Entryway: DIY Custom Built-ins

Confession: I’ve been dragging my feet to post about this project. It was such a LONG, intensive and frustrating project that I’ve been taking my time compiling images and planning out how I am going to convey it all to you. If I were to give this project a “difficulty level” it would be EXTREME! I couldn’t even begin to list the materials and tools required for it  (though, I am sure there are other projects that are MUCH harder) HOWEVER, it was totally worth it and we are very happy with results! So, without further ado: My FIRST custom built-in project!

Like most DIY projects we’ve done in this house; it started out with something, dark, dated, and low functioning (not to mention an ugly front door….)

This was our entryway, shortly after we moved in… Dark trim, dark floors, and a hideous door (gold hardware everywhere! Blech!) When we first moved in, I was desperate for color and light! So, I painted this closet blue, added some white shelves and hanger rods and it got the job done for a few years, but the closet space was just never functional enough for me.

We suffered with this for a good few years until we had the chance to replace all the exterior windows and doors.

The New Door

To me, front doors are very important. They are kind of like the first impression of your home and as a the “homemaker” it is a first impresion of what kind of home I keep. Needless to say, I HATED that door and spent A LOT of time and consideration choosing its replacement.

White Front door 1/4 light side light

Here it is! Those two photos were taken on the same day and the difference is AMAZING! I love this door and the side light. So light and bright with all the beautiful glass and we still have plenty of privacy. Not bad for my first time picking one out!

Now if we could just make the closet match the door….

The Closet

At some point in the next couple years, I had a bad day and decided to get a crowbar and take it out on all that dark trim around the closet (nothing is better for taking out your frustrations than demolitions… and the clean up process can be quite soothing as well) , but it would be another 4 years before we got around to tackling this project.

I did spend an unhealthy amount of time shopping for premade closet inserts to make our entryway more function, but, as often happens, I couldn’t find what I wanted for a price I was willing to pay. So Hubby and I decided to it ourselves. The first step was to contact our arcitect (we’d consulted with him when we first moved in) to make sure would could remove the walls we wanted to. Then we called in an electrician to move some outlets and switches.

Closet removal renovation upgrade

Then we got our demolitions hats on and then our drywall and texture hats … and ended up with this:

Then came the most important (and boring) part: research and planning!

The Plans

I already had a good idea of what I wanted and after taking some careful measurements (I waited to do this until after demolitions and drywalling so they would be as accurate as possible) and taking into consideration that access door in the ceiling that leads into our crawl space, I started drawing up some plans.

I took 2 years of drafting in high school. This in no way makes me qualified to design or plan anything, but it does make it easier to communicate my ideas.

Note: I searched for the original plans I drew up for this project and didn’t find them. I did, however find plans I drew up for another project and I think they will make an acceptable substitute to demonstrate my process. 

Having already done much research on appropriate bench, shelf, and storage measurements I drew up a plan that looked something like this (though this plan was for a different project. Please excuse the wrinkles, we used this to build something and it got a little beat up ;) )

Front side with front view.

Front side with front view.

Back side with a top view

Back side with a top view

As you can see, the diagram lays out the overall design to scale with all the required measurements. Many of my designs also include a side view, but this particular one didn’t need a side view.

Once I had the whole thing planned out, I then drew up plans for each section (we built this in 3 separate sections) and some sections even needed a third break down to make sure everything was built to specification.

Plans for entryway shelves:

Plans for entryway shelves and back panel: front view (Did we get enough wrinkles in this one?)

Plans for entryway shelves: side view

Plans for entryway shelves: side view

From these plans we were also able to calculate approximately how much of each material we needed to buy (insert more research about what materials were available and what we should use to build it. Then we were off to the store!

Our old diesel truck bringing home the goods. She died last winter :( , but she was older than me!

Our old diesel truck bringing home the goods. She died last winter :( , but she was older than me!

