Wednesday, June 29, 2016

How to create custom built ins with kitchen cabinets

Hey there! I'm back with some slight progress (but still progress) in the loft/craft room that is my project for the summer. I told you about it here and it hasn't moved as quickly as I'd like just beceuase we've been out of town so much this summer. Since I shared this room last I've had extra outlets installed and wiring for sconces run. The lights just came this morning so I'll put those up today to see how they look -- I will show you soon!

I'm building a wall of storage/desk in this room and I'm going back to my standard when creating built ins in our home -- unfinished upper kitchen cabinets. I've used these a few times in various ways throughout our house and I keep going back to it because they work every time! They always turn out looking fantastic so I'm sharing how I get them to that point today. 

I played around with the measurements and finally came up with a plan for cabinets that would fit without any reconfiguring on my part. I want this to be easy. :) This wall is about 11 feet and I am leaving room at both ends -- one end for a long window seat that will go along a wall and the other end I'm planning to leave an open spot: 
Making built ins from kitchen cabinets

I still have two more cabinets to buy but this gives you an idea. I'm leaving about six inches at the end where the wall stops because when we move someday this room could be turned into a fourth bedroom. I think it would help our value quite a bit to do that so I want to leave plenty of room for a wall to be put in there. My design for this room will work great even if this room is ever closed off. 

These are 18 inch wide by 30 inches tall -- since I add a little height the desk area will be a little higher than standard height. I've already found adjustable desk chairs that will work perfectly. :) I plan to pull these away from the wall just a bit (I'll build brackets that will attach into studs and then connect the cabinets) so that the counter area is bigger than the 12 inch depth. I'm thinking at least 18 inches. 

The first step to making kitchen uppers look like built ins is raising them up a bit. If you just put them on the ground they look out of place. I use 1x4s and nail them into the sides around the bottom of the cabinets: 
How to make cabinets into build ins

The center piece is for added support. To make these look custom I wrap the bottom with baseboards and this pulls them up off the ground so that's possible. I add scrap wood around the bottom to make it flush with the cabinet before I install the base -- otherwise your base would tilt back into the open space against the 1x4. 

When you add the base and and then some simple trim on the ends to dress it up, it gives it all a much more sophisticated look:
Using kitchen cabinets to build a bookcase

Of course the butcher block counter offers some nice contrast and makes it feel even more custom: 
Kitchen cabinets as base to bookcases

Right now I'm planning a butcher block top in the loft too, but that may change. 

This built in is in our dining room turned library and I've shared it a million times, I know. But we easily saved a couple grand by doing this project ourselves. The inexpensive cabinets make it a really affordable project!: 
DIY built ins with kitchen cabinets

It is truly the best combo of form and function -- those cabinets are only 12 inches deep but they hold a ton! (Think of how much they hold in your kitchen.)

I used the upper cabinets that go over the fridge for our mud room bench:
Mud room bench from kitchen cabinets

And my first project with these was another project I did with my Dad for my son's bedroom
Blue and red airplane room

I have Dad to thank for this idea -- he's the one who thought of it for this room and I've kind of taken off with it. :) I think the loft will be the last place I do this though -- I don't foresee anymore built ins in the house! 

Have you tried this trick to build custom built ins or bookcases? I'm thrilled with how they look in our home and I hope to share you a lot more progress in the loft very soon! 


  1. Hi Sarah! Question- why did you decide to go with uppers instead of lowers? I'm in the process of building something similar for our laundry room and I bought the lowers to start my built-ins.

    1. because lower cabinets are super deep. uppers are a nice narrow depth- they take up less floor space but you still get lots of storage. If you have the room for lowers it's totally fine though!

    2. Hey Maria! Good question -- two reasons. One, for these projects I didn't want the built ins to take up that much room (since lowers are deeper). Also, lowers are either drawers or cabinets with drawers -- which just look too much like a kitchen for me. At least for something decorative like bookcases. I almost did drawers for the loft though! I decided I didn't want it quite so deep. Yours look great and look perfect for laundry room storage! (Oh, and the third reason -- the uppers are cheaper.) ;)

    3. Wow I never would have thought to use uppers! Thanks :)

  2. Love this idea! The mud room is my favorite!

  3. We did this in our first home as well (also with upper cabinets) and loved the results! TFS!

  4. We used IKEA refrigerator cabinets as a very long built in bench in our playroom. I didn't put on the doors b/c I wanted it open for baskets. It worked perfectly.

  5. I also used refrigerator cabinets (2 36" sets) to make a window bench in my kitchen. I made a plank top from 1x lumber. People think it's a 'custom' piece, which I guess it is, but a diy custom :-) It does add a lot of storage (perfect for my cookbooks and less used kitchen stuff), and is awesome as some extra seating for guests. I created the lifted base from 2x4's (for more support for sitting), and added 1x across the top to support the planks. I didn't want anyone to feel insecure sitting on the bench. Instead of baseboard, I painted the 2x4 base flat black, and made curvy 'feet' shapes to make it look like a free standing bench - the black base recedes and you don't see it. I did something similar on my island. It's amazing how useful those humble off the shelf cabinets are!

  6. We have used upper kitchen cabinets in our garage and several other projects in our house too. My question for you is, have you ever put one of these built ins in a room with carpeting? If so, did you put it right over the carpet or did you pull the carpet back and have it re-installed. Also, did you remove the existing base molding?
    Thanks! I can't wait to see your finished project!

    1. Yes! We put it right on top. If you ever have new floors installed they just cut around it -- you can't see the old carpet. And sometimes I remove the base, sometimes not. After you add the 1x4's to the bottom of the cabinet they're up higher so they will fit right over baseboards and then I coped my new base to fit to the old stuff. Hope that makes sense! (We had pretty small baseboards where I did this, if yours is taller that may not work.)

    2. Thank you for asking this! We are hoping to do this in a room with carpet and have been pondering the same things about the carpet and the base boards.

  7. Hi Sarah! I love this! Where do you purchase the uppers and how much do they usually cost? Are they portable or built in? Also, what paint do you use? I'm a very inexperienced DIYer!!!

    1. Sorry I missed this! You can find them at any big box hardware store. The price depends on the size -- the larger ones for our bookcases were about $100 each I think? I use semi gloss or satin for cabinets. I shared how I painted our kitchen cabinets here:

  8. I really like this. Where do you go for butcher block tops?

    1. My favorite place to get them is IKEA! You can also find them at Lumber Liquidators and search for local lumber suppliers.


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