Checking In: Living Room Built-ins (Nearly a Year Later!)

DIY is always a slow moving train around here. Between the two of us working full time, a 8 month old, and year-round softball – life is one huge time suck and there just isn’t much time or energy leftover for house projects.

I had to scroll all the way back to December 2016 in my phone to find this photo:

Those are our cabinets for the built-in getting delivered – almost a year ago!

Man…we suck!

Anyways…it’s almost December 2017 and we’re still not done. We’re close though!

Ok, I lied. We’re about 50% done. But since the living room built-ins is on our list of 2017 House Goals list, I thought I’d show you where we’re at and how we got here.

After soliciting several quotes and dying of sticker shock (basically this project all over again) we decided to DIY. DIYing a built-in isn’t really all that hard. It’s just intimidating. So before we got started, we pulled inspiration from these DIY built-in projects here, here, and here and just went for it.

We chose to use unfinished upper kitchen cabinets from Home Depot because they were readily available, affordable, and wouldn’t eat up a lot of floor space. They arrived December 17, 2016 – see picture above.

We went with five 30″ upper kitchen cabinets for an almost 13 foot built-in unit! Hellllo storage!

After the cabinets arrived we built a base for the cabinets to sit on. We did this so that we could wrap baseboard around the base of the cabinets for a “built-in look”. We chose to have the base flush with the cabinet fronts rather than set back like a traditional toe-kick in a kitchen set-up.

 

Since we have 5″ baseboard all throughout the house we built the base for the cabinets to sit on just slightly smaller than 5″. This way…the baseboards would completely cover the base plus slightly overlap the bottom edge of the cabinets. I think we ended up going with a 2×4 and 1×2 turned on its side to achieve the height we needed.

 

We also ran a 2×4 along the back wall of the living room – secured into the studs – to bump the cabinets out away from the wall about 2″. We did this for a few reasons…the first was so that we could easily secure the cabinets to the 2×4 (which was already secured to the studs) so we didn’t have to worry about hitting studs if we had secured the cabinets directly to the wall. The second reason we did this was because bumping the cabinets out from the wall 2″ allows the bookshelves up top to be recessed a bit. With the 2″ bump out the counter becomes 15″ deep (12″ cabs + 2″ bump out + 1″ overhang = 15″ counter) giving a little extra counter space up top and an overall better “built-in” look.

What came next was probably by far the hardest part of the entire install. So glad it’s over and so glad we both still love each other after the fact – ha!

To install the cabinets we started with the base we had built on the ground, set each cabinet on top, and began securing the cabinets to the 2×4 along the back wall all while making sure everything was level and plum – using shims where necessary (omg – so many shims). The first cabinet was pretty easy and straightforward – it was secured to the side wall, the back wall, the base, AND the adjoining cabinet. It did however, get more difficult with every cabinet we added to ensure that the unit as a whole was level and plum. We had to use quite a few shims along the back wall because our wall is not perfectly straight (what wall is?) and we also shimmed the base quite a bit because our floor slopes down pretty bad in that area too. Other than that…we secured the hell out of these cabinets: to the back wall, the base, and the adjoining cabinet(s) – they aren’t going anywhere!

Below is the side view – right after we installed the cabinets and getting ready to add baseboard. This area got covered up with a project panel so you’d never know we’re cheating the depth by 2″.

A couple things I should probably mention – we did not secure the base to the floor at all. I didn’t want to drill holes into perfectly good flooring in case a future owner wanted to come in and rip it out and then be left with holes. We could’ve secured the base to the side wall if we wanted to but determined that the sheer weight of all the cabinets plus bookshelves up top would prevent this thing from going anywhere.

We also made sure to measure and cut out holes in the back of a few cabinets so that we had access to any outlets along the wall. We did this before securing the cabinet so if we had to make any adjustments, it was easier to do.

Once all the cabinets were installed and secured – we focused on the top or the “counter” portion of the built in.

I knew going in that this would be the portion of the project that would be our biggest hang up. We built a 13 ft cabinet but finding a 13 ft topper would prove to be either very difficult, very expensive, or both. SPOILER ALERT: it’s both.

One of the tutorials that I referenced above used a single piece of butcher block for affordability and while butcher block is affordable, a 13 ft length was still a few hundred dollars and more than I wanted to spend. Plus…I didn’t want a stained top. I wanted an all white top to achieve the look of this project. Except they were working with pre-fab Ikea cabinets and didn’t need a top like we did.

So after procrastinating about it way too long, we decided to make our own. We chose a high quality, paint grade, birch plywood and seamed 2 smaller pieces together to make one massive counter top that could be painted to match the rest of the cabinets. We purchased the plywood from Home Depot and had them rip it down to size in the store.

Here’s my handy helper:

I’d tell you how we seamed the 2 pieces together but we aren’t wood workers and our approach is probably embarrassingly incorrect. We attached flat brackets on the underside for support and we used birch veneer tape on the edge of the plywood top to give it a nice finished look. We also made sure to fill, sand, and plane the top seam to make it look like 1 long piece of wood vs 2 pieces stuck together. No one but us will know (and now too you I guess) that we took the cheap way out: the cost of a single sheet of high quality plywood – $50!

To wrap up where we’re at now, the cabinets and top have been painted white, we attached the top to the cabinets using construction adhesive and installed some pretty gold hardware – a well deserved splurge since we saved thousands doing this ourselves.

Next up: bookshelves, shiplap, and trim!

Here’s to hoping it doesn’t take another year to knock this out…

 

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