One Room Challenge

Before and After: ’70s-Era Living Room Cabinetry Gets a $1,200 Facelift Fit for 2022

published Jun 16, 2022
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About this before & after
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Before: Tan brick fireplace and dated white cabinetry
Credit: Amy Smith

Built-in shelving and cabinetry is great, and Apartment Therapy has seen several DIYers add beautiful wall-to-wall built-ins to their spaces this year. Part of what makes built-ins such a solid standby is that they maximize vertical storage space — or at least, the best built-ins do.

Amy Smith’s (@homebringsjoy) living room had built-in units from 1976 on both sides of the fireplace when she first moved in, but they were slightly awkward: The shelving didn’t extend up very high, and the wavy cabinet doors looked a bit too ornamental and dated. (Not to mention the tan brick fireplace itself wasn’t doing the back wall in the living room any favors.)

Credit: Amy Smith

Fairly quickly after moving in, Amy repainted the fireplace (Sherwin-Williams’ Pure White) and built a wooden box frame to wrap around the existing white mantel to zhuzh up the fireplace. She also removed the ’70s built-ins on either side.

“Both areas beside the mantel have been empty for two year — mostly storing my kids bikes, cars, scooters, etcetera,” Amy explains. During the Spring 2022 One Room Challenge, she finally decided to add the built-ins of her dreams.

Credit: Amy Smith

“The only help I had was electrical wiring for the picture lights,” Amy says. “I made everything else myself from scratch. It took me the full eight weeks.”

She built the base for the cabinets and mounted it to the wall, built and installed bottom cabinets on top of the base, then added the shelving on top of that — easier said than done.

Credit: Amy Smith

“Walls are never square, so it makes things more difficult,” Amy says. Her pro tips for fellow intrepid DIYers are to use a Studbuddy magnet tool to locate and mark studs and to tape your shelving design with painter’s tape to the wall before you begin to make sure you like the shape and height of everything.

Amy also built her wall out about 4 inches, so her shelves atop the cabinets weren’t so deep.

Credit: Amy Smith

After the framework was built, Amy added trim and doors. The doors were surprisingly easy to cut, she recalls; she used her router table to get the job done. “I’ve been intimidated to try it the last few years, but it was way easier than I thought,” she says, adding: “Maybe one day I can turn from accountant to carpenter full-time. A girl can dream.”

Amy says the one setback of the project was the trim: “My face frame trim on one of the cabinets fell to the ground, and the wood was damaged,” she says. “I had to start over.”

Credit: Amy Smith

After the trim was added, it was time for wood filling, sanding, caulking, and then priming and painting. Amy chose a creamy khaki color (Benjamin Moore’s Revere Pewter), to pop from the bright white fireplace. Her final step was attaching picture lights from Amazon, which she had wired by a professional electrician.

Her shelving project cost about $1,200, and she completed her dream living room by adding Nomad Chairs from Burrow, a gray sectional, a faded vintage-looking rug, grid ottomans, a cool black coffee table, and a handmade media console. The star of the show, though, is the built-ins, and Amy is proud that she made them herself.

Credit: Amy Smith

“I’m not a professional carpenter, but they look incredible,” she says. Her best DIY advice? “Take one step at a time, and you will eventually get to the end. It will all be worth it, and you will learn so much throughout the process.”

This project was completed for the Spring 2022 One Room Challenge, in partnership with Apartment Therapy. See even more of the One Room Challenge before and afters here.