Sunday, January 26

Planning DIY Built-Ins

Our first project of 2020 is all about bringing more storage and better organization to one of the most under-used spaces in our home. Because the best way to turn your house into your home is to make it work for your family - and this room definitely isn't doing that. Yet.

We have this little nook of our kitchen - it's probably supposed to be a breakfast room or something fancy like that. But, alas, we are not fancy folks. And I have no interest in a breakfast nook, because we eat breakfast at our big farmhouse table. So I toyed with a few other ideas for the space: a playroom (but we don't have that many toys and don't need another room for them), a homeschool room (I actually set it up for this for awhile, but we always end up in our cozy library/office for homework), and a craft room for the kids. So far, the craft room is the thing that seemed to stick. I'm a crafty mom and I have so far produced three crafty kids (and I expect the fourth will follow his brothers), so we have no shortage of art supplies and half-completed projects. But we do have a shortage of storage space and organizational genius to corral those things. Hence our first project of the year:

We're building DIY built-ins!

Storage that's not working for us.

Besides being a craft space, this room is also where all the boots and scarves land when we come in from the backyard (they're in the green bin and laundry basket). And our microwave is way up on top of the cabinet because it's not worth taking up precious counter space in the kitchen. We also have a bench/shelf for coloring books on the other side of the room. So while the boys do spread out on the floor to work on projects, we also have several random things that also need to find a home in this space.

So I started thinking about all the things we needed to make this space work better for us:
  • craft storage - more and better organized
  • space for the boys to stash their books and projects - preferably where the Toddling Terror can't reach them
  • boot + scarf storage - easy to use but hopefully less cluttering
  • space for the microwave - not higher than my head
  • a table or desk for crafting/projects/homework
  • solutions that fit the style of our old farmhouse
I've thought through a dozen different options to make this space work better: knocking down the wall to extend the kitchen, adding built-in desks around the room, buying a bigger antique cabinet to replace the cabinet that is there already, etc. But none of those options seemed to address all of our needs. We needed something that could hold a lot of stuff but feel like it was a natural part of our (very old) home without costing a small fortune (sorry, bigger kitchen).

A very rough idea of our general plan that I'm mostly making up as we go.

And so the idea of a built-in was born. We already have built-ins in other rooms, so we know it can be a good fit with the style of our home. Plus we can take up this whole corner for tons of crafty (and bootsy) storage!

I've had my eye on a few inspiration built-ins like this one from The Simple Farmhouse:

And these ones by Young House Love:

I'm excited to find what works for our space! I'm drawing from my inspiration photos, but mostly taking a make-this-up-as-I-go approach. A very old house means there are sure to be a few quirks and hiccups, so we know going in that we'll need to be flexible with our plan and do some problem solving as we go.

Our plan is to start with large cabinets at the bottom (one for the boots and one for crafts), then build it up with hutch-style shelving all the way to the ceiling. Then we'll try to match-in trim around the top and bottom so it all looks original.

We decided to start with unfinished cabinets from Lowe's for the base. You can totally build your own base if you want to (it would probably be a bit cheaper) but for us it really came down to time. We realized that in this season it was worth paying a little more to save a few hours of work on the hardest part of this project. And we don't regret that at all. In fact as we were working last weekend to install cabinets and cut the trim and countertop, we realized we would still be building cabinets if we hadn't bought them. So we basically started out a full weekend ahead. Probably even two weekends. And weekends are just about all we have right now.

We're currently two weekends into the project and I've been sharing a real-life timeline in my Instagram stories if you want to follow along!

Weekend one was mostly demo and it didn't look like we had accomplished much. We pulled out all the trim (and removed nails and cleaned it up so it can be reused):

Found out the drywall stopped above the paneling and there is nothing behind the paneling, so we decided to leave it:

Learned that the back wall is crazy crooked. You can get an idea of just how crooked when you see the little wood scraps they used to fill in the gaps in the flooring:

And cut a hole in the wall. There was an outlet that would be hidden behind the new cabinets, so Nathan moved it up to counter height so we can use it for the microwave. We do not recommend doing your own electrical work. Nathan knows what he's doing. Don't do it, and don't blame us if you do. K thanks.

Turns out we didn't have all the parts we needed, so we didn't even finish the outlet that weekend. When Monday rolled around it pretty much looked like we only made a big mess.

Weekend #2 my parents were in town and helped keep an eye on the kids while made what felt like some actual progress:
  • installed the cabinet
  • installed the outlet
  • built out the toe kick to accommodate the trim
  • cut the base trim
  • cut the wood countertop (no small feat with that wonky-doodle wall!)
And that's where we're at so far. When you compare our current progress to the before photos, it doesn't look like we've accomplished much. Some types of progress are harder to see than others, but that doesn't mean the work isn't important! Don't be discouraged when the going seems slow!

Once we're done, I'm planning to paint both the built-ins and the walls (bye bye, blue!). I've picked up way too many paint samples. As is my custom. And I've thoroughly bamboozled myself. My current thought is super light walls and a taupe-y color  for the built-in.

Oh, I also took a few minutes while I was in the garage to attach my Kreg Jig to a portable deck (it's made completely from my scrap pile!) and it's so much easier to use now. It's easy to transport to whatever corner of the garage I'm working in, plus the built-up deck on the sides keeps my boards level. So glad Ana White shares her genius with the rest of us!

I'll share a full built-in tutorial and pricing once we're done (which may be awhile for us weekend warriors). In the mean time, you can keep up with our progress on Instagram!

What are you planning for this year? And how would you paint built-ins?


  1. In 2020 my plans are pretty middle school with DIY. I just completed building the 2x4 queen bed set that you guys posted here around seven or eight years ago. Thank you so much for posting workable and easy to do plans for a frame. I'm picking up the mattress today. I may end up raising the bed 6 in to a foot because unlike you guys I'm not huge on the floor bed thing. I'm going to wait and see what it's like once I roll out the mattress. Outside of that I plan on making some storage boxes under a bench sofa I recently built. I live in an apartment and I am slowly making Furniture to fit the rooms. I am so glad I came up on your site and it's been a lot of help. I built the chairs you guys have from the 2x4 project and I added those to my kitchen table. I originally built the table previously and I had benches with the table but I really like the look of chairs. I added some cushions to the tears to give more of a comfy feeling. I cannot think you and your husband enough for posting those plans.

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words!! You totally made my day! I love to hear what people are working on - and I can't wait see what all you do this year. Thank you so much for sharing! :)

  2. I'm planning to DIY a bookcase and paint it this year. I've decided to use the Sherwin Williams ProClassic Acrylic/ Alkyd because it won't yellow like an oil base will and I can clean it up with water.

    The acrylic/ alkyd will be hard and durable and so I decided to pick it for high contact surfaces like bookshelves. That's for the finish coat.

    Prior to that, I want to scuff sand the bookshelf, and then full prime with Sherwin Williams ProBlock Latex.