Ugly built-in furniture can be a real thorn in one’s side when trying to design a room layout. The attempts I’ve made to open up our living room have been foiled, again and again, by an obtrusively bulky and poorly stained built-in cabinet, which I am not allowed to paint or remove. Argh!
If I could remove it, however, I wouldn’t have any idea where to start, so I’m pleased to see someone tackling a similar project — changing the face of a built-in unit — with such success, as Beth and her husband have done here. What was once a looming beast of orange veneered wood is now a beautiful, open, airy cabinet that provides room for both display and hidden storage. It works perfectly with the rest of the room and was done for a ridiculously cheap price ($110)! Well done, Beth! — Kate
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More before and after images after the jump . . .
Time: I gave my husband an unheard of hypothetical: How long would it have taken to do this if we hadn’t been working on ten other remodel projects at the same time? He says three weekends: one to drag the built-in home and rip out the existing closet; a second to install the built-in, frame it and add drywall; and a third to plaster and paint. How much time did it take in real life? Let’s just say we sourced the built-in in 2008 and leave it at that.
Cost: about $110 (built-in was free from Craigslist; drywall, drywall tape, drywall nails, $30; handles on eBay, $35 plus shipping; other materials, etc., $45)
Basic Steps: First, find a built-in. Ours was in the free section on Craigslist, but they’re also available for sale at salvage lots. In the Bay Area you can find fairly cheap ones (less than $100, generally) at Urban Ore Ecopark, or pricier ones at Ohmega Salvage ($200–$500, but some of them are gorgeous). Our built-in needed to be sanded and repainted, and someone had added decorative edging to the drawers that needed to be ripped off. I bought vintage glass drawer pulls online to replace the ones that had gone missing over the years.
We decided to install it in the nursery, so we did some crowbar demolition and removed the molding, doors, frame and cabinets of the existing closet. The more you hate the closet, the more fun this part can be. We carried in the built-in and built a dual-purpose frame that secures it to the wall and provides a base for attaching sheets of drywall.
We attached the drywall to the frame with drywall nails, taped the seams with drywall tape, and then plastered, sanded and textured to match the rest of the wall. Bill was learning, and he did this part twice before he was happy, but he says you could save yourself some time and just do it right the first time. Frame with molding if you’d like, and give everything another coat of paint for good measure.
We live in a 1950s suburban home that doesn’t have any overt architectural style. We do a lot of remodel projects using salvaged materials, but we’re careful not to choose doors, windows, cabinets, etc. that are too specific to any one decade or style. Eclecticism in style of furniture and décor is wonderful (and you can change it out when it starts to wear on you), but it’ll save you some heartache if you keep the architectural style of your house in mind when you’re making permanent installations. There are gorgeous leaded-glass Victorian built-ins out there, but they’d look ridiculous in our 1000 square-foot two-bedroom.
Second piece of advice: Make sure the built-in is installed flush to the wall and that it’s straight. You’d assume that putting the built-in on your floor would make the top and shelves level and the sides perpendicular to the floor, but built-ins are old and your floor may not be as level as you think. Shims are your friends. — Beth