Starting a wall of DIY built ins

March 12, 2012

Remember when I told you about my idea to transform our (never used) dining room into a library-type space? Well, you all loved the idea too, and since then I’ve been planning it out in my head.

The plan called for a wall of floor to ceiling bookcases, and I knew I wanted to make them like we did in the Bub’s room:


We started out with kitchen cabinets and built up from there.

So I went looking for the cabs again, and I found the same exact ones at Lowe’s, Home Depot and Menards – and wasn’t crazy about the quality of any of them. I think they were the same ones we used in the kiddo’s room, but they just felt cheaper now – the middle panel on the doors was SUPER thin and rattled around on some of them.

Then I went to a cabinet store, and found out they could get my nicer cabs unfinished, but they would be about $210 each. I was hoping to keep this WHOLE project under just the cost for those cabs, so in the end I went back to the less expensive version. They were cheapest at Menards -- $85 each:

The plan is to get them into place, and at least primed and then decide if I want to rebuild the doors. I want to wait till most of it is pulled together to decide, because as my Dad said, I’m pretty sure I’m going to like them just fine when all is said and done.

They sat lined up for a while, and then Dad and bro came over this weekend to help get things rolling. While I was out picking up supplies, they pulled up the baseboards:

You can see there how the hardwoods were installed right up against them. :)

I picked up a few 1 by 4’s and we cut them to size to go under each cabinet – we made a rectangle and then one across the middle to brace it:

These create toe kicks that you find on regular cabinet. We just used the nail gun to secure them around the bottom.

We put them back into place for now, and they are ready for the next step(s)…lots of them:

The toe kicks will be finished off with baseboard to match the rest of the room.

But we can’t install those until we install the cabinets and we can’t install the cabinets until we have the lights hooked up. Got it? ;)

I want lights at the top of each bookcase that will shine down, but from the front, so it lights up each section. (Instead of a puck light installed up above that lights up the top shelf.)

I was determined to find something in a store (didn’t want to order online) and I found these at Lowe’s for $12 each:

The plan is to (maybe) spray paint them (they don’t get hot) and hardwire them to a switch. I’m debating between these and another light, but those are about $12 more each, so these may be the ones. :)

My plan all along has been to put butcher block down over the base cabinets, and then build the bookshelves above. I was standing in the room telling my Dad how I needed to take a trip to IKEA this week to get it, and realized my friend Beckie was there as we spoke.

I texted her and she picked up one for me – WHOO! She rocks my socks off. She saved me a four hour (round) trip – it worked out perfectly! The counter is being cut down today and I pick it up tomorrow – it will go on top of the bases:

I think I’ll sand them down and stain them a dark color – maybe even the same as the floor? (Jacobean.)

I took down the molding that has been on the walls for about seven years, and let this be a reminder to only use glue to install molding when you are absolutely positive it will never go anywhere. Ever:

Because of that, we will most likely line the wall with large pieces of mdf or something – the edges will be hidden behind the bookcases. That will be way easier than filling and patching all the drywall.

I found lovely (Martha Stewart) hardware at Home Depot:

Love! They’re nice and heavy and I love the design.

Even though it was probably a total waste of time, because I’ll have to move them out again, I had to see how the serving ware fit into the four cabinets:

Everything, including the dishes that were sitting out on the table, fit in two cabinets – with room to spare. I have PLENTY of room for other seasonal dishes that are now in the basement. WHOO!

Storage makes me deliriously happy.

I chose these cabinets (12 inch wall cabinets) instead of regular base cabs (24 inches deep) because I wanted them to be thin so there’s still plenty of room in the space. I also wanted just the basic doors at the bottom instead of the doors and drawers that regular bases have. And they were lots cheaper. :)

They also worked out perfectly for the butcher block – I was able to get one piece and make it work…hopefully. We’ll see when I pick it up tomorrow. :)

So, the next steps are to get the electrical figured out, and then it should go pretty fast! Install the cabs to the wall and each other, baseboards, butcher block, then start building shelves. They don’t look like much now, I know.

But if they turn out like my vision, they will someday:

I’m super psyched about all the priming and painting. Really. So stoked. Hold me back.

(I think the sprayer is in my future.)

So there’s the start to transforming our rarely, (try not even once a year) dining room into a room we KNOW we will enjoy.

Are you with me?? ;)

Email subscription form header
Your email:*
Please enter all required fields Click to hide
Correct invalid entries Click to hide


  1. I am SOOOO with you!! Cannot wait to see it! I love the step by step. You are great at everything...even anticipation and building excitement Girlie!! xoxo


  2. Oh it's going to look great! Yes, I think a sprayer would be good :) Some serious painting to do!

  3. I am with you. I know you will make it look fantastic!

  4. OH YES!

    I think transforming the dining room into a usable space is a win win.

