Yesterday, the new living room entertainment center cabinet was half-finished. Before I wrap up the rest of the story and show off the finished product, I should probably step back and explain just a little bit about how I put it all together for those of you that care about such things.
I used nicer sanded birch plywood for all cabinet surfaces that would show, which is the top and left side of the short cabinet, and then the left side of the tall cabinet. I saved a little $$ by using ordinary plywood (sanded on one side) for the other sides of the boxes. I used pocket holes for some joints (using my fantastic Kreg Jig Jr.) and screws all the way through the outside on the joints that will be hidden — like underneath both boxes.
I dadoed out a 3/4″ channel in the tall cabinet for that shelf that forms the division between the open shelf on the top and the cabinet with the door below. That also helps to provide some structural stability for the boxes, though it’s probably unnecessary on this one, since they were getting attached together and also to the wall at the end. I added some supports across the back of each cabinet as well for the same reasons.
Each box went up on legs that were about six inches tall. That gets them high enough to clear the baseboard that I left on the back wall so the boxes fit flush against the walls and puts them at the right height for the baseboard and trim cap, which is a little shorter than the usual six inch tall baseboards throughout the house and the dining room built-in. I opted for shorter trim in here so that the TV wouldn’t have to move any higher up the wall.
You’ll also note in that picture above a little rectangular hole in the bottom of the short cabinet. After inspecting the wiring, I decided against moving the electrical receptacle that’s in the baseboard right below that hole. I was going to move it up into the wall, but because it’s run in a series in rigid conduit headed upstairs, it was going to be a challenge for me to move it. Instead, I cut this little hole so I could get my hands in there if I needed to replace it one day, and it’s going to get covered with a little hinged door with a cutout for the power strip cord.
I drilled 35mm holes in the sides and the fixed shelves so wires can run hidden from the TV, into the short cabinet, and all the way up to the top of the tall cabinet. (Also, all of the shelves leave a little space at the back so wires can run behind each one without having to drill holes in each one.)
The depth of the cabinets was planned in such a way so that when the face frame and cabinet doors went on they’d be flush (or slightly shallower) than the wall there to the right that contains the A/C ductwork.
So…..with the cabinets totally built and all the holes pre-drilled, dadoes cut, supports in place, and the 1/4″ thin plywood sheets cut to fit the back of each one, it was time to paint.
And paint, and paint and paint. With 7 shelves in total, two cabinets, two big sheets of plywood for the back of each and loads of finish trim, it seemed like all I was doing for days on end was painting. And cleaning paintbrushes. And without fail, every time I’d finish painting for the night, I’d discover some side of a shelf or some extra piece of trim I had missed. Rinse and repeat.
With the boxes painted, it was time to map out the face frame for the cabinets. In the picture of all of my plans, you can see a couple of sketches of the face frame in there in the top row. One was for buying the wood, and one had all the measurements and locations for the pocket holes so I’d know where to drill them all at once.
Once I built the face frame and test fit it to the cabinets, I secured the cabinets in place to each other and to the wall. And then we attached the face frame. I used 18ga brad nails to hold it in place once I got it aligned, and then came back with 8 penny finish nails to really secure it well.
With the face frame in place, it was starting to feel finished. All that was left was to hang the three cabinet doors, install the cabinet shelves (which are all sitting on adjustable pins — see the holes on the inside of each cabinet), install the trim, fill all the nail holes, touch up with paint, and then tackle the top open shelves.
For the top open shelves above the TV, we really wanted to avoid putting big corbels or brackets on the wall. We wanted these two shelves to be as light and open as possible so they wouldn’t dominate the view of the room from the foyer. I came up with what I think was a pretty good way to make ‘em float. First, I cut dadoes in the side of the tall cabinet while I was assembling it. That holds one end of each shelf (with countersunk screws on the inside of the tall cabinet.)
For the other end, I bought a 3/8″ steel rod and used a long boring bit to drill a hole in the shelf as deep as I could manage, and then drilled a hole in the stud in the wall as far as possible. (Drilling a straight hole into the shelf is difficult without a drill press, but I managed it pretty well.)
I cut the rod to fit the length, inserted it into the shelf with some construction adhesive and slid the shelf into the hole on the wall and the dado on the cabinet. I also put a bead of adhesive along the back edge of the shelf so it would hold close to the wall and not slowly pull away over time. After that, I countersunk a couple 2.5″ screws on the inside of the tall cabinet and into the shelf.
Though we were never intending these to hold lots of heavy things, they feel pretty strong to me. We were thinking more of pictures, light decorations; that sort of thing.
To make them look as minimal as possible from the foyer looking into the living room, I put 1×2 trim only on the front edge of each shelf, and then rounded off the edge and cut into the 1×2 so they taper off into the rounded edge, making them look pretty unique. And at 11.5″ deep, they step back nicely from the depth of the tall cabinet to the right.
After that, there was just a lot of trim to install. Cove moulding on the top of the short cabinet to cover the gaps where it meets the wall, cove moulding all the way along the right side of the tall cabinet, baseboards, toe moulding and trim cap at the bottom, and a nice detailed trim cap flipped upside down at the top of the short cabinet to give it a finished look there.
After about ten days straight of hard work, it’s all finished! (These pictures are from before I finished filling the holes and painting, so pardon the putty marks!)
And lastly, the two newest built-ins in the den and dining room together. The cabinet doors match exactly — same exact style of door, for a total of $16 from Community Forklift.
In retrospect, I’d have to say I’ve learned a ton in the last two months about building cabinets, shelves and built-in storage. I really had no idea what I was doing when I got started and I spent a ton of time just staring at spaces to fill and trying to calculate in my head the required measurements and how things would all fit together. The spatial gift that my brother-in-law had to just see everything in his head and jump right into building things is definitely a gift I do not possess.
But we’re both really happy with how these two biggest, most visible projects turned out. No more threat of electrocution for our crawling and chewing baby, and lots of great storage created to cut down on the clutter.
So what’s next? Why, I’m glad you asked. I think I have hours of FIFA on the Playstation and laying on the couch watching movies for at least a couple of weeks in my immediate future.
And inevitably, watching Lily learn how to open the new cabinet doors.