Custom Built in Cabinets – A Fancy Fireplace

In DIY, Woodworking by Dan1 Comment

When we found the new house, it had just been “flipped”. Almost everything was done. The one obvious item left, was in the living room, around the fireplace. The house is 50 years old. Why no one had added custom built in cabinets during that time, I won’t ever understand.

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So, before we ever moved a thing into the house, my marching orders were to get a set of book cases built and installed, ASAP. As I looked the situation over, it was obvious that the walls were not plumb, square or parallel to anything, let alone each other. The fireplace sits one inch closer to the back wall on one side than the other. The two openings are about 4 inches different in width. Fun times are heading my way!!!

When designing for an existing opening, measure everything a couple of times, and at different places. In my case, the opening next to the fireplace is almost a 3/4 inch wider in the middle than at the floor or ceiling. Also the mantle overhangs more on the right than the left (and she didn’t want me to fix it, ugh). The cases were designed to slide into the opening, with a about 1/4” gap (middle). The face frames were added afterward, so I could scribe them to match the walls, if needed.

The wife wanted cabinet doors, and the first shelf needed to be large enough for her favorite statue. Turned out this aligns with the mantel (wow something aligns!). I designed the shelf spacing to have a larger space at the top for more of her tall decorations. The paneling is original (painted) to the house, and fit her design style, so no backs for the cases.

The book cases were made with pre-primed, cabinet grade, plywood from my local big box. We decided on fixed shelving, so I cut dado grooves in the sides with my router and a quick jig. We painted everything before it was assembled, so we didn’t have to worry about the walls.
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I assembled the cases and slid them into their openings. Then I used door shims to rock then back to the walls, closing any gaps between the shelves and the walls. Once in place I trimmed the them out. I knew we wanted crown molding at the top, so I made the header 3” wide as a backer. This was followed by filling the holes with painters caulk and touching up the paint. I also repainted the fireplace mantle and brick surround. (and yes, she immediately started filling them)
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Because a lot of my tools are still in boxes, I kept this design simple and made the doors with tongue and groove on the table saw. The panels are just 1/4” plywood, captured in the frame grooves. I made the doors 1” larger than the case opening so, that when centered, there will be a 1/2” overlap. The doors were mounted using simple brushed nickel cabinet hinges.
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When it came time to install crown molding, I realized just how out of square and level everything was. Rather than fight with cutting the molding to match (it’s difficult even when the walls are close to right), I chose to use corner blocks. This turned a multiple hour, painful project, into a 35 minute one. I like the extra detail it adds to the fireplace.
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So here they are, completed, and decorated. What do you think?

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