before & after: nursery closet renovation

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

Have a Before & After you’d like to share? Shoot me an email with your images right here! (Low res, under 500k per image, please.)

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

  1. Sooo much better!! And unlike the old built-in, this one is definitely a classic and timeless one that will last forever. :)

    Christina

  2. Kali says:

    Really well-done! I love the rainbow motif…are they decals? If so, where are they from?

  3. emilyadi says:

    Wow, that’s beautiful!

  4. Wow.That is quite the transformation. It looks beautiful.

  5. Casey says:

    What a great idea! I never would have thought to do this, but now that ugly closet in my office is calling my name!

  6. Seavie says:

    They made it look so easy!

  7. Kate says:

    That’s absolutely gorgeous and a huge improvement…I just can’t help but wonder what happens as the child gets older and wants to hang some of their clothes.

  8. k says:

    Great reuse of a remnant of someone else’s house! And 4 years is a totally reasonable time frame :)

  9. Erin says:

    Beautiful!! Love this.

  10. Gina says:

    Looks beautiful. Sourcing a built in would have never occurred to me. Well done.

  11. beth says:

    Kate, there will be no hanging.

    Kidding. Sort of. The room is big, so we’re planning on bringing in a wardrobe once our daughter is big enough to want more than drawer storage.

    My ridiculous rainbow wallpaper is a vintage Schumacher print from the 70s that I bought on eBay last year. We basically had to go and get pregnant after that so I’d have an excuse to put it up somewhere.

  12. Kristy says:

    I recognized that room immediately. The rainbow wallpaper is a dead giveaway. :) You really should feature the rest of Beth’s house, too. It’s fantastic. I adore her blog.

  13. Rosamond says:

    Gorgeous!! It feels so cheerful and quaint there–the room is perfection.

  14. Elissa says:

    Wow! You took it from 1955 to 1925! I’d love to have something like that in my office, either built in or freestanding. That cabinet is fantastic, I can’t believe someone was giving it away.

  15. Marjory c Foran says:

    I would to do this to my ugly mirrored living room closet.

  16. joan says:

    a wonderful creative change!

  17. Kathryn says:

    Lovely! Beth- where did you source your wicker-esque chair? I am digging the texture.

  18. Lois says:

    Wow! I can’t believe what they did with that – so impressive.

  19. Kelly says:

    Haha this was a great read and fantastic transformation. Love Beth’s humour, especially ‘he says you could save yourself some time and just do it right the first time’. Made me chuckle.

  20. ellie says:

    ZOOOOMYGOD! That’s amazing, I love built-ins. I never would have thought to build one myself. Love it!

  21. Sarah says:

    Absolutely love this! Kate, can you tell us what kind of plant that is? It’s amazing!!!

  22. liz says:

    I have the same “before” closet in my house! wow!

  23. Sarah says:

    Sorry, I meant Beth and I see now that it’s a jade. Thanks! :)

  24. That is a fantastic transformation.

  25. Jacquie says:

    Gorgeous Beth and how ‘green’ you are to recycle someone else’s built-in! Hey Kate you should show the ‘After’ photos to whoever won’t let you change yours – they make a great reason to update – no further explanation needed.

  26. Chiün says:

    Beth. Could you share your exprericne in painting the built-it? Tools, technique , and tips?

  27. JenO says:

    Just a quick note that Habitat for Humanity Thrift stores can also be a great source for old interior pieces like this that contractors have pulled out and wanted to get rid of.

  28. Katie says:

    This turned out so great! It definitely gives me ideas if ever I want to convert a closet space to a buffet. Wonderful!

  29. Kiki says:

    this is most stunning; i’ve never seen anything as glorious as this – but one has to have 10 handyman/woman fingers for this kind of job…. I will add this transformation to my private faves; although my husband’s DIY skills are nil and I’m breaking out in an asthma attack just looking at the pictures.
    But WHAT a fabulous and utterly beautiful job you did. BRAVO
    The idea of re-using and recycling totally appeals to me too, I do it all the time! Another BRAVO.

  30. sherrie says:

    Love the step by step photos. Re do has fresh clean look. Built in saves floor space. Sometimes white can look stark, certainly works well here. Nice job!

  31. Rita says:

    Are you kidding me? I keep having to go back and forth between the before and after photos. This is an amazing project. Kudos to y’all for your vision and talent.

  32. Sarah Reiss says:

    This is. by far, one of the best before & afters I’ve seen. Such excellent work!

  33. Sara P says:

    This is the most amazing before and after I’ve seen. Beautiful result for super cheap. I so wish I had the time and energy to covert our ugly closets to something so great!

  34. Erin Lewis says:

    brilliant. such a creative use of a space that was just ugly enough to stymie most creative minds!

  35. JILL says:

    I struggled at first with the idea of losing a closet (they are in high demand at my house!). However, by reading the homeowners comments and realizing that a wardrobe can be added to the room and will probably only use up the same footprint that a dresser would, I realize now that it will be an even swap, storage-wise. And how much more beautiful and unique! Amazing job. I really love it.

  36. cvjn says:

    I am stunned. I never would have known a project like this was possible, much less affordable! And it looks amazing.

  37. Christine says:

    I’m a little naive on this subject, but the built in that you got off craigslist, does that mean it used to be a built-in in someone else’s home? Or could you just use a hutch or something and set it into the recessed space and finish like you did? This is so beautiful and you’ve totally got me thinking!

  38. Shiri says:

    So cute! Just hope this wasn’t the only closet, because a room without a closet is not considered a bedroom by most real estate standards. Great look though, and so thrifty!

  39. Jess says:

    Looks amazing! Great transformation!

  40. Jessie says:

    Wow! That is one of the best “afters” I’ve ever seen! I would be so proud of myself if I pulled that off!

  41. Deborah says:

    This is absolutely thee best Before/After.

  42. Ellen says:

    Kate, have you thought of taking the cabinet doors out and turning them around? You could paint or wallpaper the back sides and flip them to return to their original state when you leave.

  43. Christina says:

    I am absolutely blown away by this. I never could have thought of this. We are redoing my son’s room, it will be his first very own, and have a bifold door closet that takes up an entire wall of the not so big room. He has very little that actually needs hanging. This opens up a whole new load of possibilities. Thank you.

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