I’m breaking down the process I used to build these home office built-ins so that you can easily replicate it in your home. Part 1 base cabinets
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If it were possible to dance and type at the same time, that is what I would be doing.
I started the planning and purchased the pre-fab cabinets for my home office built-ins 8 weeks ago.
Seriously – I have been a HUGE slacker!
Not because I’m lazy, but because the scale of this project intimidated the heck out of me. I had an idea of what I wanted and how to make it happen, but once the cabinets and plywood were in the garage it became too real.
This is BIG.
This is basically permanent.
This is not inexpensive if I screwed up.
The upside is pretty awesome; saving thousands of dollars, upgrading my storage and organization and creating a home office that is magazine-worthy on a beer budget. It was certainly worth a try right?
So that you don’t get intimidated, I’m going to break down the process into two blog posts; one for creating the base of your home office built-ins and a second for the upper shelving and finishes. The measurements will be yours – we all have differently-sized rooms – but I’ll get you part way and help you skip some of the mistakes I made along the way.
For a video story of the steps (and mistakes) along the way – head over to Instagram and click on the heading that reads Home Office.
So, let’s go…
Order your cabinets.
There’s more to it than this obviously; there’s a budget to consider, whether you want drawers or shelves, how you’ll transport them from the store to your home, comparison shopping etc, etc, etc. I will tell you that Ikea did have some beautiful cabinetry online, but with the backlogs and delays due to Covid, there was no estimated time frame as to when they might be back in-stock and the prices were actually more expensive than the ones I found at Lowe’s.
In the US, Lowe’s carries unfinished kitchen cabinets that are easily dropped into place and painted/stained, but that option wasn’t available in Canada. The most inexpensive option I could find in my area were these melamine cabinets from Lowe’s. They aren’t cute and will need finishing, but adding trim to create a shaker-style door is a pretty easy upgrade, and adding paint (if done with proper preparation) can last.
My only parameters, outside of budget, was that the cabinets be less than 16″ deep because of a window on an adjoining wall. I wasn’t concerned about cabinet height because my home office built-ins are strictly for storage and won’t be used as a desk. I have a 10′ wall and I wanted to maximize the lower cabinetry as much as possible.
This meant 3 cabinets – what they call kitchen “upper cabinets” at 33″ wide (2 doors), by 12.38″ deep, by 30 ¼” tall. At the time I purchased them, they rang in at $129 CDN each.
You could certainly build your own cabinetry, but I think you’ll struggle to do so at $129 including shelves, hinges, paint job etc. Saving a few bucks really wasn’t worth the aggravation building these home office built-ins from scratch would have been.
While you have your cabinet order open in front of you – if you want upper cabinets – order those now as well. I went with these at 15″ wide because they were approximately half the size of the lowers to give me balance up top. At the time of purchase I was able to get them for $63 CDN each.
Guesstimate on your wood and plywood needs for your DIY built-ins.
This should help:
2″ x 4″ to go along the ground and act as a base – my room is 10′ wide and the cabinets are 12″ deep so I needed enough for approximately 10′ times 2 (front and back lengths) PLUS smaller lengths to connect the two. For my office, I ordered (4) 2 x 4’s at 8′ long and used a few small scrap pieces where I was short.
2″ x 2″ to run up the sides from floor to ceiling – these are in place so that your cupboards don’t open directly into your drywall on the side walls. I ordered (4) 2 x 2’s at 10′ long. You will also want 2×2’s to hold the counter above your base cabinets. I chose to rip down a 2×4, but ordering a couple extra 2×2’s will never go to waste.
Plywood – I found it easiest to draw rectangles on paper and then colour in sections as I “used” them. Eg. my shelves and counter are the depth of the cabinets including the cupboard doors, so I knew I’d have to rip the boards down to 12 ¾” widths. Each sheet of plywood would then give me three full strips (96″) at that width. Your local home improvement store can make these cuts for you.
From there you need to visualize how many shelves you’ll want in your DIY built-ins. I chose my tallest book/binder and based my spacing on that. Based on my guesstimates, I needed 4 sheets of plywood to give me enough to build my entire home office built-ins (with a little wiggle room for mistakes). I’ll show you later how to use plywood to trim out your DIY built-ins, so don’t worry that anything will go to waste.