Plans in hand, materials acquired, and we were ready to build!

The Build

First, we built a base, put it the entryway, used shims to make it level and then attached it to the walls. Then we built the first section (bench area with cubbies). We did our VERY best to make each cubby perfectly square and even (insert lots of measuring, leveling and swear words as we attempted to hold each piece perfectly in place while the other nailed or screwed it into place.

The bench/cubbies before we moved it into place


 After we got the bench portion moved into the entryway, made sure it was level, and nailed into place, we moved onto the tall cabinet portion (insert more measuring, cutting, leveling and swearing)

Adding the tall cabinet

For this project we used mostly sanded Birch plywood, It was cost effective and we were able to use solid pieces of Maple and Hemlock for the trim to cover over any visible plywood edges. The total cost of the built-in (materials, needed tools) was around $800 (a drop in the bucket compared to what a professional would charge) The flooring was another $300 or so.

Next we were able to get the wood backing (that would pull it all together with the shelves) put up. We also took a day and put the new Pergo floors in (same flooring we used in the bathroom), and a nice solid piece of Maple for the trim in front of the built-in. We also got the crown moulding put around the top of the tall cabinet and reframed the access door to the crawl space (ceiling) so it matched.

Backing is up and new floors!

Framing up for the shelves

I will never forget what what we had to do next. In order to make our shelves look the way we wanted and be as strong as we wanted them to be: we needed to use pieces of solid Maple as the supports. However, the only board we could find that even got close to the dimensions we wanted still had to be ripped (using a table saw to cut the board the long way) Ripping boards is difficult and nerve wracking enough … it is also one of the MOST DANGEROUS cuts you can make in the workshop. Doing it to a thick, solid piece of EXPENSIVE hardwood was INTENSE and set off 2 smoke alarms…


 Once those two thick boards were installed to support the shelf (and hide the seam in our backing), we were able to put on maple fronts and use trim pieces to hide all our corners and plywood ends.

Once all that was done, we puttied all the nail holes (we had LOTS of those) and were ready to put some finish on!


I am gonna be honest and tell you that it took us MONTHS to get the finishing done. Why? Part of the issue was ventilation: It became winter and we wanted to keep the house closed up, the kids were home for winter vacation and they had about 2 weeks of unexpected snow days in January. Not to mention that ALL of our birthdays fall between December and Feburary. We were BUSY!

I should also note that I did almost all of the finishing by myself and I ran into a few snags…

  1. Before this project I was TERRIBLE with putty and drywall (basically anything used to fill and then sand flush). I had a tendency to put WAY too much on and then spend an eternity sanding it all off, which then caused me to make mistakes and have to fix those and so on… However, I learned A LOT during this project and have since become a pro with the putty and such.
  2. As I mentioned above, the lack of ventilation and the kids being home slowed things down a lot. This was not helped by how wide our entryway entrance is (the distance of the walkway between the entryway and the rest of the house) I’d tried repeatedly to tape up some kind of barrier to contain the dust from sanding on the built-in, but with kids and cats (they love to mess with plastic) and a big dog coming through all the time … it just wasn’t working… until I devised up this little piece of genius! (I was so proud of myself, it was a bit disgusting…)

Cheap DIY dust barrier for sanding

That is a $3 plastic curtain rod, some thick plastic that overlaps about a foot in the middle (and I taped shut while sanding), two “no damage” plastic hooks to hold up the rod, and a whole bunch of Frog Tape I used to seal up the sides and along the floor. In this case the Frog Tape made a better/stronger seal to keep out the dust than regular painters tape and I wouldn’t want to use anything stronger without running the risk of hurting my existing paint and texture.

Note about Frog Tape: Frog Tape is good stuff. It does work better than traditional masking tape. Is it perfect? Does it seal out ALL the unwanted paint? Not really. I am willing to admit it could be my technique for applying it is off somehow, but I do A LOT of painting and I doubt it.

