Creating DIY Built-Ins Using Repurposed Pieces

I’ve had a few readers ask me about the little bank of built-in cabinets that Chris and I created for the south wall of my dressing room.

So today I’m sharing how we transformed an old dresser and two salvaged kitchen cabinets into custom built-in storage.


Our DIY built-ins for the dressing room south wall.


The Space

The dressing room is a quirky, kind-of-boot-shaped room.  The south wall space, where we installed the built-ins, is to the left in this sketch.

The Goal

We didn’t want the built-ins to look new but rather to look original to our circa 1927 house. We would be looking to use pieces with inset drawers and single-panel doors to match the existing original cabinetry in our home.

The Challenges

The space presented several challenges.  For starters, it was narrow – less than four feet wide.  There was also a sloped ceiling and a pocket window to work around.

Finding the Right Pieces

We chose to use a vintage dresser that we’d been storing for years.  It has inset drawers – exactly like the inset drawers in our original built-ins.

At some point in the dresser’s life, someone had removed its legs. This actually worked well for creating the built-in look that we wanted.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take a “before” photo of the dresser with the drawers in place.  The drawers were outside being painted when the photo above was taken.

The dresser would be placed against the west wall and under the window.

Now we needed something to fit in the space next to the dresser.  And, since that “something” wouldn’t be blocking the window, it could be taller than the dresser.

I knew that finding the right thing for the space would be tricky, if not impossible.  I briefly considered buying some open cubbies from a big box store because they were inexpensive and measured out well for the space.

But the cubbies were out of stock.  This turned out to be a blessing in disguise.  Little did I know that something better was just around the corner.

A trip to the salvage shop netted these Shaker-style cabinets – one base cabinet and one wall cabinet.

Measuring about 12 inches wide, they would be narrow enough to fit next to the dresser.  And they were in fairly good shape.  I liked these cabinets because of their single-panel doors – another design feature that I was looking for to match our original cabinetry.


Putting the Pieces Together

Disclosure:  Affiliate links are used below.

Once we got home from the salvage shop, Chris removed the granite countertop from the base cabinet.

And I removed the cabinet pulls and started scrubbing, sanding, spackling, priming, and painting.

I painted all the pieces – the kitchen cabinets and the dresser – with Benjamin Moore’s cabinet-grade paint in Simply White. (I had also painted the walls and moldings with Simply White.  Since the room is so tiny and has only one small window, I wanted everything in the room to have the same light, neutral color.)

Now we faced another challenge:  In order for the pieces to fit snugly against the walls and truly look built-in, we needed to remove some of the baseboard molding from the area where they would be placed.

For this, Chris used his Ryobi multi tool.  I wish I could to say that this went well, but actually we wound up losing a small chunk of wall plaster in the process.  Luckily, the cabinetry covers the damaged area.

At least now everything would fit.

Some of the baseboard was removed to accommodate the built-ins.

Chris cut a new presswood countertop for the base cabinet.

And I painted it with the same paint I’d used on the cabinets.

We stacked the wall cabinet on top of the base cabinet and then, using screws, Chris anchored the pieces to the wall and to one other.


Now You See It, Now You Don’t

There were small gaps and seams between the pieces, but we made them disappear.

Chris cut and installed pieces of molding to fit over the gaps.

And then I caulked the seams around the molding using paintable caulk.  Once the caulk dried, I touched up the areas with the cabinet paint.

Now it was looking good! Painting everything one color minimized the varying heights and depths of the three pieces and tied the look together.

Final Touches

I covered the top of the base cabinet and the top of the dresser with this polyurethane finish.  It will protect the surface better than paint alone would, and it will make it easier for me to clean up my inevitable coffee spills.

I’d painted the drawers of the dresser, cleaned the interiors, and lined them with a pretty retro-floral shelf paper.

And we replaced all the cabinet and drawer pulls with glass knobs to match the other pulls in the room and throughout the house.

Now I’m looking very 1920s!

The Result

This was a budget-friendly little project, and I love how it turned out.

Before the remodel, the space was cluttered and claustrophobic.

South wall before.

During the remodel, the empty space looked even more narrow.

South wall during remodel.

But now, with the new cabinets, the area seems larger.  

South wall after remodel.

If you’re wondering about the stenciled floor (a real labor of love – emphasis on the labor part), check out this post.

And, to see how I organized these built-ins, as well as other parts of this dressing room, check out this post.

This south wall built-in installation was part of a larger remodel of the entire dressing room.

For more on this project, see my posts below.


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