Conventionally, the phase transformation of inorganic nanocrystals is realized under extreme conditions (for example, high temperature or high pressure). Here we report the complete phase transformation of Au square sheets (AuSSs) from hexagonal close-packed (hcp) to face-centered cubic (fcc) structures at ambient conditions via surface ligand exchange, resulting in the formation of (100)f-oriented fcc AuSSs. Importantly, the phase transformation can also be realized through the coating of a thin metal film (for example, Ag) on hcp AuSSs. Depending on the surfactants used during the metal coating process, two transformation pathways are observed, leading to the formation of (100)f-oriented fcc Au@Ag core-shell square sheets and (110)h/(101)f-oriented hcp/fcc mixed Au@Ag nanosheets. Furthermore, monochromated electron energy loss spectroscopy reveals the strong surface plasmon resonance absorption of fcc AuSS and Au@Ag square sheet in the infrared region. Our findings may offer a new route for the crystal-phase and shape-controlled synthesis of inorganic nanocrystals. © 2015 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved.