Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Kinda-Custom Storage Cabinet

I love custom cabinetry - love it.  I would love to have a whole house full of custom built-ins, the only problem is . . . it's incredibly expensive.  Not only is it expensive, it's something that is not easy to do on your own, particularly if you have little to no carpentry experience like myself.

But will I let these 2 problems stand in my way?  Of course, not!  It just took me a little while longer to think my way around how to get what I wanted.

Design Dilemma:

The upper level of my house was severely deficient in the storage department.  I had 2 of the most ridiculously sized narrow excuses for closets that I have ever seen.  I like my house to be as clutter-free as possible.  Generally that means that if we haven`t touched it in a year - we don`t need it, so I`m getting rid of it.  Nevertheless, despite all of my efforts to de-clutter and minimize, I have come to accept that a family of 5 just has lots of junk.  When it comes to junk that you can`t get rid of, my philosophy is to keep it out of sight.  That meant that I needed more concealed storage.  The layout of my house doesn`t lend itself well to closet expansions, so cabinetry was my next best bet.  The only problem was that the only logistical place to put new said cabinetry was going to be out in the open in the main space of my home, so I wanted it to be pretty as well as practical.  With my level of skill, budget, and needs, this appeared to be a bit of a conundrum.  I puzzled over it and puzzled over it, until I finally found a solution - a kinda-custom storage cabinet!

I may not be much of a carpenter, but I`m a pretty good assembler.  My solution was to combine pre-fabricated cabinets that I could purchase and assemble, and then build a very simple customized top piece within my range of skill - add some trim, and voila!  I would have custom-looking cabinets to meet my practical and aesthetic needs.


- Pre-fabricated storage cabinets (I used 3)
- 1 8'x4' sheet of 3/4" plywood (I used MDF because I wanted a smooth surface).
- Cabinet connectors (I used 8 for 3 cabinets)
- Box of 1 1/4" wood screws
- Chair-rail (I needed about 3')
- Crown molding (I needed about 10')
- DAP white interior silicone
- Wood glue
- Primer & paint
- Sand paper


- Mitre saw
- Drill
- Speed Bore
- Screw-driver
- Micro-pinner (or brad-nailer, or good 'ol fashioned hammer, nail set and finishing nails)
- Measuring tape
- Palm sander
- Painting equipment
- At least 2 C-Clamps (more is better)
- Pencil


Assemble your pre-fabricated cabinets according to manufacturer's instructions, but leave the doors off and the shelves out until the very end of the project (I did not do this, but it sure would have made life easier if I had).

You can buy these cheap at any Walmart-type store.


Push cabinets together, align edges so that they are flush.  Clamp cabinets together with C-clamps. Measure, mark and drill 2 holes using an appropriately sized drill bit and speed-bore on either side of the top and bottom of the inside wall of your cabinets (where you plan to connect it to the other storage cabinet).  Insert cabinet connectors into holes and anchor cabinets together (you might want to fiddle with these before hand so you know how they work).  Un-clamp.

Use your measuring tape to measure the distance across the top of your connected storage cabinets (the total width/length) and the depth of your storage cabinets.  Write these measurements down.

Use your measurements to map out the pieces you will need cut from your piece of plywood.  In my case I needed a top and bottom piece the same width and depth as my connected cabinets  - 1.5" off the width/length to accommodate the width of the plywood on the end pieces, 2 end pieces the width of my cabinet depth x my desired total height, 5 divider pieces with the same width as my cabinet depth, but - 1.5" off the height of my end pieces to accommodate the width of the plywood on my top and bottom pieces.

While drawing this picture I forgot to subtract 1.5" from the length of the top and bottom pieces, please disregard the measurement shown in the illustration and follow the directions!

If you don't own your own table saw, most building supply stores will have a table saw on site and will give customers a certain number of free cuts on plywood purchased at the store, or will charge a minimal fee per cut.  I took the diagram I drew of the pieces I needed cut from my plywood including the measurements, and the staff so helpfully cut it all out for me!

Lay bottom piece on top of your connected cabinets, ensuring edges are flush (remember that your bottom and top pieces should be 1.5" shorter than the total length of your connected cabinets - 3/4" on either side).  Using your pencil, mark on the bottom piece where you want to place your dividers (I centered mine in the middle of each cabinet, and where 1 cabinet met another).  Take the bottom piece down and place it on the ground.  Use a straight-edge to extend your marks across the width of the bottom piece.  Lay the top piece on the ground beside the bottom piece (long-side to long-side).  Ensure that your edges are flush and mark the top piece to be exactly the same as the bottom piece.  Drill 1 hole on either side of all your marks 1" in from the edge on both the top and bottom pieces.

Top and bottom pieces should looks something like this with a hole drilled 1" in from the edge  on either end of each line.

Measure and mark 1" in, centered in the width of the plywood on the top and bottom of each end of your divider pieces.   Using an appropriately sized drill-bit, drill 1 hole on each of your marks (holes on divider pieces should match up with holes drilled in top and bottom pieces). 

Measure and mark 1" in, centered in the width of the plywood on either side of both ends on the top and bottom pieces and drill holes accordingly.  On the face of each end-piece, measure and mark each corner where a hole will be drilled to line-up with the holes on either end of the top and bottom pieces.

STEP 5:  
Connect the pieces together by smearing a small amount of wood glue on connecting edges, lining up drilled holes, and securing with wood-screws.

Go slowly when inserting screws.  Even though you have pre-drilled the holes, you can still accidentally crack the plywood by going too fast.

Sand any rough edges or spots, and use DAP to fill any cracks (see my post on painting furniture for tips on how to do this if you haven't done it before).  Remove any dust and wipe clean with a damp rag.