    I am in love with my dining room turned office.

    Although I am mostly using my laptop from my living room. LOL

    Mr. Goodwill Hunting

  5. oooo---nice!!! Love all that storage. How sweet of Beckie to help you out too!

    Um, I loooooved The Hunger Games books. Those are so good. Can't wait for the movie next week. :)

  6. WOW!! I would LOVE to have this storage in my dining room to store all of my different dishes. I can't wait to see it when it's all complete! Especially with the butcher block top. Swoon!!

  7. Making this room work for how you live is the best thing ever! Why have a room you don't enjoy or use to it's fullest? That's just wasteful!

    Your cabinets and bookshelves are going to look beautiful. I'm looking forward to following the progression.

  8. You're going to LOVE (and soon fill up!) all that space! Great idea - can't wait to see how it comes together!

  9. It's going to look great! I love a wall of bookshelves! And those handles are perfect... I need to check those out for our kitchen.

  10. I was all excited to link up a super-cool project I just posted this weekend only to realize that today is NOT the first Monday of the month. Duh. I'll just have to wait for April! Anyway, I'm excited about your cabinets. We had a formal dining room at our old house that we never used, so we put a baby grand piano in there instead. At our new house, we only have one place for a dining table, and we still only use it when we have company. Otherwise we just eat at the island. Why? Because we can't see the TV from the dining table. :)

  11. Can't wait to see the next step! This project is going to look great.

    I'm with you on the Hunger Games books...been holding out on rereading book 3 until I get a few more items off my to-do list.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  12. Firstly can I just say how much I LOVE your blog. Anyone can throw a heap of money at something and have it turn out looking fine, it takes real skill to get a great result on a budget and you do it time and again! I love how you are using kitchen uppers for your bookcase and I think the whole thing is going to look fantastic, I can't wait to see the finished result! I'm also a 4 hour round trip from's painful!

  13. That is going to be so nice!! Love the way you are building it out of separate pieces - and I totally get the being excited to paint part - paint is like a magic wand - it makes everything better!!! Anxious to see the progress!

  14. Love the added storage and girl do not get me started on The Hunger Games!!!! Seriously - I'm almost through the second and it's keeping me up at night!

  15. Great start on your project! I loved the Hunger Games, too. ~ Maureen

  16. Lovin' it! Can't wait to watch everything transform.

  17. I am super excited to see this project. I am wanting to do something like this so following you will be so helpful. have you considered adding beadboard to the cabinets to make them look and feel heavier. And have you used those lights before, I have them in white (purchased at Loew's) and they do get hot but you could use the no heat light bulbs. Super excited, can't wait to see it all!

  18. Oooh, I can't wait to see how you do this, we are considering this type of shelving on a big wasted space wall in our family room. Thanks for sharing!

    PS: I just started the hunger games this weekend too! Started book 3 today and yes I've been staying up way too late. :)

  19. I am so excited to see how these built-ins turn out. I've been working on a similar scenerio to flank my living room fireplace & house my televison garbage. I too want them to be trim and neat and look like they've always been a part of the room.

  20. Ahh! EXCITING!! I can't wait to see more!
    x0x0 Jess

  21. Sounds like a great plan. Look forward to seeing the after pictures!

  22. Wow you are truly brave(I loveIt)I can't wait to see the end result I know it will be fabulous. Thanks for sharing.

  23. This is going to be amazing can't wait to see the finished product.

  24. Very excited to see the dining room makeover results. I love hearing about other people who love the project itself as much as result like I do. I also appreciate that you do your projects according to budget and truly stick to your budget. We're doing Dave Ramsey's FPU for the second time (hoping we will finish all the steps this time) and you are a source of encouragement for me in it all.

  25. Loved your project and the thought processes you are using. I too have the thinner door cabinets...I put a layer of cork board behind each door, works great to quiet the 'rattle" they make. Enjoy your beautiful new room!

  26. You are so creative! I have just purchased a house that will need lots of remodeling so I am reading your blog religiously. I'm wondering, how do you attach the cabinets to each other and then also to the wall? Sorry, I'm new to this. : )

  27. I never thought about the price difference between upper and base cabinets and using uppers when you don't need drawers is a great idea. Can't wait to see your final reveal. I am just now looking at the long wall in my dining room and thinking!

  28. wow what a great idea!!! We have a blank canvas in our dining room....holding just a table and a bookcase!

  29. i am GIDDY with excitement because this is MY plan for MY dining room. i love watching it unfold in someone else's house first (hee hee). GREAT idea to use cabinet uppers vs base cabinets...i'm totally stealing that idea. everything else is so similiar...right down to using butcher block from ikea! can't wait to see it finished!

