DIY Basement Wall Storage Unit

Once I’d got a bedroom wall removed as part of my basement upgrade, it was time to think about improving function. I wanted storage, a place for my books, and for all that to be out of the way. Time for a basement built-in!

Relying heavily on this article about built-in bookcases from the Instructables, I mapped out the plan.

The spot I chose for the the built in was the far wall of the basement. Adjacent to that wall was a closet, with doors that started about 15 inches from the wall. It also extended to a window, which started about 20 inches from the wall, so it was a sort of narrow strip.

The built in would go against the far wall.
The built in would go against the far wall.

It seemed destined for a built-in. 15 inches is not a lot of space but not blocking the closet was essential. So it was basically going to be wasted space unless a built-in could go there. The built-in would also be drawing space from the long side of the room, far better than cutting into the narrow part.

Originally I thought about simple floor to ceiling bookcases. These would have been the most inexpensive option. Yet, I live with cats. Though mostly well-behaved, we have the occasionally rage moment. So the base of whatever storage I implemented needed to be closed, protecting whatever was inside from possible bad behavior.

I did consider building my own base units. As part of the Interim Kitchen project, I’d built an appliance cabinet from scratch (article coming soon!). A great experience, it came with some lessons.

First was cost. It’s just not always cheaper to build than buy, especially when your aesthetic is simple and clean. And your budget is cheap. Another lesson was about time investment. Building a cabinet is fun, but requires care and some precision. I wanted to get this unit built quickly, so I could unpack my books and just get organized.

Palette-wise, I was going for light and bright to lighten the basement. Cabinets would be a conventional white (Kelly-Moore Country Cotton). It would work instantly with the yellow-red colors I planned for the basement, and in the future if I changed up the color scheme. So painted white wood seemed right.

For the base cabinets, I settled on four of these upper cabinets from Home Depot. Though you can get already-white stock cabinets, they seemed to shiny and laminate like to me. I wanted the white of painted wood in exactly the white I was using in the rest of the house. These cabinets would be 12″ deep, 30″ tall and 30″ wide. These seem to go on sale every now and then so if you’re diving into a project like this one, start lurking around for that 20% off sale.

30x30x12 in. Wall Cabinet in Unfinished Oak

I laid out the cabinets with a frame made of 2×4 against the wall and cut away the carpet in that spot. Score! That carpet was used to patch the carpet from the wall removal part of this project.  Since these are usually wall cabinets, there’s no clearance between the bottom of the cabinet and the floor. The 2×4 frame gives the cabinets that clearance, plus a little height, stability, and level consistency. I painted the cabinets first outside and then got the bases installed.

Base cabinets installed.
Base cabinets installed.

Next it was time to do a top counter. Functioning as the bookcase base, it needed to be wider than the 12″ cabinet depth, but smaller than the 15″ allowance wall-to-closet clearance. This was easily accomplished by asking the home store guys to cut the panels to the right width, and finishing it with a nicely sanded 1×2.

Base to ceiling bookcase supports to go up but before that, I wanted to do something interesting for the the wall behind the bookcases. Wallpaper seemed like too much work and commitment. Armed with my with fabric, liquid starch and a roller, I got started. For the details on my fabric-as-wallpaper, go here.

Ten minutes later (literally), it looked like this:

Cabinet top/bookcase base.

For once I was kind of excited by these low ceilings because my 54″ fabric panel installed without cutting or piecing.

Next it was time to put up the rails / sides of the bookcases. In my ideal world, they’d go floor to ceiling and line up with the cabinets. Here’s a summary of the basic steps:

  • Cut the boards to measure.
  • Paint them.
  • Drill holes inside the bookshelf sides. Use a pegboard for very easy spacing. These holes are going to be where you insert shelf spacers so make the hole size right for your pegs.
  • Drill pocket hole screw spots at top and bottom of each side.
  • Mount top of shelf to two sides using pocket hole screws. Check to be sure it’s square.
  • Mount 3/4 box onto top of shelf base using pocket hole screws.

First bookcase rail in!

  • Next it was time to install the additional side. It’s essentially like the first box, only this time it’s an L and not a U since two sides of the box are already in.
    Another side in, eyeballing the placement of the other sides.
    Another side in, eyeballing the placement of the other sides.

     

  • Once all the sides are in, it’s time to cut, paint and insert shelves.
Time to test an actual shelf.
Time to test an actual shelf. Not the un-built area to the left? That’s because there are some utility panels that I couldn’t cover up.
Finished bookcase.
Finished bookcase.

2014-04-26 22.41.48

And here it is, finally! Tons of storage.

Doing it again, I wouldn’t do the project exactly as I did this time. Here are some lessons learned:

  1. Kinda wished I’d been even cheaper and looked at the ReStore for upper cabinets to use. I only needed 12 feet of upper cabinets to get this going. As used cabinets, uppers are often great condition and would have reduced project cost significantly.
  2. Check all the cabinets at the store. Or as soon as you get home. One of the cabinets has a gap between the doors that just bugs me. It’s small, and I couldn’t see it when I pulled the unit, which was packaged. Didn’t notice it until I was ready to install all the units and unwrapped it then. Urg. At that point, I was in GET IT DONE mode and just didn’t want to go back to the store. Now it’s there forever and will always bug me a little, even if no one else notices it.
  3. Have the patience to redo it. I messed up a little on the trim of the cabinet topper. This is another thing that only I seem to notice. Wish I’d had the patience at the time to rip it all apart and do it again, properly.
  4. Make thicker shelves: I cheaped out and used 1/2″ shelf plywood. I wish I’d gone with a thicker shelf, and a better, smoother grade of plywood. It would cost more, but I’d like it better. For now, I’m okay with my thin plywood shelves, even if they’re bowing a little.
  5. Maybe upgrade the quality overall. I was thinking basement/second-best materials for this basement storage unit. Sometimes I wish I’d gone for slightly higher quality in my materials. Other times it seems just right to me. Always I am so glad I had the chance to learn on this project.

What do you think? Have you made a built in? What would you do differently? For more on how the whole basement upgrade is going, check here.

 

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