Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Upgrading Our Basement Storage

Finished basements can be a great thing.  Whenever someone needs more space in a DIY-show home, it seems like the first place they turn to is the basement.  And why not? Tons of space without the cost of adding on to your home. 

There is a down side.  Especially if your house has a tiny, (barely) one car garage like ours.  We fit a vehicle in our garage exactly once, when hurricane Sandy blew through and I was convinced that our crappy tree in the front yard was going to fall on my car.  Since our entire basement is finished and we have no easy access to the attic, our garage is our only area for storage.  In some ways, I'm grateful because it helps to keep us from accumulating so much stuff.  But, let's be real, a house does need storage.  So as we have planned changes to the basement, we have kept with a plan of adding storage as we go.  

I may have mentioned before that our house has had water issues (yuck!), but one particularly ugly time was when a pipe burst in our garage... while we were at work.  By the time I got home there were a few inches of water in the basement.  Anyway, the set of shelves in this blurry picture, which were made of that closet particle board, were damaged.  MDF soaks up water and doesn't dry out well.  We didn't rip them out right away, but when I found mold on them one day, they were out within a weekend.

This is actually one of the photos from the listing for our house, so it's not our paint or furniture, but it's the only picture I could find for the shelves.  We have largely fixed the water issues, and have since replaced those shelves with this:

You'll see in the later photos that this room is still a major work in progress, but look! Shelves!

I pondered over this one for an embarrassingly long time.  The old shelves had to be removed, so that part of the decision was easy, but I wanted something more substantial and of higher quality.  Those particle board closet shelves don't really make good bookshelves.  I knew I wanted cabinets on the bottom, because I like having a place to conceal my old textbooks, extra decorative stuff, and our workout equipment.  No one really wants to see those, including me!  Because I didn't want it to cost a fortune, the debate was over whether or not to build it entirely myself (er, ourselves), purchase cabinets and add on to, or purchase a whole unit.  As usual, it came down to the balance between the time we have available and the cost.  

I ended up going with the middle option- buying the base cabinets and building the shelves. The cabinets are these unfinished sideboards from Just Cabinets.  We have one of these sideboards already, and aside from the knobs being cheap, it has held up really well.  It's not quite Ikea-priced, but it's solid pine and free standing (no need to build up a base) which seemed like a good thing considering we were going to put more furniture on top.  I painted it in Irish Mist (Behr) and swapped out the cheap knobs for slightly nicer ones in an ORB finish:

So, the next debate with myself was over the cabinet top.  The cabinets come with a butcher block-ish top to them, which looks fine.  I was hoping, though, to have a solid piece of wood running across the top, to help it feel like a single piece of furniture.  We went to the home improvement store and found that to get once solid piece of wood in the depth and length we needed was going to cost $75-$100, or we would have to go with plywood, which I didn't really want.  It just seemed like a big expense when we had perfectly good tops at home, so I compromised and kept the existing ones.  You may have noticed that the top is made to overhang the base, so that the two cabinets would have a gap between them.  

I ended up cutting the overhang off so that they fit tightly together.  Another option would have been to shift the tops over and make the overhang larger on the ends, but it looked like too much to me. 

So then, on to the hutch.  We used two 4'x8' sheets and one 4'x4' sheet of 1/2" thick plywood.  We cut the back piece out of 1/2" plywood to make sure it was extra sturdy, but you could also just use a thin sheet as a backing.  If you do, it will probably cost less, but you'll need to adjust some of these measurements (basically, make everything the same depth and then nail the back on as a last step).

Here's what the back looks like in real life:

And a diagram (looking from the back) to show the dimensions:

And a view from the top:

Then add the front vertical pieces with pocket holes, and cut the shelves:
Here's a picture of the pocket holes on the vertical pieces:

If the pocket holes in the front bother you, you can buy little plugs for them.  I don't think they are that noticeable, especially with the holes for adjustable shelves.  

Speaking of which, if you are a decisive person and know where you would like to place your shelves, you can screw them in directly.  If however, you are like me and have a mild tendency to change your mind, adjustable shelves might be the way to go.  Hubby made up a template of holes spaced every 2", and drilled away.  The important thing here is to make sure that your holes on all four sides are level!  You can buy the little pegs that go in the holes in the closet section of the home improvement store- just drill your holes so that they fit snugly.

Next, add your trim.  We put small trim on the very front edges to conceal the plywood, and a crown molding at the top.  Also, I used iron on edging for the shelves,  The trim could work also, but you'll have to adjust the shelf depth for it.  The iron on stuff is really simple, and if you can't find an exact size, go one larger and trim with a utility knife after the glue has hardened.

This picture below is not beautiful, but it shows that we put the molding across the front, rather than on top of the shelving (taken from inside the shelf, looking up).  We think we chose the simpler option.

Finally, paint/stain.  The white is the same trim paint that I use everywhere in the house- Behr's Irish Mist in Semi Gloss.  The stain is Special Walnut (I think... did this a while ago and there are like 8 different stains in my garage.... oops)

To assemble everything, we screwed the two base cabinets together, then set the hutch on top.  If you would like to secure the hutch (probably a good idea if you have kids), there are these little rings that look like 8's, where one screw goes in the base and one in the hutch.  Two of those should help.  Sorry, I don't know what they are called. :)

Here's a few more pictures of the finished product:

And just for fun, here's the work in progress view:

Every bone in my body wants to swap out the couch and tear down that ceiling, but I need to take it one step at a time... 

I have made a pledge to myself to not use this blog for shaming previous owners of my house (there are a lot of stories...), but in case you are considering putting a ceiling in your basement, please:
- Do not use a plastic track for a drop ceiling if you can avoid it.  
- Follow the above especially if there is a large heat source (e.g. wood stove) in the room that may cause said plastic track to deform.
- If you build built-in bookshelves out of cheap materials, don't built the ceiling around them.
The point is, think about whether the materials you are using are really going to hold up over the long haul.  If they aren't, that's fine!  Rooms evolve over time, and you may know that your current setup is temporary.  Just make your life easy for replacing them later.  

This was a larger project, but I hope you can see a few ways to "bite off what you can chew".  Maybe you aren't ready for cabinet-making yet (I don't think I am, either), but you could probably assemble something and add to it- the shelves really aren't too hard!

Have a good week and a blessed Easter!