  30. I am so jealous of all your future storage! I know what you mean about storage = delerious with excitement...I have the same feelings! PS...that second book is super good...I read the whole series in a week! Those toddlers can watch themselves....

  31. woohoo! i am so excited to read along with this project - my husband and I would like to eventually add some built-ins on either side of our fireplace and your approach sounds AWESOME! can't wait to see how it all turns out!

  32. Wow! You are on your way lady! I can't wait to see what you have up your sleeve next! Never would have thought about starting with just a normal base cabinet. I think I may have to try that in our living room. Keep up the Fab work!

  33. Can't wait to see the finished project!


  34. Awesome! Who helped you cut down the counter top? A local shop? Very interested! I want to do something similar in my office!

  35. Looks good so far I can't wait to se it finished. Love you taking us step-by-step

    I cannot wait to see how it all comes together!


  37. You are so talented! I can't wait to see the finished results. Good luck!! :)

  38. I'm SO going to do this in my dining room too! I want lots of storage...and a room that I'll actually use instead of just a laundry folding station! Can't wait to see the result!

  39. These are going to look very high-end based on your description. So cool!

    About those lights...check a little more at Lowe's or wherever. There are more options out there...even some very unobtrusive track lighting (not the old 80's stuff!)might work for you if you're hardwiring anyway. These can get pretty warm as another person mentioned, and they might just detract from the beauty of your design.

    Although these may be out of your budget, I'm betting your savvy brother and dad and you could rig up something like these ;-) here at Lamps Plus.

    Something more streamlined to mount either on the ceiling or right on the top of the cabinets? Just a thought...Oh I can't wait to see the finished project!

  40. This is going to look fantastic! I'm all for making your house more functional for you. It doesn't make sense to dedicate a whole room to dining if you never use it.

  41. With you! WITH YOU!! Sarah, it's going to be wonderful. Absolutely wonderful.

    Here's one thing for you to consider re: lights. If you have glass shelves instead of wooden shelves, puck lights at the top work to illuminate the whole thing. Of course, glass shelves might not work for you. I like wooden shelves for books, glass shelves for displaying things. (My living room built-ins have wooden shelves; dining room cupboards have glass.) Good luck with figuring out the lighting!

  42. can't wait to see the end results!

  43. This is such a great idea! I absolutely can't wait to see how this turns out! I have space for a hutch or something in our dining space, but I'm not sure what I want to do yet!

  44. YAY!! So excited that you decided to make the change! We are changing our (never used) dining room into a playroom!

  45. I can't wait to see this transformation...i am loving all the storage...

  46. Wow, this is so interesting! I love how easy you make stuff look, and also the fact that it is reasonable (thrifty!)

    I love that your Dad & bro are helping you.

    I dream of built ins in my family room, and never even thought that my dh & I could possibly do them ourselves!? Ha! Who knew? You continue to inspire, Sarah. Looking forward to coming along for the ride on this one.

  47. We did the same thing. We don't entertain often and our dining room was just a "pass through" room. A room we passed through on the way to the kitchen or den. We made it into a place for the kids to do homework and craft storage and we are in that room ALL of the time now.

  48. I can't even tell you how jazzed I was when I logged on and saw this post. I've been trying to convince the hubbster to let me add some sort of built-ins in our family room. Our house has zero storage space/closets so I've been brain storming ways to add in storage. I've been talking about the idea of adding cabinets below our TV... He's more of a visual person and my crude drawings and verbal descriptions of how awesome it will be weren't really sealing the deal. I can't wait to get home and how him a step by step breakdown of what I'm wanting to do.

    So thank you!! I'm so excited for this!!

  49. Love it already! I can't wait to see the finished project. I am about to start a built in in my dining room that looks like the Bub's room...only no window seat! Great job so far!

  50. you might consider putting a bead of paintable acrylic caulk around the perimeter of the door panel - that will make a clean seam for painting & will virtually eliminate any rattle, making the doors seem more solid. Just a thought.

  51. Oh, man, this is going to be soooo great!

  52. Looks so good! Can't wait to see the final product. You mentioned "sprayer". What do you use and do you like it? I'm looking for one but not sure where to start. Thanks!


  53. Light Idea-
    Use LED under cabinet "strip lighting" check for model 10434.
    Size wise they are like 2 pencils end to end.... then they wont detract from your main lighting - I seem to remember a pretty cute lighing fixture in your dining room ;p

    Im a DH of kit and bath at HD and I always reccommend these....

  54. oh I can't wait to see your room. I love all of your ideas. I am wanting to put cabinets in my sewing room. I will follow you for inspiration.

