In retrospect, we could have added some cabinet screws from the inside to get a really secure fit.)

Next, using the 1×2 boards, attach vertical stiles (uprights) followed by horizontal rails (crosspieces) to create the basic framework. As you go, ensure everything is level.

Finally, add baseboard and crown molding if desired. This step really created that built-in feel we were after. We added the molding last, but it can really be added any time after the 1×8 boards are secured.

ikea pax hack for custom built-in

Troubleshooting

Sometimes, no matter how much you plan, something still goes wrong.

For some reason, the way our drawer fronts lined up, we had about a 1/2″ gap between the bottom drawer front and the bottom 1×8 board. To fix this, I laid a 1×2 board flat under the bottom drawer and secured it with brad nails.

Another issue we ran into was that the stationary shelves that create the cabinet floor and the top of the drawer section were not flush with the horizontal rail. We added small L-brackets to the underside of the Komplement shelf so we could attach the shelf anywhere on the frame.

Also, note that I added a small piece of wood between the bracket and the shelf, which is unnecessary. Just make sure you don’t accidentally pop the screws through the top of the shelf when adding the brackets.

I think we could have avoided these minor issues if we had noticed how everything lined up with the frame holes. By the time we realized, it was too late because most of the trim was up.

ikea pax hack inset drawers

Step 6: Ikea Pax Hack Inset Drawer Fronts 

Next, cut the drawer fronts from 1×8 boards.

The look of inset cabinetry is often seen in European design and creates such an elevated and expensive aesthetic. I was so excited to discover creating this look with the Pax frames was easier than I thought!

To acheive inset drawers, we used 1/8″ tile spacers to create a consistent gap around the drawer front.

To cut the drawer fronts, measure the width of the opening and then subtract 2/8″ from the total length. This will allow for a 1/8″ gap on either side.

Once the drawer fronts are cut, mark where the hardware will go on the bottom drawer. Doing this before they are attached to the drawer may seem odd, but it worked well.

To know where the hardware should go on the larger drawers, I divided the drawer front into thirds and then measured the center point on the outer two sections.

Next, I predrilled the holes on the bottom drawer front and then used it as a template for the subsequent drawer fronts.

For the smaller drawers, I simply measured the center point for the hardware. 

ikea pax hack

Attaching the Drawer Fronts

Start with the bottom drawer.

Using the 1/8″ tile spacers, ensure the drawer front is spaced evenly and level.

Next, secure the drawer front with clamps.

Using the predrilled holes as a guide, drill through the drawer front into the Komplement drawers. Add the hardware.

The drawer front is now temporarily secured to the Komplement drawer with the cabinet hardware.

Repeat this process until all drawer fronts are temporarily attached.

Next, I removed them to sand and paint. I also lightly sanded between paint layers for a super smooth finish.

After they were completely dry, I reattached them one at a time with 1 1/4″ cabinet screws.

To add the cabinet screws, again, start with the bottom drawer front.

Attach it using the hardware and clamp the drawer front so it doesn’t move.

Starting from the inside of the Komplement drawer, predrill holes for the cabinet screws. Be careful not to drill through the drawer front.

It’s essential to predrill almost everything with these Ikea frames because they are particleboard.

ikea pax hack custom built-in look

Step 7: Add Wallpaper Accent

I added paintable wallpaper to hide the frame backing and add texture to the open shelving.

This is a super cheap and easy addition that makes a big impact!

Step 8: Seal and Paint

Using wood filler, fill the nail holes and any gaps. Sand everything with 220-grit sandpaper.

Once the cabinet is clean and dust-free, caulk all the seams, smoothing with your finger as you go.

Finally, paint the trim. We have reverse trim all throughout our downstairs in SW Accessible Biege, so I carried that onto the cabinetry. I love this subtle mushroom color!

The Ikea frames and Kompletment shelves require a heavy-duty coat of primer before painting. I used this primer, and it seems to be holding up well. Make sure it is mixed super well before using for even coverage. Prime all Ikea frame surfaces that will be painted, including open shelving.

Step 9: Order and Attaching the Doors

Ordering the Doors For ikea pax hack

We purchased custom doors from Fast Cabinet Doors.

Because these are custom ordered, it was super important they were measured precisely. I waited to measure and order until I knew the stationary shelves and drawers were all in the right place.

Inset cabinet doors should also be spaced at 1/8″ from each edge, the same as the drawers. However, a 1/8″ space should also be between the doors.

To measure for two inset doors, take the total width of the opening and subtract 3/8″. This will allow for a 1/8″ gap on either side of the doors and a 1/8″ gap between the doors.

Next, measure the length and subtract 2/8″ from the total length. This will allow for a 1/8″ inch gap at the top and bottom.

Attaching the Doors

Having prebored holes for the hinges makes attaching the doors super easy.

Using these adjustable hinges was also a game changer because you can adjust in all directions for a perfect fit.

Before painting the doors, I attached them to the cabinet frame and predrilled holes for the hardware. This way, the paint finish wouldn’t get scuffed or damaged.

Final Thoughts

This is by far my favorite Ikea hack! We are so happy with our decision to invest in a quality storage solution for the entry. This cabinetry provides plenty of space for coats, shoes, diaper bags, etc. We are excited to get the other one finished!

Sources:

Ikea Pax Hack Cost Breakdown:

  • Ikea Pax Wardrobe Frames, drawers, shelves, drawers, and organizers: $615
  • Custom Doors: $386
  • Poplar trim and test pieces: $448
  • Wallpaper: $39
  • Hinges: $33
  • Brass hardware: $261
  • Cabinet Screws / Brad nails / Shims / Tile Spacers: $28
  • Crown molding / Baseboard: $50
  • Wood Filler/Caulk/Sandpaper: $23
  • L-brackets/Corner brace: $10
  • Paint and supplies: $150

Total Cost: $2,043

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2 Comments

  1. You guys did an incredible job! Also can I add that the care and detail you put into your descriptions and the aesthetic of your site is such a gift. I’m so thrilled I found your blog and will definitely be using it for inspiration. Thank you again for all the care you’ve put into your site and congratulations on the gorgeous outcome of this project !