How-to Guide on Bespoke Built-in Cupboards for a Porch
Open Storage Space vs Cupboards
Do You Prefer Cupboards to Open Storage?
Maximising Use of Space
While Also Uncluttering the Porch
This was part of a bigger project of a porch makeover. Before doing the major repairs and other improvements to the porch I felt it was important to get the storage space right. Previously storage had been just a shelf below the windows (on both sides of the porch) for plants; with a plastic shoe rack underneath the shelf on one side with the space under the shelf on the other side being used to dump things.
To tidy-up the conservatory and maximise on storage space, I wanted to replace the existing shoe rack with a built-in one and sliding doors on one side, and enclose the open space on the other side to make it tidier.
So the parts of this mini DIY project are: -
- Make a built-in shoe racks with sliding doors, and
- Make a built-in storage cupboard with louvre doors.
Built-In Shoe Racks With Sliding Doors
Our Reason for Sliding Rather Than Hinged Cupboard Doors
We opted for sliding doors rather than hinged cupboard doors because the shoe rack cupboards take up the full length of the porch (about six feet), so doors opening outwards would be just too wide for the porch (about five foot). Whereas sliding doors using 6mm (1/4 inch plywood) doesn’t take up the space. I used this method for cupboard doors before in confined space to good effect, so I know from personal experience that it’s a good solution for this kind of situation.
Before fitting the shoe racks I quickly added some additional insulation at the back of the cupboards.
That side of the porch is a north facing wall, so it never gets any sunshine and remains cold in winter and cool in the summer. The porch walls is natural stone, dry lined on the inside with just an inch of insulation between the plasterboard and the stone.
Therefore adding a bit of extra insulation will help to keep the inside of the cupboard and in turn the porch that little bit warmer in the winter months. However, with the depth of the cupboards being just over 12 inches (the minimum depth required for a shoe rack) there was no space for any substantial insulation. Therefore I used a modern material just 5mm (1/4 inch) thick which essentially is bubble wrap with a reflective foil surface on both sides. For fixing it to the wall I used a staple gun and foil adhesive tape specifically designed for the job. The foil tape is highly adhesive and will stick to anything (including itself) so to apply it you need to cut it to length and peel away just the first inch or two of the backing in order to stick it to the wall; then slowly pull the rest of the backing off as you gently but firmly press the sticky foil tape into place.
Sliding Cupboard Doors
From Design to Fit
My how-to guide for making the built-in shoe rack shelving is covered in detail in a separate article. As a continuation of that article this quick step by step guide shows how-to make and fit a couple of simple sliding doors in front of the cupboards. The prime purpose of having sliding doors rather than open cupboards is to tidy-up the porch as one of the finishing touches to our renovation e.g. open shelves of everyday shoes can look a bit unsightly.
Preparation and Fitting the Runners
For the sliding doors to work and fit properly the double channels they run in (top and bottom) need to be straight and level and be in line with each other. Therefore it is critical to take precise measurements of where the runners will be fitted, and if need be (as was the case with our floor) use spacers of the correct thickness and at regular intervals under the runner so that when laid it does lay flat and level. It can be tricky to get right, especially as the plastic runners are flexible, but it’s well worth the time and effort to ensure that when the runners are laid the opening is perfectly level top and bottom. If your floor is uneven, you can use tiny wood wedges (rather than plastic) as spacers to support the runners where needed.
The plastic runners I used come in sets of two with the top runner being twice the depth of the bottom one. This is so that when fitting the sliding doors into the runners (or removing them) you lift the door into the top runner for as high as it will go so that it slips over the bottom runner. Then you just let go and let the door drop into the bottom channel; it’s then held in place by both top and bottom runner.
An Invaluable Tool
I often mention my trusty Sonicrafter in my DIY articles, specifically because it is such a handy tool that makes light work of cutting wood in situ without damaging the surrounding area. It’s especially useful for tight and awkward locations where it would be difficult and time consuming to use other tools. The Sonicrafter comes with many attachments but the one I find most useful and which I most often are the saw attachments. In this mini project I used my sonicrafter on two occasions to prepare the cupboard surround in preparation for fitting the sliding doors.
Using the Sonicrafter
After fitting the shoe rack shelves in the porch cupboards I needed to make a few minor alterations to the cupboards front in order to fit sliding doors e.g. to remove a bit of skirting at the front and the edge of a top shelf support that would otherwise jut out too far and prevent the sliding doors from being fitted.
For both these minor alterations I used my trusty Sconicrafter with saw attachment; which is ideal for this type of task, as shown in the video demonstration below. Using an ordinary hand saw to make a clean straight cut without damaging the surroundings can be rather awkward; whereas a Sonicracter does a good job easily and quickly.
Demo of Using a SoniCrafter
Having cut away the skirting board, which would otherwise have been in the way of the sliding doors, I made good the edge of the wall support between the two cupboards with a piece of 3mm (1/8 inch) plywood. I fixed the plywood strip to the stud wall with a nail gun and some wood glue. The nail gun I uses is for thin gauge wire nails and staples which are almost invisible in the wood, more so if they are tapped in just under the surface with a hammer and a nail punch. Any slight mark left can then be filled with wood filler; which can be completely hidden if the surface is later decorated.