Now it’s time to get to the labour part of the work!
Use a utility knife to score the caulking on your baseboards. Score the top and in the corners where the baseboards meet the side walls.
Carefully pry the baseboards off with a small pry bar.
If you make a hole it’s not that big a deal – it will be hidden with cabinets in the end anyways.
Use a reciprocating saw or jig saw to cut the baseboards on the side walls to the finished depth of your cabinets – in this case 12 ¾”. Score with a utility knife and remove with a small pry bar.
Mark your wall studs. This is a great time to mark where the studs are on your built-in wall. You can follow the screw in the bottom of your drywall and/or use a stud finder, then mark a line up your wall. This is important because all of the shelves and cabinetry will need to be screwed into studs to be sturdy.
Build your base from 2″ x 4″ boards. I allowed for a 1″ toe kick under my cabinets, but you can use the kitchen standard of 3″, or build your base to be flush with the cabinet frame. Keep in mind you’ll be adding back your baseboards, so allow for a ¾” space.
My 8 foot 2×4’s I used at full length so no cutting was required. I used my mitre saw to cut the remaining 2×4 wood to fill all but 3″ of the space. The last 3″ – 1 ½” on either end – will be filled with 2×2’s in a later step.
Attach the base together with 2 ½” construction screws.
Check for level and plum and shim as needed.
Place your cabinets on top of the base frame and figure out your spacing.
As you can see above, I had an outlet in the way of one of my cabinets. I had 2 options; cut a hole in the cabinet back and leave the plug available through the interior of the cabinet, or move the plug up the wall so that it will be usable outside of the cabinetry. I opted for moving the outlets and after a minor shock attempting to DIY it myself, I hired an electrician to move them for me. (You can see on Instagram my “shocking” experience. 😂)
Once the outlets had been moved and the cabinets were where I wanted them, I checked for level and plum and then attached them to the walls on the stud lines we drew earlier. You’ll see inside your cabinets that there are small 1×2 boards in the upper back section. Drill through these and into the studs with 3″ construction screws.
You’re probably wondering “what about the spaces between the cabinets?!” Not to worry I had a plan! I used the spaces to build small bookshelves that will hold printer paper, binders and other books that I like to have close at hand. I cut the ply wood to the height of the cabinets (30 ¼”) and then cut smaller pieces to fit the space between them. Use wood glue and 1 ¼” screws to put this together. Slide your shelves into place and then attach to the cabinets from inside the cupboards.
Don’t worry about small gaps here – the trim work will hide everything on the front and the counter section will hide the gaps on the top.
Run 2×2″ boards up on either side of the base cabinets. These will hold the space between the cabinets and the wall and will give you a more solid structure, as well as the opportunity to add trim down the road. You can just see I added one piece to the front of the left-hand cabinet; it’s really only the front you need to trim out so a back piece really isn’t necessary. These 2×2’s will line up flush with your cabinet frames (not including cupboard doors).
Place your 2×2″ boards across the top of the base cabinets of your DIY built-ins. Check for level and plumb, and screw into the base cabinets using 2 ¼” screws.
You’ll notice that my 2×2’s are not flush with the cupboard doors; this is to allow for trim to be added later. I knew I was using ¾” ply as my trim pieces and the cupboard doors were ¾” thick, so I set my 2×2 boards back ¾” or flush with the frame of the cabinets. (Note: because I made my cupboard doors into shaker style by adding ¼” trim to the front of the cabinet doors, I really should have set my 2×2’s back 1 full inch so my finish would have been flush)
Using a caulking gun and DAP® Heavy Duty Construction Adhesive, run a bead of glue along the top of your 2×2 boards.
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Carefully lay your pre-cut plywood on top, and nail into place with finishing nails. Your plywood will be flush with the front edge of the 2×2’s you just installed.
That’s Day 1 of your home office built-ins!
It will take the better part of the day with cutting etc, but overall, it really wasn’t that difficult was it? It’s the planning and thinking that cause the “analysis to paralysis”… but that’s where I’m hoping this blog post comes in handy to take some of that stress away and encourage you to try building your own home office built-ins.
Don’t be discouraged with my mess at this point – below you’ll see how it ended up. 😍
SO worth it!
Come back for part 2 in a couple of days!
Have a great one.