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Resizing Built-in Bathroom Cupboards

Arthur strives to balance aesthetics, functionality, and quality with costs when planning DIY projects in the home and garden.

Modified airing cupboard and wardrobe in our bathroom.

Modified airing cupboard and wardrobe in our bathroom.

Purpose of Project

In our bathroom, the airing cupboard that houses the central heating combi-boiler is far bigger than required, while the built-in wardrobe adjoining it would benefit from being larger.

Therefore, the purpose of this DIY project is to make the airing cupboard smaller, so as to make the adjoining built-in wardrobe bigger.

Historic Overview

Originally (when we bought the house), the airing cupboard the copper emersion heater heated by electricity for hot water, and from the back boiler behind the gas fire in the living room for feeding the radiators; the water was fed to the emersion tank from a cold water storage tank in the loft, which was kept topped up from the mains water.

The emersion heater being quite large took up the whole cupboard space. However about 20 years we replaced the old central heating system with a combi-boiler; a much simpler and far more efficient system for supplying hot water to the taps and for the central heating. The new combi-boiler which replaced our immersion tank, supplies hot water on demand and keeps the radiators hot as part of the central heating system meant that we no longer needed a gas fire or back boiler, or the water tank in the loft; so they were all removed when we upgraded our heating system.

Also, the combi-boiler is a lot smaller than the old immersion tank, and therefore has given me the opportunity to downsize the airing cupboard in order to enlarge the adjoining wardrobe.

Outline Plan

The two basic elements of this project are to:

  1. Reposition the divider between the two cupboards, and
  2. Create new doors to match the new cupboards size.

Step-by-Step Guide to Resizing the Built-in Cupboards

Below is a step-by-step guide to how I resized our built-in airing cupboard and wardrobe in our bathroom so as to create more wardrobe space.

Dismantling

The first step was to dismantle those parts of the cupboards that needed alteration or repositioning as part of resizing the cupboards; specifically in the following:

  • Doors
  • Airing shelf
  • Clothes rail and shoe rack
  • Dividing panel between the two cupboards
  • Base shelf for the top cupboard above the wardrobe
  • Shared doorframe
  • Wooden ducting for the gas and central heating pipes.

Removing the Old Doors

Although I wouldn’t be reusing the old doors, a friend said he would have the wood for shelving, so using my electric screwdriver I quickly unhinged the doors and removed them to my workshop for safe keeping for my friend.

Downsizing the Airing Shelf

After removing the doors I needed to remove a section of the airing shelf in order to remove the dividing panel between the two cupboards, therefore:

  • I cut the front support of the airing shelf with a handsaw at the point where the new dividing panel will be located to make the airing cupboard smaller.
  • For cutting the back support, I used my sonicrafter saw which is ideal for accessing awkward spaces.

How to Use a SoniCrafter to Cut Shelf Supports Without Damaging the Wall

Removal of Old Clothes Rail and Shoe Rack

With making the wardrobe wider both the old clothes rail and shoe rack are going to be too small, and will need replacing. Apart from which, as they are fitted to the side of the dividing panel both needed to be removed before removing the dividing panel.

Removing Old Dividing Panel

Once the front and back supports to the airing shelf were cut, the unwanted part of the airing shelf was easy to remove; leaving the necessary gap to push out the dividing panel and remove it.

Removing Base Shelf for Cupboard Above Wardrobe

Once the dividing panel was removed, the top of the wardrobe (which also acts as the base of the above cupboard) was easily removed. The shelf was supported by shelf supports, one of which was screwed to the dividing panel. Having removed the shelf support on the dividing panel, to enable the removal of the dividing panel, the base shelf of the cupboard above the wardrobe was then unsupported on one side.

This shelf needed replacing because by widening the wardrobe, although the above cupboard was not being altered, the top of the wardrobe (which acts as the base shelf of the above cupboard) would need to also be extended.

The base shelf of the cupboard above the wardrobe, ready to remove, after its shelf support had been removed from the dividing panel.

The base shelf of the cupboard above the wardrobe, ready to remove, after its shelf support had been removed from the dividing panel.

Removal of Shared Doorframe

The middle strut of the doorframe was held in place by a wooden joint at the top and two large screws at the bottom. Therefore, to remove it:-

  • I used a handsaw to cut through the top wooden joint, and
  • Then by pulling the middle strut down sideways levered it out, leaving just the two screws protruding from the base of the doorframe.
  • I then fitted a metal cutting blade to my sconicrafter saw to quickly cut through the two protruding screws.
Using my SoniCrafter to cut the protruding nails, after the middle strut of the doorframe had been removed.

Using my SoniCrafter to cut the protruding nails, after the middle strut of the doorframe had been removed.

Removal of Wooden Ducting

The wooden ducting at the back of the wardrobe is there to conceal the gas and water pipes for the central heating. By making the wardrobe wider the ducting would also need to be extended.