When fitting the top and bottom runners, to prevent the doors snagging on the screws, the runners need to be secured in place using screws with quite small screw heads that are then countersunk into the plastic runners. There are no predrilled pilot holes in the plastic runners, so you need to make them yourself e.g. every 4 to 6 inches; which is best done on a work bench.
The pilot holes should be smaller than the screw, but just big enough to allow the screw to bite the plastic when screwing into position. You can make the pilot holes and countersink at the same time by using a drill bit that’s slightly wider than the width of the screw head, and drilling just a couple of millimetres (fraction of an inch) into the plastic; but stopping before you drill right through. It might be an idea to practice on an off-cut first; but if you do make a mistake and drill too deeply you can just make another attempt half an inch further along the runner.
Once all the pilot holes in the plastic runners are drilled it should be relatively simple to screw them into place; remembering the deeper channel goes at the top and the shallower one at the bottom.
Also remember the plastic channels are flexible so ensure they stay straight when fixing e.g. by using a straight piece of wood or spirit level as a straight edge guide. Also, ensure all the screws are fully countersinks so they don’t protrude; to avoid risking the sliding doors snagging on them.
Making and Fitting the Sliding Doors
Once the runners are fitted, the sliding doors can then be measured, made and fitted. Even with the alterations to remove obstacles the doors would need to be profiled to fit to the skirting board at one end and a doorstep at the other end.
Also, the doors should overlap each other by about an inch, although the exact distance is not critical and you can adjust the overlap to suit your particular needs or desire. What is critical is the height, the height of the sliding doors should be the height of the gap between the top and bottom runner plus the inside depth of the bottom runner; this needs to be millimetre perfect.
After marking out, cutting to size, and smoothing the edges with a sander, I used a 25mm (1 inch) Forstner bit to drill pull holes in each sliding door.
I then test fitted the doors for smooth running (making any necessary alterations) and then used a profile gauge for the skirting board and doorstep, which I then cut out with a jig saw.
Then after the final fit and test I rubbed teak oil into the doors to finish them off before starting on the next cupboard. As the plywood I used was quality hardwood, rubbing teak oil into it gives a good natural finish.
Built-In Storage Cupboard With Louvre Doors
Our Choice to Use Louvre Door
The available space for the cupboard on the opposite side of the porch to the shoe racks is much smaller; too small for matching sliding doors. Half the space on this side of the porch is open, to accommodate a large floor standing pot plant.
Therefore, a hinged door would be required to enclose the space under the window shelf. The reason I opted for louvre doors is because I had a pair in storage at the back of my workshop, which I could resize to fit the space.
It’s not the first these doors had been downsized to fit a cupboard. Originally they were one half of a pair of louvre doors to our upstairs toilets. As part of a makeover when we bought the house I replaced them with a concertina door, and then downsized one of the doors to make two smaller louvre doors for the vanity cupboard. More recently, when we renovated the toilet room I replaced the old plastic basin with a new gleaming white china sink and accompanying vanity unit.
Downsizing the Recycled Louvre Doors
Firstly you need to carefully measure the opening for the cupboard, and allow at least an eighth of an inch clearance all round; possibly a little more, dependent on the hinges being used.
As part of my design I decided to have a rebated join for where the doors meet so that both could be held in place by just one bolt; taking this into account, and the measurements I took, I then calculated the actual required size for each door.
To make the new doors you then need to dismantle the old ones into their basic components:-
- The separate pieces for the frame, and
- The slats.
Dismantling of louvre doors is generally quite easy as the slats are only held in place with glue and come out easily once you’ve knocked the frame apart with a mallet.
Making the New Frames
Once the old doors are dismantled: -
- The pieces for the new frames need to be cut to size
- Trimmed if necessary
- Cleaned up with a sander
- New joints made to fit the frame together
- Test fitted, and
- Rebates made with a router, so the doors overlap when closed.
Cutting the Slats to size and Assembly
To cut the slats to size, measure the inside width of each frame and add the depth of the slots in the frame for both sides.
Visually check each slot and if necessary, gently remove any obstructions e.g. old glue from them with a small chisel.
Add just a drop of glue in each slot and gently tap each slat back in place, first on one side then on the other side as you reassemble the frame.
Once the frames are glued and reassembled, clamp them up (ensuring their square) and leave overnight for the glue to set.
The following day, give the louvre doors a quick final sanding and clean before fitting the hinges ready for hanging the doors.
Fitting the Shelf
Fitting a shelf for this cupboard was a little more fiddly than normal because of its odd (almost triangular) shape. The crucial thing is to get all the measurements correct; if you have any doubt you can always make a dummy shelf from a piece of hardboard first to check for fit; and then make any adjustments to the measurements as necessary. If the hardboard is a good fit you can then use it as a template to mark out the actual shelf for cutting.
I recycled scrap wood for the shelf supports, but because the width of the cupboard at the far end was too narrow to get a screwdriver in, I used a ‘flexi bit holder’ which allows you to screw around corners.
Once the shelf supports were fitted I just slotted the shelf in place, fitted the doors, added the bolt; and to finish the job I applied a couple of coats of wood stain to the newly fitted doors.