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How To Improve An Ikea Hejne Shelf With Paint

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The Ikea Hejne shelf is made with untreated solid pine wood so you can paint it and decorate it to match your home decor. Read on to see how I updated and improved the look with this simple DIY.

Ikea Hejne shelf painted and decorated with nautical themes.

Disclosure: I was compensated for doing this post with product.  However, all the opinions stated here are my own. I only use products I love and would recommend to my viewers.

I have been slaving away all summer on our small apartment transformation. And believe me I could not have picked a worst time because the summer heat is not your friend when you are trying to sand furniture.  

You may remember a few of the projects that I had already done like the Happy Chairs and the Beach Table!  We had gone to Ikea to order a Kitchen that we are in the process of putting together now and I had spotted this small Ikea Hejne shelf. I knew I could improve on it with a bit of paint and I had just the spot for it. 

top part of Ikea Hejne shelf painted and decorated with a life saver.

But lets start at the beginning. This is what the Ikea Hejne shelf looked like when I opened the box. There were four shelves, four tall pieces of wood, an X piece of metal and lots of hardware. 

Ikea Hejne shelf wooden prebuilt pieces.

I tried painting a smart section in a gray color which was not too dark, but quickly realized that milk paint really does go deep into untreated wood. This was a nice color but not at all what I was after. I had to sand it and it did come out for the most part, which made me feel so much better.

Painting a wooden panel with grey paint.

Materials Used to Paint the Ikea Hejne Shelf

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The milk paint comes in plastic bags so I usually transfer it into jars. 

Old Fashioned Milk Paint powder in jars.

Now I have to be really honest with you I paid practically nothing for this Ikea Hejne Shelf. I think it was 20 Euros. And boy did I get what I paid for. You can see below that the wood is not in the best of shape. It is softwood in pine or spruce. 

I knew that I would be painting it from the start so it was not really a deterrent. I chose to look at it as a blank canvas.

Close up of a groove in the raw wood.

I like the natural look of wood as much as the next person but this was not going to cut it. I’m not into getting splinters on my fingers!

Close up of imperfections on the wood shelves.

How to Paint an Ikea Hejne Shelf

I mixed the two colors together adding white to the driftwood to get the desired color I wanted and added equal parts water. I thinned it out just a bit by adding a bit more water. 

After first coat of paint is added to the Ikea Hejne shelves.

Mind you, I didn’t mix them as much as I should have but there was a reason for this. Some of the white would show up on the wood and create a streaky effect, er… a salt water look it what I prefer to call it.  ​I wanted bits of the white to show through like that so I left it. 

Painted wood with streaks of white paint.

I would sand it after each coat and then add another till I got the coverage I wanted. I painted it 3 coats in all.

​After the first coat I added more white to the paint mixture to make it even lighter because when it is dry it does tend to become a bit darker. And we have to keep in mind that the sealant will also darken it a bit.

Once dry you can still see the wood grain underneath. 

Wood grain showing through the paint.

A bit of distressing… because why not!  I was channeling my farmhouse self, something I almost never do, even though we do have a farm!  

I just read this again and realize that I am making no sense whatsoever. Is it farmhouse or salty nautical I’m after?  I guess the heat has melted my brain a bit. 

Distressing the painted Ikea Hejne shelf.

The final step was to add the wax. Put it on and then rub it off with a clean piece of cotton cloth.  You can see how much darker it looks now that the wax has been added.

Adding wax to the painted wood.

I let it cure for a few days and then put it together. It was super easy and one of those little gizmos was included with the hardware. It even had plastic foot protectors for the bottom. The only thing that give me a little difficulty was the metal X in the back.  It is always a good idea to place it towards the center of the unit.

​A bit of styling of my Ikea Hejne shelf and I was done!  I guess that solved the farmhouse vs. nautical dilemma. 

Ikea Hejne shelf painted and decorated with nautical themes.

You will have to forgive me for the photos. The lighting was so bad in this room with lots of shadows that there was no way I could show you the true beauty of this shelving unit.

The wood grain does show through and it looks so much better than what I had originally envisioned.  

Angled photo of wood.

Originally I had wanted a solid color of gray like in my upcycled bookcases. But this was a more interesting variation. After all I didn’t want all the furniture in this room to be too matchy matchy.

