One of the challenges of a job that moves me around the world into furnished quarters is that the standard issue furniture in question doesn't always meet my personal needs. Laying aside issues of style, the reality is that sometimes the intended function of a given piece is no longer relevant — but the piece itself needs to stay. This tour, the elephant in the room was the large TV armoire pictured above — perfect for that little dorm TV that was in the house when I arrived, but not at all suitable for the 47" flat screen my husband shipped to post. Fortunately the moment I saw the piece, I knew I could make it work to meet another need…We do a lot of entertaining, and really need to be able to party beverages in a way that makes them easy to access during an event, but easy to hide at other times. The minute I saw that giant TV armoire, I knew with a little work it could be the perfect solution to that design dilemma. Since many of these old school TV armoires are still drifting about in basements and on Craigslist, I hope this step-by-step account of the transformation helps give new purpose to another armoire.
Because I do not own this armoire, everything I do needs to be removable for the next tenant. The first thing I did was measure the space available inside the armoire (minus the space the doors take up when they slide back). My armoire is about 42" wide total which meant I knew the shelving inside needed to be about 36 to allow the doors to clear. I also knew I wanted a mirror in the back and so went shopping for that before we started building any internal shelving.
The STAVE mirror from IKEA ($30) was the ideal size and color for my project, and can easily be used on the wall in future homes. My husband built the steps out of scrap plywood — 36" wide and 8" high total (each step is 4" high). Ideally the shelves for the bottles should 5" deep, but the mirror is about 1" deep and rests on the top shelf of the step so we decided that shelf should be 6" deep instead. Once the shelf was built, I took the time to dry-fit everything to make sure all the pieces fit before putting away the tools.
I decided to install a towel rack on the inside of each door; when they are open the racks are perfectly placed for hanging bar tools or towels to mop up any spills and when the doors are closed, you would never know we altered them. I used a bit of cardboard from the mirror box to create a template of where the holes needed to be, then my husband pre-drilled and installed the 12" bars on the thickest part of the door.
The next day I took all the pieces back out of the cabinet to complete the project. I spray painted the shelf in a metallic flake black; three light coats gave me the coverage that I needed. Based on experience, I highly recommend spray-painting outside if at all possible! After sliding the spray-painted shelf unit into place at the back of the cabinet, I began to wrestle with the mirror. Because the back of the cabinet is thin hardbard, I chose to anchor the mirror using wire threaded through the handing hardware and the open slits at the back of the cabinet. Since the weight of the mirror rests on the inside shelf, the wire just keeps the mirror from tipping over.
In order to protect the wood of the unit and make for easier cleanup, I used tiles left over from a retiling project in the house to create a work surface. To prevent the ceramic tiles from scratching the wood, I glued a cork placement onto the bottom to cushion the surface. The tiles help brighten up the interior and keep any spilled liquid from marring the wood finish.
Though I originally reconfigured the shelves in the upper cabinet to store wine, I eventually moved the wine to the bottom cabinets out of the light. The upper cabinets now hold my extensive collection of glasses- many admittedly appropriated from various watering holes over the years. I am on the lookout for a basket or tub that will fit on one of the bottom shelves to hold smaller items like beverage napkins, appetizer plates, toothpicks etc.
The crowning glory for me is definitely the battery-operated under cabinet LED lights that cast a funky blue-tinged glow over the bottles and work space. I picked these up at the hardware store for about $10 each; they run on AAA batteries and you just have to press the housing around the bulbs to turn them on and off. They also swivel which is handy to get just the perfect angle of light hitting the bottle without reflecting blindingly in the mirror.
Our new dry bar has been a big hit at parties, especially given that half the people we know are living with the same furniture! TV armoires were all the rage just a few years ago, and many of them are solid pieces with a lot of years left in them. I was deighted to be able to give this clunky piece a new lease on life by repurposing it to better fill the needs of my family.
Images: Colleen Quinn