Create Built-In Shelving and Cabinets on a Tight Budget

Inexpensive ways to create built in shelving and counters (The Creativity Exchange)


Inexpensive Ways to Create Built In Shelving


office/craft room revamp {before and after} The Creativity Exchange

Office Craft Room Revamp Project

I have had so many comments and emails from readers wondering how we created our built-in counters and shelving for my new office/craft room revamp that I wanted to dedicate a post just for ways to create built-in shelving and cabinets on a tight budget. I had a very small budget for my built-ins and since I hired a contractor for this bigger job, I needed to minimize the time that he spent on project overall.

Cabinets painted with Mindful Gray from Benjamin Moore.

If you can believe it, all of my built-ins and counters for this space cost me around $800.00 (including contractor labor and materials) and they all went up in less than 6 hours total!  I know it sounds crazy but because we used inexpensive pre-made unfinished stock kitchen cabinets from Lowe’s and we used standard size plywood (no special cuts were needed), I saved so much money and time.

If you have always wanted built-ins for a specific space but thought it would be way to expensive to have it done, this post is just for you!  If you’re open to using inexpensive pre-made stock cabinets and planning your space around standard width sizes of wood/mdf, creating customized built-ins is very affordable!


Inexpensive ways to create built-in counters and shelving using pre-made kitchen lowers {The Creativity Exchange}


Just so you get a better idea, here is a picture of all of the inexpensive stock cabinets that I purchased from Lowe’s that were the base of my built-ins and wrap around counters:


Use cheap pre-made unfinished cabinets for built in cabinets and shelving {The Creativity Exchange}


As you can see in the shot above, I purchased one large double door base cabinet, two single door bases and one double door upper.  The total cost for the four cabinets was around $350.00!  For instance, the largest stock cabinet that I purchased was this unfinished 23 inch depth double drawer cabinet for $139.00:

Unfinished kitchen base cabinet for built ins.


Also, because we designed the built-ins based on standard width sizes of plywood and standard wood shelving boards, no labor cost was spent cutting down the wood.  We also used the wall itself as the backing of the cabinets instead of wood to save even more money.  By keeping all of this in mind as we designed the layout, we saved so much time and it seriously made this project so inexpensive.

My contractor simply built the shelving on the floor ahead of time and just attached the whole frame on the wall:


Inexpensive ways to create built in shelving using pre made stock kitchen cabinets {The Creativity Exchange}


He did the same thing for my media built in and built the frame and shelving ahead of time and then just attached to the wall.  I couldn’t believe it but he built this piece in less than 45 minutes!  It would have taken me a month:


Inexpensive ways to make built in shelving {The Creativity Exchange}



How to build inexpensive built ins using pre made stock cabinets and standard size plywood {The Creativity Exchange}


For the media center, we used standard 12 inch width wood specifically for shelving so there was no extra cutting needed:


office/craft room revamp {before and after} The Creativity Exchange


For my countertops, we just purchased a plywood sheet and my contractor cut it down to fit.

I knew on the front end of this project that if I planned the design with all of this information in mind and worked closely with my contractor for ways that he could save time, the built-ins could be affordable.  The other thing that I did on the front end is that I asked my contractor to work on my project on days that he needed to fill an hour or two. In other words, like all contractors, he has so many big renovations that he works on that sometimes he has to wait for tile/flooring to dry or for product to come in that he has a couple hours here and there that he needs to fill.

Because I was willing to be patient to save money, my contractor would sometimes bring his whole crew (loved those days) to fill an hour or two but only charge me for his time, because his crew was being paid on other projects and had to wait any way.  If you do not have a big project and you are willing to be super flexible (I know it’s hard) and ask that your project be done when they have an extra hour or two, chances are that your contractor will make your flexibility worth the while. I always do this whenever I hire a contractor and it has always paid off for me.

I hope someone out there can use this information and can see now the creating built-ins and shelving does not have to be a $5,000.00 investment.  If you have always wanted them but thought they were unaffordable, I hope you will not rule it out and consider my suggestions for creating your dream space and cutting down the costs.

By the way, on Monday, I shared my paint color palette for this project.  You can get to that post by clicking the image below:

Paint colors used for office/craft room revamp from The Creativity Exchange

Thanks for hanging out with me today friends!



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24 Responses to Create Built-In Shelving and Cabinets on a Tight Budget

  1. Kyle says:

    This room is an inspiration for my home office.