  55. I'm not even sure how I started following your blog originally, but it's sure been a great inspiration. We are currently remodeling our garage turned play/craft/exercise room by adding built in "lockers" with pegs - not a small project. Anyway, my dh is super-handy and has decided to spray it with an "airless" - whatever that means. All it know is there is overspray everywhere and I have tons to tape off. ANyway, thanks for always having ideas!

  56. I can't wait to see how it turns out. I have been thinking of doing the same thing with my dining room. It has literally sat empty except for one picture on an easel for the 5 years I have lived there. All the while, I am running out of room in my office for the books and can't really use that room for crafts due to the space issue.

  57. Sarah, Can't wait to see this all come will be such a great space!

  58. oh my freakin' gosh!!! i rarely take the time to comment on any blog post that already has tons of comments, but i can't help myself today. pretend like i am the only one talking to you. that would be easier if i were actually the only one talking to you, but try really hard... :-) I CAN'T BELIEVE HOW AWESOME YOU ARE AT JUST GOING FOR IT ON THIS PROJECT. like, i REALIZE that you've been cooking this up for a long time in your head, but you are in the midst of the basement stuff and suddenly BAM you are buying cabinets and taking names! i love you!!!!

    this is going to be AMAZING! i am watching closely, because i have similar plans for our office/front room. right now i have big nice file cabinets on each side of the opening to the dining room, with big cheap bookcases standing up on top of those to create the look of built-ins, but i ain't foolin' nobody, including myself!

    let's change the subject- I CAN'T WAIT TO MEET YOU AT HAVEN!

    again, change of subject,- I am changing my blog name soon, so how will you know me anymore? Does changing my blog name equal changing my name in real life? that would be weird.

    i have to go procrastinate more projects, so let's chat later, k?

    love and hugs- angie @ seriouslyahomemaker

    ...soon to be "Angie in the THICK of it"

    {that's weird to write.}

  59. Awesome..keeping this in mind for my dining room. By the way, the rest of the Hunger Game books are just as awesome as the first one!

  60. Absolutely with you, and will be following this project closely to see how you do it and how it goes. You ARE brave thinking sbout hand-painting all of those cabinets. Had you thought about painting them before you installed them??? This may be a really dumb question -- how can you spray paint them one they are in place? How could you possibly tape out and protect the rest of the room while you spray paint away???? Am I missing something? Would it not be easier to have the cabinets pre-finished and then installed, and then do touch-ups as required with wood putty, etc? I'm no carpenter, so I am clueless! Good luck with your project. I'm all for library space. I don't have a dining room that could be converted, per se, but I do have a long wall in the family room (18.5 feet) that I would love to line with floor to ceiling shelving; I was thinking about 11 inches wide. Your idea to use the upper 12 inch deep cabinets for your base is excellent! Tons of hidden storage without sacrificing much floor space. That was my idea with thinking about using 11 inch deep ready-made bookcases but yours is much better with all the hidden storage! I will use your idea if I ever attempt the wall to wall of shelving project!

  61. Just to say,I am glad to read so good article in the website.Well,OK.I have to say,what a wonderful blog it is.thank you for your sharing so good articles in the website.I like it very much.It is very interesting in it.Look forward to reading so good articles in the website.

  62. Look at Suzanne Collins on YouTube to hear about her inspiration for Hunger Games.
    Love the new library/dining room.

  63. This comment has been removed by the author.

  64. Researched all day yesterday on this very subject and came across your blog. LOVE IT! ;))

    You really have me excited no to accomplish the same transformation in my own style. This is what I just posted:

    Turning a Dinning Room into a sitting room/library.
    Why you ask? many reasons.
    1. A more useable space
    2. We are a casual bunch
    3. Dinning table is used how many times a year?
    4. 3 game and eating tables around the house, lets consolidate
    5. Hubby needs a cool place to retreat and read. A library
    6. More seating for his meet up groups and all our charity work
    7. Cause we can ;)


    for sharing and what timing finding your blog

    Cant wait to see your updates. Once your bro and dad are finished can you ship them to Southern Cali? I have 2 guest rooms, pay well and feed very hearty. ;)

  65. Loving your blog. The hubby and I are trying to do built-ins on our 2nd story landing, which is currently too big to be empty, but too small for a social space, and we totally lack storage!
    I was wondering... did you use "wall cabinets"? all the base cabinets I'm finding have drawers, and we don't want that.

  66. Have had this project " pinned" for quite some time now. Happy to report that HD just had their in stock cabinets for sale and we just purchased three of them! Next up, toe kicks......eeekkk, so excited to start this project. Thanks for the inspiration

  67. Did you do anything to fill in the gab between each cabinet?


If you have a specific question I will do my best to answer you back here!

You can find our paint colors and links to items at the "Our Home" tab at the top of my site.

THANKS so much for reading!