Paint the entire surface of the newly constructed shelf structure with 1 coat of primer and allow to dry.  Paint with at least 2 coats of paint, allow to dry to the touch in-between coats and for at least 24 hours when finished. (again, see my post on painting furniture for more information on how to do this if you haven't done it before).

Make sure that the paint you are using matches the colour of the pre-fabricated cabinets you have purchased.  If it doesn't, or if you want to change the colour of the cabinets, now is the time to paint them too.

Move the shelf structure into position on top of your connected cabinets (this may be quite heavy depending on how large you have made it, so get someone to help you).  Make sure edges are flush, and clamp in place.

Drill holes in each corner of the top of each cabinet into the bottom of the shelf structure.  Secure with screws.  Remove clamps.

Measure, cut and install crown molding around the top edge of shelf structure.

See my new tutorial on: Cutting and Installing Crown Molding for how to do this.

STEP 10:
Cut, and install 2 pieces of chair-rail according to the depth of your cabinets to mask the line where the cabinets and the shelf-structure connect.

STEP 11:
Fill any cracks around moldings with DAP and apply a final coat of paint.

STEP 12: 
Move your new cabinet into position and anchor into the wall to avoid tipping.

STEP 13:
Install doors and handles and shelves in cabinets according to manufacturer's instructions.

*I chose to use a different kind of handle than what came with my cabinets so I had to drill some new holes in the doors and fill some of the original ones.*

STEP 14:
Sit back and stare in awe at what you built!


  1. Oh my gosh, I LOVE it! It looks stunning. Me and my husband were going to build a custom pantry, but we might just do this instead. We are just a month away from starting this kitchen renovation:

    Thanks for sharing your creativity!

  2. AWESOME! My mom has two of those same cabinets and she always thought they looked cheap. This makes them great! I think I just found a way to do what I wanted to in a space where I wanted something that looked similar to this, but I couldn't afford it. Thanks for posting your hard work!

  3. Wow... you're good. These are amazing! And your instructions are incredibly thorough and clear. Bravo!

  4. Can you give me the exact name of the cabinets and where you got them? And possibly the price:) I am dying over how wonderful this looks! Hoping to make this our weekend project! Thank you thank you!!!:)

    1. I used these cabinets from Canadian Tire - but in white, and I waited until they went on sale!

  5. Also...did the molding on the fronts of the doors come already done? And what kind of finish does the outside have? Sorry about all of the questions..:)

  6. hi,

    I have seen you share awesome pic.These are amazing! And your guidelines are really thorough and obvious.

    MDF | Veneered MDF

  7. I love the cabinets and the way they look. I live in a 140 year old house and as you know they did not have closets big enough to hang a coat in hardly. There is no way to enlarge the closets,so I was wondering if you could do these cabinets and instead of putting shelves in them just put rods to hang clothes and on top where you have added the slots,do that, but put doors on them and put purses and shoes in those. What do you think about that? I would appreciate your thoughts on this. Thanks again.
    Betty Whatley

    1. Hi Betty!

      I don't see why not! If what you need is a coat rack, than I would absolutely leave the shelves out and install a coat rack inside the cabinet!

  8. I have been looking for something like this for years! We even got a bid for custom cabinets $2,000! Yikes
    This will be great for what I need. Thanks for being creative :)

  9. Absolutely stunning!

    1. This is a perfect storage solution on you, if you have lots of things better to have it specially for kitchen utensils. Nice I really appreciate this page, but if you want to put also inside your bathroom you may do it.-bathroom cabinets Clark county NV-

  10. We just bought a house and hate the closet right inside our front door. I love this idea. We'll be knocking down the wall and creating a nook.

  11. Very nice and helpful information has been given in this post. I like the way you explain the things. Keep posting. Thanks!
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  12. WOW!!!!!...The tutorial here provided is mind-blowing. I really liked your steps of converting our free space into a valuable form. Very nice and helpful information has been given in this post.The steps you are provided best for our kitchen renovation.............Thanks for this creative article.........

    custom closets

  13. Brilliant, thanks for this guide, I'll try following this procedure for my DIY cabinet, thanks.

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  14. just curious. do the doors being flush against each other interfere with them opening (or rubbing against the other)? I love the look. however, every cabinet that I have looked at looks like it would have to have at least a half inch in between them to function properly.

  15. No! The doors on these cabinets are installed with an interior European hinge, and open and close freely even being right next to each other.

  16. These are gorgeous, and the tutorial is so complete. This would be a perfect replacement for a built in china closet in my kitchen. It's narrow, with uppers and lowers. The storage is inadequate, the look is too brash, and the counter top is a junk magnet. I need to think about color, though. Thanks for this.

  17. These are AWESOME!!! You did a wonderful job. I want these in my kitchen! They are exactly what I have wanted for a long time but just didn't know exactly what I wanted. Does that make sense? Anyway THANK YOU.

  18. This is an amazing project! I used one of those storage cabinets in my closet makeover as a shoe shelf. Love Love Love how you've taken this so high-end!!!! Superb!

  19. I found something a similar cabinet online at Sears, not sure about the hinges.

  20. Thank you so much for such a wonderful tutorial! I am going to try this, but am really hoping you can help. How did you add the molding/wood to the front of the cabinet doors? It really makes the cabinets look much more substantial. Thank you!

  21. I love the entire piece but especially the handles. Please tell me what brand/style they are.

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  23. I want to do this in my laundry room!!! I'm looking at the Sauder brand and Prepac brand of cabinets now. I need something that can be shipped to me or to a local store here in VA for pickup. Any recommendations? Prepac is cheap so I'm skeptical but it does have good reviews.

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