Therefore I unscrewed and removed the old ducting, which would later be used as a template of making its replacement.

Dismantling the old wooden ducting that concealed the central heating pipes at the back of the wardrobe.

Dismantling the old wooden ducting that concealed the central heating pipes at the back of the wardrobe.

Cupboards gutted, and ready for re-sizing.

Cupboards gutted, and ready for re-sizing.

Reconstruction

After dismantling what need to be removed, the next step was the reconstruction, done in the following order:

  • Dividing panel between the two cupboards
  • Base shelf for the top cupboard above the wardrobe
  • Airing shelf
  • Wooden ducting for the gas and central heating pipes.
  • Flooring in the wardrobe
  • Clothes rail and shoe rack
  • Shared doorframe
  • Doors

Remaking and Fitting the Dividing Panel

Rather than re-use the old dividing panel, which was just chipboard, I decided to make a new panel from 12mm (1/2 inch) plywood, cutting it to size from an 8ft x 4ft sheet of plywood.

Before refitting the dividing panel I glued and screwed shelf supports to both sides; one for the airing shelf and the other to support the new base shelf for the cupboard above the wardrobe.

Remaking and Fitting Base Shelf for Cupboard Above Wardrobe

The new base shelf was cut from 12mm (1/2 inch) plywood and to fit into place, the top of the dividing panel (which hadn’t yet been fixed in place) was gently pushed a few inches outwards to leave a gap large enough to push the shelf in place and to rest on other shelf support.

The dividing panel was then up-righted, closing the gap between it and the base shelf, so that the base-shelf could then rest on the shelf support pre-fitted to the dividing panel.

Fitting the Airing Shelf

In order to remove the dividing panel the airing shelf was cut to its new size as part of dismantling phase of this project.

Therefore, during reassembling, all that needed doing was, once the new dividing panel was in position, to just add a bit of wood glue to the shelf support fixed to the dividing panel, and then rest edge of the airing shelf on the shelf support.

New divider panel in place and airing shelf fitted to it.

New divider panel in place and airing shelf fitted to it.

New Wooden Ducting for the Central Heating Pipes

Using the old bits as templates, but obviously making the new sections longer to fit the wider wardrobe, I used new and old pine floorboards and 3mm (1/8th inch) plywood to cut out the pieces I needed to make the new ducting.

The old floorboard being used for the front of the ducting, and then faced with 3mm plywood; and the new floorboard used to make the top piece.

New Wardrobe Flooring

Just to tidy up the base of the wardrobe, and to conceal the electrical cable running to the airing cupboard, a sheet of 12mm (1/2 inch) plywood was cut to shape and size and placed on top of several battens of wood which I placed on the floor to give clearance for the electrical cable.

New Clothes Rail and Shoe Rack

The old clothes rail and show rack were metal rods held in place by plastic fittings at each end. However, not having any metal rods long enough for the new clothes rail and shoe rack, rather than going out and buying the rods I opted to use some broom handles that I had instead, and to make wooden end fittings to fit.

  • For both the clothes rail and shoe rack I cut some 12mm (1/2 inch) plywood to size and drilled large holes in the pieces of plywood, slightly larger than the diameter of the broom handles.
  • I then cut the broom handles to length (the width of the resized wardrobe).
  • To fit, I first screwed the first fitting for the clothes rail in position, then
  • After placing one end of the broom handle in the fitted fitting, I placed the second fitting over the other end of the broom handle and slid it down.
  • Then I screwed the second fitting in place.

I then repeated the same process for fitting the shoe rack in place.

Refitting the Shared Doorframe

To refit the old doorframe in its new location I just simply glued and screwed it in place, checking that it was straight and level, before securing it. For added strength I add a piece of timber down the full length of the wardrobe on the inside corner where the repositioned doorframe butted against the dividing panel; and using it to screw and gluing both doorframe and dividing panel together.

Making the New Cupboard Doors

I decided to use 12mm (1/2 inch) plywood to make the new cupboard doors; and piano hinges to make them folding doors, as follows:

  • Measure and cut the plywood to size.
  • Join the two halves (for each set of doors) reusing the old piano hinges that came off the old airing cupboard door.
  • Then fit three conventional hinges to each set of doors, reusing the old hinges that were used for the old wardrobe doors.
  • To hide the hinge joins thins strips of wood were cut using 4mm (1/8th inch) plywood, and glued in place down the centre join of each door.

Fitting the Cupboard Doors and Finishing Touches

Before fitting the new doors in place:

  • I decorated the wardrobe doors with self-adhesive square mirrors that a friend had given me years ago, and which I had stored in my workshop.
  • I refitted the old door handles, and
  • Gave the doors a quick oil and wax, using teak oil and beeswax.

I then screwed the hinges to the doorframe and tested before fitting the bolts on the top of the doors.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Arthur Russ

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