Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Transform Old Shelves Into a New Cabinet

What do yo do with a set of crummy shelves that looked fine in a run-down apartment but don't quite blend in with the rest of your brand new house? Re-purpose, baby. There's a nice cabinet in there waiting to be unleashed.

These shelves were one of the first things I ever built and served as a bathroom catch-all for their entire life. They even made it into the upstairs bathroom in our new house, with the artisan tile floor, the dual-flush toilet and the 1920's re-glazed sink. They began to prey on my mind every time I saw them. I am pretty sure Anne never noticed them one way or another, they were just a place to put extra toiletries. But with each passing day they looked worse and worse to me, and I finally grabbed them and lugged them to the basement, ready to banish them to the workshop and a life of holding paint cans. But as I planned a cabinet and sketched out the basic carcass, I glanced over at the shelves and realized that a cabinet is nothing more than some shelves with a back, top and a door. Hmm..
Since it was going to be tucked into a tight spot that only allowed one door to swing, I started by decreasing the face width of the cabinet with a poplar 1x5 (all wood is poplar unless noted otherwise), thus defining the width for the cabinet door. I dressed the top, bottom and sides with 1x3's. Looking better already.
I added stock trim to the bottom and fabricated a top by joining together two boards, using glue and biscuits. Notice the notch on the rear right of the top, that will make sense later. Now the question is what to do with the big 1x5 on the right face to make it look like something more than a big filler block?
Ahh, little false drawer fronts, made from scrap 1/4" plywood, beveled on the edges. I then filled in the edges with a glue/water mixture to hide the laminate layers once painted.
A little more trim under the top and multiple coats of semi-gloss white paint, after a knot-killing primer coat, of course.
I ran the top and the rear side pieces about 3/8" past the back of the shelves so the edges of the 1/4" plywood back would be hidden. Paint that back plywood before you put it on to make life easy. I then added the knobs, a classic chrome look to match the vintage sink.
I then made a simple door, using pegged half-lap joints at the corners and having a 1/4" plywood center piece fit into dadoes ripped on the table saw. Come to think of it, this door was not that simple and a better option would be to find an old cabinet door that is close to the size you need and build around it.
Mortise a few small hinges, add a handle and a magnetic catch inside, one last coat of paint, and then some shadow lines drawn in around the false drawers with a super-fine Sharpie, to give the illusion of them sitting slightly open. Call it done. Lug it upstairs and squeeze it into place.
This pic is way more yellow than it should be, but you get the idea. Those blue cubbies on the right just sort of fit there, and the letters on top are old letters from a storefront in western NY. This cabinet holds a ton of stuff and is the perfect solution for that particular space. The old shelves are looking pretty good these days.


  1. Popped over from apartmenttherapy.com to say: This is awesome! good work!

  2. Fantastic!! just pinned this on Pineterest under DYI. reduce, reuse, recycle!!!

    1. Great! I think it is past time I join the Pinterest party. Thanks for visiting!

  3. Saw on Apartment Therapy...so cute. What a perfect spot!


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