DIY Built-Ins

Built In Cabinet-1-2

First of all, let me just say that the “Do It Yourself” in the title of this post is a little misleading. Chris and I could not have done this without the major help of my dad. We dreamed up the idea (hey, wouldn’t it be nice to have some built ins here with our TV above it?), and dad came up with the how.

I helped as much as I could at 9 months pregnant, but Chris and dad took the lead for the most part. Here’s pretty much how “we” did it. Note: all the progress photos were taken on my iPhone…

Progress 22There wasn’t really anything inherently wrong with the before photo, apart from needing a good vacuuming. Although I didn’t get a photo of it, we actually had a little buffet/dresser sitting against this wall with the TV setting on top of it. It was fine, but lacked much storage and showed a lot of wires.

I don’t know what it is, but wires drive me crazy. I can overlook all sorts of mess, but if wires are out of control, we have a problem. Plus, babies tend to accumulate lots of things, so some extra storage seemed like a good idea.

Progress 23

In order to get the built ins nice and flat against the wall, we knew we’d have to remove the judges paneling. Dad was so excited to buy some tiny crowbars. He referred to them as “cute” plenty of times. But, hey, they were super effective at getting all that molding off, so if anyone is in the market, this is what we used. So cute!

Two things to note:

  1. We went ahead and pulled off all the molding, even though the built in would not stretch the full length of the wall. “We” decided it would be easier to cut the molding back to size once the cabinets were in than to guess the correct length up front.
  2. You can see we used our copy of “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” as a tool during this process. While it gave me anxiety to actually read, it was very useful in propping up wood to extract nails. Money well spent, I’d say.

Here’s what the wall looked like afterwards:

Built In Cabinet Before-6

Progress 24

Instead of starting from scratch, we ordered wall cabinets from Home Depot as a starting point. We opted for cabinets 42″ tall and 36″ wide so that we would have lots of space. Also, I wanted the top of the cabinet to be far from the reach of a future toddler so I could display pretty things. Please do not tell me your tales of climbing babies. I will hum and pretend that that doesn’t happen.

In terms of the placement itself, we decided to offset the two middle cabinets so we could gain a little depth. The cabinets themselves are 12″ deep. By offsetting the two middle cabinets 4″, we made the middle 16″ deep, which could easily accommodate electronics.

Progress 25

At this point, things were looking a little messy. We couldn’t really use our living room for a couple days because this is when dad really stepped up his game and made things actually functional. I don’t really have a great photo to show what was done here, so I’ll explain a bit.

  1. As you can see in the before photo, we had an air duct behind where the cabinets were to go. Dad, being the handyman he is, was able to reroute the duct down to the floor behind the wall and create a duct underneath the cabinets. I picked out the cover for the vent, so….you know….I contributed, too.
  2. We installed an electrical outlet and HDMI/coax connection where the TV was to be hung. Dad ran everything up the wall so that we wouldn’t have to look at those pesky wires.
  3. In order to make the middle cabinets deeper, we had to remove the backs of those two cabinets. That meant, though, that we’d be able to see the wall through the cabinets. If you refer to exhibit “removing the paneling,” you can see that the wall behind was really in no position to be displayed. So, we used two pieces of MDF (what you see in the photo above) to make everything a bit smoother. Caulk and paint made everything blend a little better than what you currently see.

Progress 26

To ensure the cabinets looked built in, we knew we wanted the molding from the baseboards to continue around the bottom of the cabinets. Plus, the cabinets needed to be elevated to ensure the doors didn’t scrape the floor and to allow our new air duct to function. As such, one of the first things we had to do was build a base for the cabinets to sit on.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t even in the room for most of this part. So, measure twice cut once, patience is a virtue, etc. Those are the only tips I can give there.

Once we built the base, though, we noticed that the floor was slightly angled away from the wall. So, we hammered some handy little window shims under the base to level things out, which is what you see jutting out in the above photos. Once we figured out how much of the shim needed to go under each section to make the cabinets level, we cut them off to that length to make them flush with the base.

From there, we simply installed molding and quarter-round to match the rest of the room. We also recreated a panel of judges paneling to the right of the cabinet with the scraps we had taken off.

Progress 27

I was actually able to contribute a little more from here on out, now that the heavy lifting was finally over (yay!). I caulked the insides of the middle cabinets (remember that MDF contraption we created earlier?) and all the molding. Then, I applied the beautiful blue tape you see above, primed everything that wasn’t already white, and applied two layers of paint.

And, y’all…it was hard. The baby likes to hang out right in my rib cage making it nearly impossible to bend over…something that is required in order to reach the baseboards. But I persevered, and it looked great when the tape was removed and any drips were scraped off.

Built In Cabinet Before-15Progress 28

This part was probably the most fun. We talked about how we were going to conquer this top for a long time. The cabinet is 12 feet long and 12 to 16 inches wide, not including any overhang. Standard boards go up to 12 feet long and nowhere close to 16+ inches wide. So, we knew we were going to have to create something custom.

In order to account for the doors and overhang, we determined that we needed a 14″ wide top for the side cabinets and 18″ for the middle section. To create this, we used:

  • One 12′ x 12″ poplar board (actual width = 11.5″)
  • One 12′ x 3″ poplar board (actual width = 2.5″)
  • One 8′ x 6″ poplar board that we cut to 6’2″ x 4″

Lots of wood glue and clamping and you got yourself a pretty rad top. To make it just a little wider (you can see in the below photo, there isn’t much overhang on the sides), we added an inch of poplar board to each end.

In terms of the color, our goal was to stain the top to coordinate with the reclaimed wood mantle on the other side of the room, which you can see in some of the “after” photos below. We went with Varathane’s Early American, which was a perfect match.

Built In Cabinet Before-18

Then….we set it on top of the cabinet and screwed it on from inside!

AfterAnd now for all the pretty!
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Above is the mantle whose color we tried to match, and below you can see a good shot of the color we got. Not too bad, if I do say so myself!

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I’m super excited to be able to display some of our favorite items! The little carousel, below, was Chris’s as a baby, the white elephant was my great uncle’s, and the ostrich eggs were brought back from my study abroad in South Africa. I love decorating with personal details!


Below is what the other side of the room looks like, along with a cute little doggy model.
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Oh look, another doggy model!
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Thanks again for all your help, dad! I love it even more knowing we made it together.

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