We are officially on the finale of our fireplace built ins project: adding the actual fireplace built ins! Hooray!
Building built ins on the sides of the fireplace was always the end goal of our living room project because we needed storage!! Functional storage! Our vision had always been built in cabinets on the bottom (to hide toys) and built in shelving above the cabinets.
But before digging into the whole DIY built in process, let’s recap. We had a big storage dilemma in our main family room slash living room. This room is our main gathering area in our home, but it lacked functional storage for our kiddos stuff (you can read about that and the inspiration for our fireplace here). Here’s a look at the fireplace before we added built ins:
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Fireplace Built Ins Design Concept
Storage was our main priority with the fireplace built ins, but were also craving more space to display our seasonal items. After about two years of considering our options (hiring vs DIY), we went ahead with adding built ins around our fireplace on our own. We wanted a design with clean lines and light colors, as well as simple design and tons and tons of function.
This project was a HUGE labor of love, but so SO satisfying. The end results are everything we had hoped for. It’s pretty rewarding to be able to sit down every day and admire our own hard work.
Let’s get into the details of the project. First, we demoed our existing fireplace. Next, we installed shiplap, new tile, and a floating mantle where our previous fireplace was (read more about that here). Last but not least, we added built ins around the fireplace. Here’s an after shot for comparison (with a pic of the full built ins at the end of the post). Don’t you just love the clean lines?
The whole project took around 70 hours and cost $1,500 for the whole caboodle: built ins, tile, shiplap and mantle. We figure we saved at least $5,000 by doing it ourselves so the blood, sweat and tears were definitely worth it. We love everything about the finished look!
Fireplace Built in Supplies
- 2×4 wood
- MDF board (for shelving)
- Base stock cabinets
- Construction adhesive
- Shelf supports (type dependent on the weight your shelves will hold).
- Sandpaper (medium grit)
- Tak cloth
- Painters tape
- Paint (we used semi gloss)
- Putty Knife
- Measuring tape (or laser distance measure)
- Ryobi drill
- Stud finder
- Cirrcular saw
- Power caulk and adhesive gun (optional)
- Kreg pocket hole jig system
- Finishing nail gun
Psst: Find all our favorite tools at our DIY toolkit resource page.
Fireplace Built In Cabinets and Shelving: How to Build Them
Step 1: Demo and then repair walls, if needed. You can read more about our fireplace demo process here. After demoing the fireplace, we also patched the holes on the walls from our old photos using spackling and a putty knife.
Step 2: Use a stud finder to mark wall studs. Also mark the stud and ceiling joists for later.
Step 3: Using 2×4’s, build a base for the cabinets. Make sure to measure the base so the edges will line up flush with the bottoms of the cabinets (when you add the cabinets later). Here’s a peek at our base with one of the cabinets getting installed (more on that below). Pro tip: use a laser distance measure to make measuring a breeze.
Step 4: Screw the cabinet base to the studs in the wall. Do not screw the base into your floor unless you are ok with ruining your floor. In our case, we did not screw into the floor since our base sits on our beautiful wood floors.
Step 6: Cut the countertop board for your cabinets. Depending on your cabinet top design, you may need to cut spacers so the countertop plus trim aligns as desired. Use construction adhesive to attach. Here’s our countertop going in:
Step 7: Measure and cut the sides of your bookshelves. These go from countertop to ceiling, so measure accordingly.
Step 8: Use a kreg pocket hole jig to make holes in the bottom of the vertical bookshelf boards. These will eventually screw into the cabinet countertop. Read about how to use pocket holes from Family Handyman here.
Step 9: Attach the outside bookshelf boards to the walls, screwing them into the studs where possible. At this point, also screw into your counter top through the pocket holes you drilled in the previous step.
Step 10: Measure and cut 2×4’s that will attach to the ceiling. You will need two boards per bookshelf – one for the front of the bookshelf, and one for the back.The 2×4’s will serve as a point for the vertical pieces of the bookshelves to attach to the ceiling. Cut the 2×4’s the same width as the horizontal shelves for your built in bookshelves. Cut pocket holes with the kreg pocket hole jig on both ends of the boards.
Step 11: Attach 2×4’s to the ceiling with screws. Screw the 2x4s to the sides of the vertical boards you installed in Step 9. Repeat until all 2x4s are screwed to the ceiling and the vertical bookshelf boards. At this point, you can also attach the center vertical board to the ceiling brace.
Step 12: Measure and cut your desired number of horizontal shelves for your built in bookcases. Cut extra pieces to attach at the ceiling. The extra pieces will cover the 2×4’s you attached in Step 11.
Step 13: Install the bookshelves. An easy way to do this is by drilling holes at your desired height, and using shelf supports. You can also use pocket holes and screw shelves directly into the sides of your bookshelves. For the horizontal board we installed above our TV, we used pocket holes to ensure the shelf was stable and secure to the wall.
Pro tip: use painters tape to visualize where your bookshelves will go before you screw them in! We played around with our shelf spacing a bit, but ultimately decided to match the top to rows of shelves across the whole unit. This gave the whole built in unit balance.
For the right side of our built ins, we measured a box big enough to fit our current TV. We left a bit of room for a future size upgrade (because, you know, you can never have too big of a TV when it comes to football). On the side without the TV, we installed the lowest shelf tall enough to fit one of our heirloom crystal vases that we use as seasonal decor.
Fireplace Built Ins: How to Finish Them
With your base cabinets and built in bookcases installed, give yourself a HUGE pat on the back! The difficult part of the project is done. Now, i’s time to finish the built ins with paint and trim.
To make the painting process easier, paint as much as the shelving as possible before installation. This helps minimize pooling and dripping. After installation, do a final coat of paint and touch ups.
MDF is already sanded to a medium smoothness, but even if you decide NOT to sand your MDF any further than the pre finish, be sure to wipe down all surfaces with tak cloth before painting. Read more about how to paint MDF here (thank you Bob Vila).
Last but not least, measure, cut and install the trim. Along the ceiling, we installed a slightly thicker pine trim to match the pine trim we used on the bookshelf facing. At some point, we plan to put crown molding up in this room, but we like the simple look of the pine trim for now. For our base trim, we matched to the existing trim. Pro tip: we used our finishing nailer to speed through trim installation.
After the paint completely dries, add knobs to the cabinets. Then, start decorating your new built ins!
I love how much lighter the room is after adding built ins around our fireplace. I also love how much storage and display space we gained! Now, the toys are tucked nicely away in the cabinets. We also have room to store seasonal decor items on the right side.
I’m still tinkering with the bookshelf styling and our mantle. I love the two prints we chose from Target (read more of my favorite Target decor finds here). BUT we may add a third item to the mantle at some point. Sometimes, it takes a bit of time living with decor until I decide to change it up. You can read more bookshelf styling tips on our styling post here.
What about you? Are you a decor tinkerer like me? Or are you decisive about your home decor? I’d love to hear, so share below in the comments! AND if you loved this project, use the button below to pin this to your DIY board:
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