Pocket Office Part 1

The moment we stepped into the model of our home, we knew it was the one. Each space we walked through solidified the choice for us, it checked so many of our NEED and WANT boxes when it came to buying a new home and we were easily sold. There was one space that we had not even considered, but when we walked into it in the model, it was quickly added to that checklist : the pocket office. It was this 6×11 space off the breakfast room that would be the perfect place for the kids to do their homework and keep the mess off my kitchen island and breakfast table. To give you an idea of the size, the other option from the builder for the room was to turn it into a full size bathroom, with an optional door to the backyard to serve the purpose of a pool bath should we ever decide to install one (which we knew we never planned to do based on the lot we went with) . . . so imagine a space the size of a standard bathroom with a tub, toilet and a full size vanity sink.

Ballas Point Floorplan from HomesByWestbay.com

The builder offered an option to have a granite counter built along the width and length of the room and one cabinet at the end . . . and while we loved the idea, we did not like the price tag, so during our design meeting, we opted to leave the room empty, deciding we would eventually hire someone to build our vision. Fast forward to moving in . . . we thought we would get to it once things settled down . . fast forward again . . . life never gave us a break, and between careers and children, our pocket office dream slowly turned into a catch all disaster . . . the lovely space off the breakfast room became a storage space for everything we did not know what to do with . . . oh, and the dog crate. Fast forward one more time . . . . to March 2020 . . . Covid lockdowns started in our state.

I don’t think anybody anticipated that the initial quarantine period would last more than two weeks . . . I mean if I am being honest, I expected life to go back to normal almost immediately . . . but even as I write this, things are still not quite the same. When quarantine hit, so many of us found ourselves working and schooling from home, and for us, it was quite the shock. We live such busy lives, with crazy work commutes and after school activities, that when we found ourselves forced to slow down, it was hard to process. As we started to find a new routine with so much more family time on our hands, we also learned to embrace the downtime . . . initially. See, I have the personality type that needs constant stimulation; I feel like I always need to be doing something . . . ANYTHING . . . idle hands and all. So one sunny Florida day in the middle of May, after brushing passed the baking phase of Covid, and the whipped coffee excitement, I found myself staring at my windows and decided they were rather boring, and they’d look a lot prettier with some trim . . . and that I would be the one who installed it. I made a phone call to my dad, and he came over the next day with a truck full of his glorious collection of tools . . . and he taught me how to use a mitre saw. It was love at first cut.

I’ll share my window trim process another day, but for now, let’s fast forward to July 2020. After learning that our kids would continue e-learning through the end of the year, I decided it was time to reclaim my breakfast table (at this point it had been the classroom for several months), clear out the pocket office, and became a self taught carpenter. Thats right, this 5’1″ human who could barely hang a curtain rod 3 months prior, was going to build some cabinets, a desk and a built in shelving unit. I had it all planned out in my head. I spent countless hours watching YouTube tutorials, read multiple how-to guides and even studied the cabinets in my own home. It took me roughly 6 weekends to build the cabinets and the counter top. At the time of the build, the idea of having a blog wasn’t even a blip on the radar, and so I didn’t consider documenting the process with photos along the way. I did, however, post some Instagram stories with the process, which would really be the best place to reference the steps. But I will try my best here.

If I could change one thing at the start of this, I would recommend removing any pre-existing baseboards. When I started this, I thought I could work around them, which I did, but it was not ideal. So that being said, remove the baseboards: score the caulk to prevent damaging your dry wall and use a trim puller to help wedge it away from the wall. If you only need to remove a section of the baseboard, you can use a multitool (also known as an oscillating tool) to cut through the wood. I’ve shared a few below, these can all be found at your local Home Depot or similar supply store.

There are a lot of ways to build a cabinet, and for this project, I chose to go with the option that my units would sit on a base made of 2×4 wood.

For this, I needed the following tools and materials

  • Mitre Saw : to cut the 2×4 to size (most stores similar to Home Depot are happy to do this for you, but you will want your measurements EXACT)
  • Kreg pocket hole jig
  • Drill
  • 2 1/2″ pocket hole screws
  • 2×4 wood (enough to fit my space)
  • Measuring Tape (that should go without saying, but don’t find yourself without one)
  • Right Angle Kreg Clamp (I just a regular clamp for this which would work just fine)
  • 90 degree angle (optional to check for accuracy)
  • Level (always work with a level)
  • Wood Glue

I cut all my 2×4 to size on the mitre saw. I cut 2 pieces the width of the room, and 5 pieces the depth of the base (this can change dependent on the overall width of your cabinet space, the more you have, the more support). I then drilled pocket holes in each of the shorter pieces using the kreg jig, applied wood glue to ends and attached them to the longer 2×4’s using my 2 1/2″ pocket hole screws. If you are unfamiliar with how to work with pocket holes, I plan on making a short post with instructions at a later date, or you can simply search YouTube and I promise there are a ton of how-to videos out there right now. Always check your corners for accuracy using a 90 degree angle . . . crooked corners are hard to recover from at any point during a project.