Wood grain showing through the milk painted shelves.

This is not a very wide shelving unit. Ikea sells another one which is wider but I chose this one because I didn’t want to have a tight squeeze to get to the rest of the rooms. 

Side view of decorated Ikea Hejne shelves.

A better shot of that pretty wood grain peeking through. Oh and did I mention the soft smoothness of the surface? I cannot say enough about that. Remember the before photos with the raw wood and the splinters?  Well I have nothing to worry about now!  It is so smooth it feels like silk.  I kid you not!

Smooth finish of wood shelves.

Here is a bit of the white showing through.  It almost looks like salt water that has aged the piece. 

The aged look of the wood.

Here is another view of the distressing on the Ikea Hejne shelf, plus and my husband’s nautical sign on top. 

Distressed piece of the Ikea Hejne shelf.

In case you were wondering all those things you see on the shelves belong to my husband who is an avid fisherman. We found that life saver on the beach and saved it. It graces the wall for now but he may take it to the boat at any moment.

Ikea Hejne shelf painted and decorated with nautical themes.

This shelving unit took me a while to paint but I think it was well worth the effort. By using Old Fashioned Milk Paint, I now have a custom look that I am very happy with. And the finish is like butter!! I would say this is a definite improvement for the Hejne Ikea shelf unit. 

Would you have painted it a solid color or do you like my method with the wood grain showing through?

Ikea Hejne shelf painted and decorated with nautical themes with text overlay.

The Small Apartment Series:

painted wood table
Beach Table
Painted metal trunk
Metal Trunk
upcylced bookshelves
Upcycled Bookcases
Organizers upcycled with maps.
Bookcase Organization

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Keri Roberts

Thursday 24th of August 2017

Mary, you always do such a great job at mixing your paint and letting variation come through on your pieces, love the contrast and character it gives. The way you styled the shelf is amazing!! What a lovely way to display those treasures of the sea.


Friday 25th of August 2017

Thanks Keri, I really wanted to make this one look nautical but in a subtle way.


Monday 7th of August 2017

You´ve proved again how some paint can make such a huge difference! I love the shelf and the shades you mixed look really good on it! Perfect for a fisherman style shelf I think! Seems like the apartments is coming together nicely, will you show us a tour at the end??


Monday 7th of August 2017

The apartment is getting there. We are putting the kitchen cabinets together now. And yes of course I will show a tour! That is always the best part!

Michelle Leslie

Monday 7th of August 2017

I've been so tempted to order something online from IKEA ever since you sent me that link Mary. I'm all for keeping wood as natural as possible, when it tells a beautiful story ;-) But the raw pieces you got from IKEA, ummm that story is a little bit crazy, so I really like how you made it beautiful while still letting some of the grain show through. And the lighter colors are much better than the original dark grey. Great makeover. Please say you'll be doing a grand tour of the new apartment one day soon?


Monday 7th of August 2017

I should have known better Michelle. I paid practically nothing for it. But I knew before hand that I would be painting it. The surprise was the wood grain showing through. A grand tour will be coming once it is done. I still have a few pieces of furniture to refinish and we have to get the kitchen cabinets installed.

Christina Makri

Monday 7th of August 2017

My dear Mary you took a simple plain IKEA unit and transformed it in something very special. I love the colors you layered on it, I love the nautical theme styling. This is a real hack and I would be honored if you use my hashtag in Instagram #hackmepls... Hugs & kisses


Monday 7th of August 2017

I would love to use the hashtag Christina. And I'm guessing you are also partial to the nautical look since we have all the seas around us.

Carol ("Mimi")

Monday 7th of August 2017

I've never tried painting anything with milk paint, but my son has used it with excellent results. Your shelf unit looks very nice after your milk paint project. I like that you can see the wood grain through the paint color. I'm inspired to give mild paint a try. Thanks for the tutorial. Carol ("Mimi") from Home with Mimi


Monday 7th of August 2017

Oh Mimi it is like a love affair that is unfolding before your eyes. You never know where the paint will take you. In my case because I watered it down a bit I got that beautiful transparent color. Good luck on trying it out and if you have any questions I'm right here.

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