Living Room Built-Ins | Part 2

If you haven’t checked out part 1 of our living room built-in tutorial where I share all about how we built the base cabinets, be sure to check it out here.

Hey guys! How’s your new year going?

Ours is well underway and we’ve been busy! I started the new year off with some good organization of the nursery closet and now that Christmas is all packed away and I’ve had time to play around with our living room built-ins, I wanted to show you how we built the upper shelves. If you’re just tuning in, please be sure to stop by and read part 1 of our DIY built-ins so you’re up to speed!


With everything completed for the lower portion of the built-ins we set our sights on completing the construction of the upper shelves. We honestly had no idea what we were doing – and that scared us. The fear of starting a project we weren’t confident we had the skills to complete caused us to push this project farther and farther down the to-do list.

But guys!

Don’t make the same mistake we did! Don’t be scared or intimidated by a project like this! If you can operate a saw and a nail gun, YOU CAN DO THIS!

Before we began we watched several videos (in excess) and read several tutorials but by far – this was the most helpful video we found and was really the tutorial that made this project seem easy and approachable.

We purchased our supplies at Home Depot and had them cut down most of the pieces right there in store that way they were easier to transport and required us to make fewer cuts at home.

To start, we began in the left corner and measured from the top of the built-in up to the ceiling and we cut a 12″ wide piece of MDF down to size.


We erred on the side of caution and cut the MDF side panel a smidge large on the first pass and kept making small incremental cuts until it fit. We were so nervous we were going to screw something up so we tried to be overly cautious in the beginning! We secured this side panel into the studs using 2″ nails.


Note: we did not secure any of the upper shelving structure to the bottom cabinetry portion of the built-in. It was not necessary because the side panels keeps everything secure and in place.

Once we put up the first side panel we realized just how wonky our walls and ceilings are (note the sizeable gap along the back edge). At first we were really upset and frustrated but we realized that it’s to be expected in an old house and course corrected as we went along. We used our right angle and our square a lot to make sure everything was level and plum. Since we couldn’t rely on the wall or ceilings as our guide, we made sure that the panels we installed were straight and level and that was our new template.


Next we added a piece of wood along the back of the wall (secured into the studs) to act as a brace and a way to secure the right side panel until we could build more stability.


We also added a piece along the bottom but we didn’t nail this piece of wood into anything. It more or less acted as a spacer so that from top to bottom the shelving box we were building was square.

With those 2 back supports in place, we nailed the right panel into the top support only from the outside.


And for good measure, we added another spacer to the front at the top to keep everything square. Later, this piece of wood is what we nail our crown molding into.


Now that the outer frame was built and well supported, we began adding the shelving which is where the real strength and support comes from. To do this we first had to decide how many shelves we wanted and how tall we wanted each shelf to be. This was by far the hardest part of the whole process.

In the end we decided on 3 “boxes” of equal height (3 boxes = 2 actual shelves). Looking back now I’d definitely say that this was a mistake we made and wish we had gone with 4 boxes.

You win some, you lose some. Moving on…

To create the shelf supports we cut a two more pieces of MDF (12″ wide x whatever height you want your shelf to be) and secure each of those it into the left and right side panels. Then we ran a piece of 1×2 along the back wall and secured it into the studs. This is what your shelf will sit on.


Here is what it looks like from the front to give you an idea:


That raw edge of the MDF in the photo above will later get covered by trim pieces.

Now all you have to do is add your shelf and repeat the process until you’ve built all the shelves for your built-in.

This is what gives your built-in the support and stability. Adding the pieces along the perimeter in several sections are what give it it’s strength and make it unnecessary to secure into the base of your built-in. This thing is solid like a rock.


To finish the top “box” was a tad tricky and one we had to brainstorm a bit. After placing the 2nd shelf we were a little perplexed as to what we were supposed to do next. None of the tutorials we had referenced explained this part so we had to figure it out as we went along.

Basically what we did was exactly what we had done before. Except this time the “shelf” that we slid into place was essentially the ceiling of the shelving structure.

We added another strip of wood to the front to close the gap up top and which looks ugly now but would eventually get covered by crown molding.


Once all the shelves were built, we trimmed everything out. The 2 pieces of MDF sandwiched together are covered perfectly with 1×2 strips of wood.

We first attached the long vertical pieces but nailing directly into the face of the trim and then went back and added the horizontal pieces.


Here’s a close up:


Next up:

Spackle and a crap ton of caulk to fill all those nail holes and gaps!

This one gets a little trigger happy with the nail gun so I made him do all the spackling.


So? What do you think?! Not that intimidating, right? I hope you find that this project is approachable and something you definitely can tackle after reading this post.

There’s still so much to share regarding our built-ins (hello reveal!) including how we installed shiplap and crown molding so be on the look out for a third and final post to round out how we DIYed our living room built-ins!

Is this a project you’d tackle? I’d love to see if you do!


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

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…