Once I was done building the base, I did a dry fit placement to ensure it was accurate and level. I then used 3″ cabinet/wood nails to install and secure them to studs in my wall. You can see a screenshot of the dry fit above. What you will also notice in the photo are some 1×4 pine wood buffers. Because I did not remove the baseboards, I needed to create a buffer for the cabinets to push them away from the wall and align with the base I built. These were also secured to studs in the wall, but this is not a step you will need if you take my initial advice and remove the baseboards. The next step was building the cabinets! For this I needed :

  • 3/4 Plywood (I prefer Red Oak or Birch as they are smooth and high quality)
  • 1×3 Select Pine or Poplar (you can even cut your 3/4 plywood into 1×3 strips if you prefer)
  • 1 1/4 pocket hole screws
  • circular saw / table saw

I build my base to be 3 1/2 inches less deep than I planned on the cabinets being. This was intentional, to create a toe kick, so we could stand in front of the cabinets and reach on the shelves I would eventually build without stubbing our toes . . . peep your kitchen cabinets to see what I mean. For each cabinet, I needed to cut 3 pieces of the plywood. 2 would be my sides and one would be the bottom. If you would like a back piece to your cabinets you would need a 4th, however I chose to save the money and limit the materialize I used, so my cabinet backs would just be the wall.

After determining the overall size of the cabinet, I cut my plywood down using a circular saw with a kreg jig guide to help me achieve straight cuts (another tool I will create a post for later, or you can Google it). I then drilled pocket holes along the underside of the bottom of the cabinet. I used wood glue along the edges and then attached those to the plywood I cut for the sides of the cabinet using the 1 1/4 inch pocket hole screws (essentially creating a 3 sided box). Then I cut my 1×3 pine to the width of the boxes, repeating 3 times. I drilled pocket holes into the end of each of those, attaching 2 across the top and one across the back. See the image below. I found using the right angle clamp helped hold the 1×3 in place while I drilled the pocket hole screws into place. Remember to always use wood glue in addition to the screws.

Once this part is built, you can start on the face frame. To be honest, most of the tutorials I watched, they built the face frame first, which is probably the better idea, so reverse this if you feel necessary, but for me, I preferred to build them after. I used much of the same tools/supplies for this part, however, I did need the following additional materials / tools:

  • 1×2 pine (or poplar . . . the dimension can vary as well, but for my project, I liked the smaller 1×2)
  • 2″ brad nails
  • Brad Nailer

Now a face frame is made up of two parts : rails and stiles (basically the horizontal and vertical pieces). These are pretty specific when it comes to measuring them. Your stiles (the vertical pieces) will need to be the exact height of your cabinets on both sides. For me, the overall height of the cabinets would be 28″ . . . however I also built that toe kick out of 2x4s (which is a height of 3 1/2″) . . . which made the actual height of my cabinets 25 1/2″ , and the is what I cut down my 1×2 stiles to for both sides. The width of the rails will depend on two factors : the width of your cabinet AND the width of your stiles (meaning if you choose to go with a material size other than the 1x2s I used). Basically you will want to subtract the width of your stiles from the width of your cabinet to determine the length of your rails. For example, one of my cabinets was 30 inches wide, and my stiles were each 1 1/2″ wide (3 inches total), so the width of my rails would need to be 27 inches. I cut these down on the mitre, drilled pocket holes into both ends of each rail then glued them and screwed them to the stiles. I then attached the face frame to the cabinet using 2″ brad nails with my 16 gauge brad nailer.

Once the cabinets are built, you will want to set them on the 2×4 base and secure them to both the base AND to studs in the wall. Do not skip this step, otherwise you’ll find your cabinets come toppling down on you at some point. I used 3″ wood screws for this.

The final few steps I want to share for the cabinet build are the trim details. This post has already run quite long, so I have decided that I will make a completely separate post for the doors. To complete the frames of the cabinets, I also needed to install shoe moulding along the bottom and trim along the sides to fill the gap between the cabinet and the wall. The type of shoe moulding you select is entirely up to you, there are a lot of options at your local supply stores, I went with something pretty basic. I used my mitre to cut each length to size, and also to cut my mitered corners where each piece would line up at a 45 degree angle. I intend to share yet another post on cutting angles with a mitre. For now, I can share a few screenshots below from videos I took. Each piece of moulding was attached with wood glue and 2″ brad nails. And to clean up the look, I caulked along all of the seams and used wood filler in all the nail holes (sand after drying).

Whew! That was a lot longer than I anticipated. I hope that this was somewhat helpful for building the shell of a cabinet. I hope to eventually learn how to add links to products, so for now, feel free to post any questions you have in the comments below, or just let me know what you think. Part 2 of the pocket office build will include the steps to build your cabinet doors, and how I created a custom wood desktop.

Remember you’ve got this, so just go for it!

Rachael

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