The flurry of built-ins continue: fireplace edition

One day, I’m going to run out of nooks and radiators and corners to fill or cover with new pieces of built-in furniture, and that, my friends, is going to be a sad day.

Because I am on a roll in the house right now creating new built-in furniture, and honestly, I’ve enjoyed this more than almost anything I’ve done in the house so far. Of course, it’s competing with such glamorous tasks such as scraping paint and wallpaper from walls, skimming and mudding, patching plaster, stripping paint, choking on plaster dust, pressure-washing paint off of concrete, scraping up old linoleum flooring and other tedious, labor-intensive tasks. Finally, I get to create and build something.

For anyone interested in built-in furniture in your house, I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s a fantastic book filled with great ideas and inspiration, and also some basic carpentry tips for getting started on built-ins. It’s probably 75% ideas, and about 25% how-tos with helpful diagrams and explanations of joinery techniques, etc. We drool over the amazing houses and rooms inside with beautiful built-ins galore.

Of course, I should also admit that I gave this book to Rachel as a present a few years ago, but it’s all worn out and dog-eared now because I’ve been flipping through it and marking pages over and over again for the last few months. But I think as long as she ends up getting the actual products installed in her house, she doesn’t care who reads the book, amiright, Rachel???

After wrapping up my first attempt with the new combo bookshelf/radiator cover for the guest room — now populated with books unboxed from the attic finally — I was ready to roll on a new project. Especially since Janny (Rachel’s mom’s grandma name) is in town all this week, freeing me up for some serious construction time over the weekends and this week after work.

Last Saturday I started building a new cabinet/wine rack/bar for the little nook at the end of our knee wall in the dining room, but I’m going to show that one off in a different post, hopefully after I finish it up.

But while I was waiting for paint to dry on that one, I went after a little built-in that I’ve wanted to do for a while: a bookshelf to fill our fake fireplace. The fireplace itself is completely fake. I think it just exists to cover up the bulge in the wall where the chimney goes down to the basement for the boiler (and once for the coal-fired boiler in 1921). If you look up the inside, you can see the floorboards in the master bedroom closet.

It’s just decorative, though when we moved in, it did come with an awesome set of fake fire logs, complete with orange lightbulb inside and a mechanism that spun and made noise like a crackling fire when you plugged it in.


I painted the fireplace bricks this summer, and though we’re going to paint them again when we repaint the living room, it was a huge improvement to soften the room.

Grey Fireplace bricks

But we had this little space in our living room that was going unused. As Lily got older, we recently moved her little play/crawl area over to the fireplace and started keeping all of her toys in a basket inside or near the fireplace, along with our recent magazines. We had the idea to turn the space into an official toy chest of sorts for the living room. Even before Lily was born, we also kept a handful of toys in the dining room nook (that’s also being filled) for our friends’ kids when they came over, so we needed a new place for everything anyway.

So while paint was drying on my other project, I banged out the cabinet box and face frame on Sunday night in an hour or so. It’s a very simple cabinet box, sized a little smaller than the opening, with curved sides to match the profile of the fireplace, which shrinks in depth as you get to the top. No need for a back — the bricks will provide one.

Once I finished the box, I placed it in the opening to see how much vertical space was left, and then cut four feet to prop the box up on to level it out and also give some clearance for the doors at the bottom. For the face frame, I sized that to fill the fireplace space perfectly, so when you slide the whole thing in, the face frame almost touches all four sides. (You can see it protruding on the right below.)

fireplace shelves side

I used the router to dado out a 3/4″ slot for a fixed shelf in the middle to help provide stability, and then just pocket holed all the rest of the joints. (It’s nice to make built-ins where the sides can’t be seen — it means pocket holes everywhere!)

I scavenged some old cabinet doors for other projects at Community Forklift on Saturday, but because this space is an irregular size, I needed to make doors from scratch for this. Without a router table or a table saw, I have to get creative sometimes. So to provide the illusion of depth and relief around the inside that you might see on a normal cabinet door, I got some solid pine, routed all four sides with my trusty roundover bit, and then added some small profile trim to run around the door face, inset from the edge.

fireplace cabinet door detail

All combined together, it looks like there’s a lot more going on together than one little 3/4″ piece of trim on a routed edge.

fireplace cabinet finished

I used some of the Euro-styled door hinges — same as we have in our kitchen cabinets — and used soft-close versions so Lily won’t be able to slam the door or easily pinch her fingers inside. Those hinges are surprisingly easy to install, though I had to buy a new expensive boring bit to make the wide round holes for the hinges. (I highly recommend this Freud bit if you’re looking for one.)

Slide the cabinet into the fireplace to fit, prime and then voila!

fireplace shelves open finishedfireplace shelves unpaintedFireplace shelves open

I primed the whole thing but only painted the outside of it with our usual white trim color, because we are going to repaint the living room to match the dining room soon, and we’re likely going to end up repainting this along with the bricks, so that’ll keep me from having to paint the inside twice.

To fix it in place, I’m going to just put a couple of small screws through the cross brace at the top into the bricks in the back of the fireplace, anchored with some washers. It can’t tip over even if it’s not mounted, but a few very small screws should be enough to keep it from ever sliding out of place.

Oh, and the middle shelf has a little piece of 3/4″ shelf trim on the front to cover up the flat sawn edge.

After finishing the painting last night, I put it in place this morning and let Lily check out her new toy chest.

2013-02-27 08.44.48

Though it needs to be leveled out a little bit still, Lily gave it her official look of approval. Or maybe she was just interested in the camera as usual.  In any case, we think she will enjoy the nice (closable!) little storage area for her toys. As will we.

Lily fireplace shelves

Final before/after, as is tradition around here, also showing off the new mirror that Rachel found a couple of months ago. Much better decor for the fireplace all around.

Grey Fireplace bricks2013-02-27 08.44.48

So what do you think about the final product? Good design? How should we paint it? Paint the protruding trim white and leave the doors dark? Red? It is a door, after all.

Leave a Reply