Monday, July 8, 2013

0 The Entertainment Center

Ever since we moved into this house, I've had big dreams for this weird little cubby off the living room:

As you can see, there was originally a built-in desk with marble tops.  Not very attractive, and not exactly what we had in mind for this space.  With our giant sectional, this seemed like the perfect space for the TV to reside.  So we ripped the desk out (the two base cabinets sit in the garage, holding all our painting supplies), stuck an old buffet there (what we used as a record cabinet in the old house), and put the TV on it.  But despite having painted the little space, it just never felt finished.  The buffet was a couple feet short of the width, and the TV sat a little lower than was ideal, considering you couldn't see it over the arm of the couch if you were against the wall.

I'd been researching (Googling), trying to find ways to do a built-in entertainment center on the cheap.  Every DIY project I found started with base kitchen cabinets, since the wood alone to build a base from scratch would be around $600-800.  So I set out on finding kitchen cabinets from Craigslist.  The space is an awkward 99.5" wide, so if I'd found something that was 8', I could work with it, and fill in the space on the sides, which is what I was expecting to do.  For a couple months, I kept it up, looking every couple of days, finding some that might work, but discovering they were too expensive, the seller wouldn't break up a set, or they were in such disrepair it would take a lot of work to bring them back.

Then I saw the perfect post.

East Grand Rapids. $325 for a lot of 7 cabinets, all of varying sizes.  I called, and a nice gentleman named Phil told me about how he got $15,000 worth of  Merillat cabinets to refinish his kitchen, and these were the leftovers.  I visited his home to take a look.  There were two cabinets that measured 36"w x 12"d, and one that measured 27"w x 18"d.  36" + 36" + 27" is 99".  Amazing. They were the perfect size.  They didn't match completely, but it wouldn't take much to get them to work.  I asked if he'd split them up, just selling me the three, and he agreed.  Because the other 4 cabinets (the ones to the right in the photo) were all skinny, smaller, not as nice cabinets, and it was already a steal, I offered him $250. He took it.

The next day, I set them up in the garage to be hacked up and modified.

The one on the left is double-sided, with 4 glass doors, so the plan was to take the doors from one side, and add them to the other 36" cabinet.  Before I could do that, though, I had to do some quick modifications to make the heights on the two cabinets match.  I took the front off the drawer, took the solid doors off, and went to work with the circular saw.  I measured the height of the glass door cabinet, made my marks and cut the top off.  Then I reassembled the top and back bracing and added the new glass doors.  Luckily, I was able to keep the drawer in the cabinet - without the face on it, the door was still able to close and the rails did not interfere with the hinge.

The other thing I had to consider was the depth.  The middle cabinet is 18", the other two 12", so the plan was to just have dead space behind the two 12", which would be nice for cables.  I set to work on building a 2x4 frame for them to sit on.

The original configuration had the faces all matching, giving the illusion of the same depth.  But when I set it up, I realized that the frame of the "window" would be in the way.  The idea was to match the height all the way across by building boxes on top of each 36" cabinet to bring them up to the same height and do one solid countertop piece across the whole thing. However, with the window frame in the way, that would not be possible, so I flipped the frame around so that the 27" cabinet stuck out 6" in the middle. I thought at first it might look weird, but it ended up giving the piece some great dimension and saved us money by not having to find a 99" piece of wood for the countertop!  Likely I would have created the illusion of one piece with some mitered cuts, but still, much easier this way.

Next, I went to Lowes and got a bunch of 3/4" 2'x4' pieces of birch to create the boxes and top out of.  I first cut a piece to sit atop the middle cabinet so I would know measurements for the height of the boxes.  I built each one with (2) 36" x 13.5" pieces (with the back brace and the door depth, 13.5" is from the wall to the front of the door, with a little overhang) and (3) 5.5" pieces.  I dry fit all the pieces and then used wood glue, 1" brad nails and corner clamps to secure it together. I used a Marshall JCM-900 guitar head to weigh it down and get a tight fit.

Here's a progress photo featuring Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach:

This is where it gets crazy.  In the Leonard house, we had a desk built to fit around a window.  It had a big table top that sit on two big cubes, and then two tower bookcases on either side sat on top of the whole thing, casing the window in.  When we moved it to the this house, we decided it would go best in the room attached to the master, but interior windows prevented us from using the bookshelves, so we needed to do something with them. Now, keep in mind, I was hoping to use them in this build, but did not plan on it, and certainly did not measure to make it so.  After the boxes were built, I took some quick measurements.  From the countertop to the ceiling is approx. 54.5".  The bookcases are 54" tall. Not only that, but after removing the trim work so they would sit flush to the wall, the distance between them is 47.25", just about exactly the width of the TV.  Here's a dry fit version.  I was ecstatic to say the least.

The only thing left was to paint the entire thing to match the cabinets and walls.  I took one of the cabinet doors to Lowes to have them do a color match, and a fairly rude and reluctant employee begrudgingly complied.  NOW - I recommend color match if you're using a pillow as an inspiration piece for a wall color, but it doesn't work so great if you're trying to match a color EXACTLY, especially when it's an off white.  It's not far off enough to be bothersome, but it isn't quite right, that's for sure.  I also happened to find the remainder of a quart of the wall color luckily, so no purchase there.

I prepped the boxes by adding iron-on wood veneer to cover up the rough edge.  Pro Tip:  you should add wood veneer to the pieces BEFORE assembly - did not know that.  But ironing sideways and trying to cut the pieces to fit when it's already assembled is a total pain in the ass. ALSO, when working with such small boxes, I should have known to paint them before full assembly as well, since getting a brush in there was not fun.  I also used a 1" & 2" bit to cut access holes through every piece, so we can route cables through every piece.  All the power resides in the top center, so all the cables and power boxes and all that are hidden behind that door, which is nice.

Once everything was painted (about 6 hours worth of just painting), it was finally time to see it all put together.

A last minute change, I flipped the doors upside down so that the handles were up top, since having them 6" off the ground wasn't really useful, and took the square knobs off the center doors and swapped them for matching handles from the leftover doors I had from the other cabinet.  The result is incredible.  I still have to do baseboards to make it truly finished, but this was a rewarding project that in the end looks professionally done. And this photo reminds me that I need to stop using the iPhone camera so much - doesn't look nearly as good as the Nikon would have. Sorry, but I hope it still translates!

Total Project Cost = Approx. $400 ($250 for cabinets, $110 in wood, $40 in paint) doesn't include the bookcases, since I already had those).
Total Build Time = 30 hours?  Hard to tell with all the paint-drying time.

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