Seriously you guys I can't even believe how good these DIY built-ins with a bench seat turned out! Just ask my neighbor, she probably sees me standing and staring at them daily through our front window.
Ok. Kidding (maybe.)
But seriously when I set out to do this project I'd thought it 100 times through in my head - maybe in the middle of the night. I was super nervous to take on such a big build with such little building experience cause - I ain't no fool. I know how difficult the finish work can be to get looking pro. But like my dad always said to me growing up - "if you aren't nervous, you aren't ready."
So I took my nerves to mean that I cared a whole heck of a lot about making these built-ins look like I'd hired a professional. So I dove in… and the result? 😍
DIY built-ins with a bench seat that add a TON of character to my suburban cookie cutter tract home
The living room before
When we bought our home it was builder grade and off white everything.
So in an effort to add some color and life to this room I painted the walls a light blue and created a faux hexagon wallpaper look with a sharpie and added DIY wooden shelves in an effort to add some character and define the space.
I definitely liked it more, but it still felt like a bunch of furniture in a room without much personality - it didn't feel like somewhere I'd want to hang out.
The living room with built ins
The built-ins add so much character, the window seat provides seating without taking up a ton of space - and is one of my favorite spots now, and the colors and vibe in here is so refreshing and very much "us."
I wouldn't call this project a total beginner project, but if you can use some simple power tools you can totally do this. - For what it's worth I did almost all of this project by myself.
How to Build Built Ins with a Bench Seat or Window Seat
Two key components to making this project easy are that I used Ikea cabinets at the base of each side and had all of my large wood pieces cut at the Home Depot. (I don't own a table saw and the big sheets of wood are difficult for one person to handle on their own. This took care of both of those issues.)
This post is an overview of how we built our built-ins with a bench seat. For step-by-step instructions based on the measurements of your home, you can get instant access to printable instructions + measurements worksheet here.
Building the Built Ins With Bench Seat
The side cabinets
Step 1:Build the 2 Ikea base cabinets and place them at each end
There are outlets behind each of our cabinets that we wanted access to so I cut a hole in the back of each cabinet to expose the outlet before placing them.
Then I placed each cabinet and secured them to the wall with a screws from the inside of the cabinets.
Step 2: Attach the counter tops to each base cabinet
I cut both pieces of countertop from one Ikea Lilltrask countertop. The piece comes with 2 finished edges which became inside piece on each cabinet with our cut edge going against each wall.
I followed the instructions that came with the countertop to attach the countertop to each base cabinet.
Frame the bench seat
Step 3: Place a 2 x 6 wall to wall
I placed a 2 x 6 the length of the built-in. It goes under the cabinets on each wall and is secured using wood screws through the bottom of each cabinet from the inside.
Step 4: Prepare the bench seat frame
Place four 2 x 6s from the already placed 2 x 6 to the wall equal distances apart.
Step 5: Frame the bench seat
Next I built 4 rectangle frames using 2 x 4s and attached them to each 2 x 6 piece using wood screws and a drill bit holder to extend the reach of our drill.
You'll notice that the rectangles come out to the same depth as the cabinet.
This is what it looks like when the cabinets are placed and the bench seat is framed.
Step 6: Attach the front panel of the bench seat
* You'll need a buddy for this step.
Holding the front panel of the bench seat in place, we lined up the bottom edge with the bottom edge of the rectangle supports and attached the front panel using wood screws at the top and bottom of each support.
Step 7: Attach the top of the bench seat
Next we place the top of the bench in place and secured it with wood screws at the support points.
To hide the seam where the two pieces come together at the front of the bench I attached a flat trim piece along the edge using a nailer. - This flat trim piece also acts as a small lip to hold the bench cushion in place.
Build the bookshelves
Step 8: Drill pocket holes for shelves
Using the Kreg Pocket Hold Jig, I drilled two pocket holes on the underside of each end of each shelf piece (not including the top shelf.)
Then I drilled 2 pocket holes on the inside of each side piece at the top.
For each shelf unit there will be 3 shelves with 4 pocket holes each, one top piece, and 2 side pieces with 2 pocket holes at the top.
Step 9: Attach the shelves
I laid one side piece down flat on the floor with the inside facing up (the side with the pocket holes.)
Next I measured and marked the spacing for each shelf starting at the bottom of the side piece and made the marks on both edges.
To attach each shelf, I lined the bottom side of each shelf up with the marks (pocket holes facing the bottom of the side piece) and attached with Kreg screws.* Be careful because at this point the shelves are flimsy.
I repeated this for each shelf.
Step 10: Attach the top piece
For the top shelf piece I placed it next to the top of the side piece (so its edge is on the floor) and attached it with a Kreg screw using the pocket holes I made on the side piece.
Step 11: Attach the other side piece
I laid my second side piece flat, pocket hole side up.
Then I carefully flipped the partially built bookshelves over and onto the second side piece.
I measured and marked the exact same measurements that I did on the first side piece and lined up the bottom edge of each shelf before securing with a Kreg screw.
Step 12: Place the bookshelf on top of your base cabinet
Step 13: Secure the bookshelf to the wall
Line up your bookshelf so that it's square with the base cabinet and as close to the side and back wall as possible.
Tip: I used shims between the side wall and the bookshelf to keep it in place and secured it to the wall using a wood screw from the inside of the bookshelf, just under each shelf and toward the front edge.