Is it worth the extra cost? It depends. If I am doing a project where I don’t want to be doing a lot of touch-ups (sometimes I use painters tape AS a stencil on the wall) or around particularly difficult spots on the moulding or in the corners of walls or ceilings … then the Frog tape can be worth it, but generally I wait until the absolute last pass with the paint. (Like if I was painting the walls and the ceiling. I’d paint the walls, let them dry, then mask off the wall and paint the ceiling; that way I don’t have to mask the whole distance twice. Then I’d pull down all the tape and see what my line looks like. There is almost always still touch ups that need to be done. Especially if your ceiling texture is heavier like mine. This is the point when I would pull out the Frog Tape, mask any areas (not the whole line again) and then make another pass or two with the paintbrush to make the line nice and clean. Even this is often not enough to make it “perfect” and I end up at the top of a step ladder with a little tiny paint brush … but the point is: For some things the Frog tape really is better and if you can afford to use it all the time: more power to ya! 

So, with an effective dust barrier FINALLY in place, I got all the putty sanded smooth, and a very light pass done on all the sanded Birch plywood we used. I was FINALLY ready to put the actual finish on.

I had originally planned to stain this built-in so it better matched the more red tones of our existing red oak hardwood flooring that starts just outside the entryway area, but after a few test runs with a scrap piece of maple and the putty, it just wasn’t working (maple is historically difficult to stain and the test pieces looked just awful…). I put the stain aside and just used oil modified water based polyurethane. I wanted to use Polyurethene vs. Polycrylic because of the nice yellowing it gives the wood. However, I didn’t want to deal with the fumes and clean-up of true polyurethene. The oil modified stuff worked great and gave us the nice coloring we wanted while still allowing us the simplicity of water clean-up.

Funny and terrible story: When I applied the first coat of oil modified water based polyurethane to the built-in, I used my HVPL sprayer (which is actually designed to be used with these types of finishes). It worked great, but when I sprayed up into the corners and such, there was A LOT of back spray that landed on me, my glasses (so hard to get off and I didn’t even think of wearing safety glasses over them…) and IN MY HAIR. My, 20+ inches of very fine straight hair was up in a messy bun and from the top of my forehead all the way to the back top of my head got SOAKED in that polyurethane! It didn’t make my hair crispy (like too much hair spray), that part washed out, but it did leave behind the OIL. I looked like a reject from the cast of Grease for MONTHS. I tried EVERYTHING to get it out. I washed my hair with dish soap every time I took a shower for a month. I researched and decided to try putting Go-Jo (orange hand cleaner) in my hair which actually helped quite a bit. Finally, my friend who is a licenced beautician came over and gave me a hot oil treatment which finally seemed to get enough of it out that I didn’t feel like an oil slick anymore. It has been almost a year and there are still greasy patches in my hair, but it is manageable and I am not all that vain about my appearance anyway, but NOT MY HAIR!! (Okay, I am a little vain about my hair). Learned a lot though! When in doubt: COVER YOUR HAIR!!

I put three good coats of the polyurethene on the whole thing (lightly sanding between coats) and then a forth coat on the bench seat and all the shelves as they would, likely, take more wear than the rest of it. It was the end of Feburary before I got the last of the finish on, all the paint touched up and the mouldings puttied, sanded and painted. All that effort and heartache was totally worth it!

DIY custom entryway built ins

So pretty once I got all the finish on!

Finishing Touches

The original plan was to add fully extending, soft close drawers to the lower cubbies and a door to the tall cabinet, but Hubby and I were so burned out on this project after the four plus months we’d already spent on it, that we decided to wait or perhaps we just won’t do them at all (shrug)

We did, however, add coat hooks, bins and containers to make this a highly functional and organized space. We love our new light and bright entryway!

Light bright DIY custom entryway built in

DIY custom entryway built in

DIY custom entryway built in

Next up: Entryway: Family Command Center!

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