    I’ve been working with my painter on the “come when you can, for as long as you can” and have saved a lot. I’ll try it with the cabinet maker.

    • Cyndy says:

      Thank you Kyle! Yes, I have saved a lot of money by being flexible. It’s hard to do because I want the project done as soon as possible but it’s worth it in the end!

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Maureen Hayes says:

    What great tips! I never would have thought it could be that inexpensive to have built ins! Your look so high end, you would never know they were stock materials. Thanks for sharing this info.

  3. Megan says:

    Amazing tips, Cyndy! They are beautiful!!

  4. Sue Durbin says:

    Thanks for the information. Never thought that it could look so great and not cost alot.

  5. Margaret says:

    Any suggestions as to what cabinet base to use if you need file storage? I’m trying to design an office/craft area and office credenzas are pretty pricy.

    Your space is beautiful.


    • Cyndy says:

      I think if you search online or check with Lowe’s, you may be able to find stock file cabinets. You could always use an existing desk with file cabinets and work it into your built ins like I did.

      Good luck and thanks so much for stopping by Margaret!

  6. This is so awesome. Gives me goosebumps! You could even buy someone’s cast off cabinets from craigslist or whatever if they are in good condition and save even more.

  7. Veronica Kirk says:

    Habitat for Humanity has a recycle store nearby and they always have so many nice cabinets that were torn out of houses. Now I know I’ll be adopting some for my next project. I was thinking of Ikea shelving and cabinets before, but you just saved me a lot of money. And I get feel-good points, too. Thanks!

    • Cyndy says:

      Yes Veronica, I too was originally thinking about Ikea’s shelving but after pricing everything and putting it on paper, I came out ahead and installed more storage space by using the stock cabinets.

      Thank you so much for stopping by!!

  8. Jackie says:

    Simply divine, I never tire of looking at it. Americans have bigger rooms than us Brits, what a shame for us. You deserve a medal! Regards, Jackie.

  9. June says:

    How did you achieve the thickness of the frame on the uppers over the large double base cabinet?

    • Cyndy says:

      We nailed 2 inch trim molding to the cabinet fronts and top to give it a pretty finish! We also did this to media built-in as well. You can buy it pre-primed or not.

      • June says:

        Okay …I know I’m being a pain in the … but, how thick are the upper portions side walls ..?.. are they mdf or plywood. Who knew they’re be so many questions ?? lol.

  10. Pam says:

    Great ideas! Since you used plywood for your counter tops, how did you finish the surface?

    • Cyndy says:

      We primed twice and sanded it down and used a matte oil base finish with a lot of Penetrol. I am having glass cut and beveled to go over the counter. The countertops are not ideal for my painting and crafting without some sort of protection. I could have done formica or something else but I really wanted the countertops the same color as the built-ins.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  11. Caitlin says:

    Hi there — this looks beautiful! I’m considering doing something similar, but have noticed that stock base cabinets tend to be taller than a standard 30” desk. If yours are the standard 34″ height, have you found it manageable to have a nonstandard desk height?


  12. Kristy says:

    Did you contractor use one or two layers of plywood for your counter tops? They look so thick. I’ve been looking at some 3/4″ plywood at Lowes that has a great look, but I don’t know if it will be thick enough and wonder if they doubled up the plywood, or gave it a thicker edge/trim to beef up the look.


  13. terra says:

    I would like to know what steps you took to paint the cabinets? Did you use a sprayer? I am building (with help) a set of built-ins in my living room. I really want the finish to look great. To have the job done professionally would cost around $850, so I will be doing it myself.

  14. Liz says:

    I love it, but when I went to Lowe’s they only have cabinets that are 35″ high in stock. I want to make a craft room with desks for sewing, scrap booking, etc., and I can’t find cabinets that are 30″ high for crafting unless I special order them. How are you managing. I don’t need any more neck or back problems.

  15. Sherron says:

    Where did you get the jars with stainless lids that you have on your craft area shelves. (You have them in two sizes.) I need them for my new pantry!

  16. Kathy Steinway says:

    Thanks so much for posting this! Can you tell me what your desktop material is? You mention plywood for the countertop, but the desktop looks much thicker…

  17. Sandi magle says:

    This is one heck of a post…brilliant! And your overall results do not look like you skimped/frugally on anything. Great design and exectution…thanks for the ideas, Sandi

  18. Zoya says:

    Good post.

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