I repeated steps 8-13 for the other bookshelf.
(Optional) Drill for outlet access
In order to have electronic access on the bottom shelf of our built-in, we drilled 2 inch holes using a hole saw in the top of our countertop in the back corner and finished them with a furniture hole cover so that we could feed a wire down to the plug.
Add the front trim to make your shelves look more substantial
Step 14: Attach side trim to each bookshelf
I used 1 x 2 birch wood to trim my shelves and give them a more finished and substantial look.
First I cut a piece of 1 x 2 the height of my shelf unit, not including the top shelf piece and secured it with a nailer lining up the outside edge of the trim with the outside edge of my shelf unit.
The piece against the wall will go as close to the wall as possible while remaining straight up and down.
There will be overhang on the inside portion of the shelf.
Step 15: Continue adding trim
Next I measured the distance between each trim piece I just installed along each shelf. I cut at attached a 1 x 2 to each shelf lining up the top edge with the top of each shelf.
Step 16: Attach the top trim piece
I measured, cut, and attached one final 1 x 2 across the top shelf.
Add crown molding to the top of your bookshelves
This was the first time I'd ever done any crown molding and to say it can be complicated is an understatement.
But after making some mistakes, and doing some research I discovered this crown molding tool that made the entire process really easy.
Step 17: Measure and cut your crown molding
I followed the instructions on my Kreg Crown Pro to get the right measurements and angles and using a 12" miter saw I cut my crown. - I had to rent this saw because mine is 10" and cutting 5" crown with the Crown Pro didn't allow enough clearance to make my cuts. The bigger saw did the trick.
Once you have your measurements you lean your crown molding against the crown pro to make your cut. It holds it at the perfect angle for you.
I tested my corners to make sure they lined up nicely.
Step 18: Attach your crown molding
I attached my crown molding into the top trim piece and side of the shelf along the bottom and into the ceiling at the top using a nailer.
Add trim to the front of the bench seat
I added front trim to my bench seat to mimic the look of the cabinets I chose. I used 2 ½" x ¼ poplar board.
Step 19: Plan your front panel trim
Because my bench seat is 92" long I decided to create 3 rectangles. I planned out my measurements on paper before starting.
Step 20: Cut and attach your trim
I started by cutting one vertical piece the height of my front panel and attaching it using a nailer.
Then using my measurements, I cut two horizontal pieces and attached them leaving a tiny gap between the trim pieces to mimic the detail on my cabinet doors.
Finally I added the other vertical trim piece.
Next I repeated those steps starting at the other end of my front panel.
Step 21: Attach the middle rectangle
For the middle rectangle I attached the two vertical (side) pieces, then took measurements for the horizontal pieces before cutting and attaching them. These ones will likely be a tiny bit different from your other horizontal pieces because of the gaps you've left.
Prepare the built-in for paint
Step 22: Punch in your nails
Using a nail punch, punch each nail in so that it's just below the surface of the wood.
Fill in all those holes with wood putty and let them dry before sanding.
Step 23: Fill in your pocket holes
Fill the pocket holes with plastic wood and let dry before sanding.
Step 24: Sand everything smooth
Using a fine grit sand paper sand everything smooth and wipe down with a damp cloth to remove any dust.
Step 25: Caulk all seams
To make the built-in look really built-in you have to caulk all of the seams, even the tiniest ones. This is where it really comes together.
Here are a few tips that will really help with caulking…
- For small gaps (⅛” or less) run a line of caulk along the seam (you don’t need it to be too thick.)
- Then immediately twist the end of your caulking gun so the caulk stops leaking out, dip your index finger in a small bowl of water, and run it along the seam pressing just a little to create a really smooth line.
- Wipe the excess on a damp paper towel and move on to your next seam.
- For larger gaps you’ll need to add an extra step. This is because as the caulk dries it shrinks into the gap. If you try and caulk gaps that are too wide, you will end up with cracks in your caulk and a really messy look in the end.
- So, grab some computer paper. We’re going to back fill the gaps with it.
- For each large gap, tear or cut a piece of computer paper about 2 inches wide and the length of your gap (you may need to do this in sections for longer seams.)
- Roll each piece as tight as you can and stuff it into your gap between the wood and the wall. As you let go your roll will expand a little – that’s okay.
- You want your rolled piece of paper to bridge the gap between the wall and the wood but not extend beyond the wood.
- Once you have your rolled paper in place along a seam, apply the caulk much like you did for the smaller gaps. You may need just a slightly thicker line.
- Run your damp finger along the line.
- On the front molding you will need a very thin line of caulk. Use a toothpick to make the lines you want to keep more defined (the ones that mimic the look of the cabinetry.)
Step 26: Paint
Once everything is dry and clear of dust apply one last coat of paint. I like to use a brush along the seams and corners and a foam roller over that and everywhere else to get a really nice finished look.
And that's a wrap!
Pssst: I was so thrilled with how this turned out that I moved onto the kitchen and tackled our old, messy closet pantry. Now I can't stop looking at our new organized built-in pantry either!
You ready to start this project?
Believe me, if I can do this project, you can too. I worked out all the kinks and created a step-by-step printable guide to make it really easy on you.
Everything from taking your measurements, creating your plans and cut list based on those measurements, and the step-by-step instructions (with images) + helpful tips that will save you time and frustration are in the Printable Building Plans.
Ready to create a home that feels like you without the overwhelm?
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