This is the final stretch of the pocket office build . . . And as it turns out, the fastest part of the entire build. I have always wanted some built in shelves, and I wasn’t sure that I would actually do this for the office, but I was kid free one weekend, our county was still in a semi lockdown because of Covid, and I had nothing else to do, so I figured I would give it a go. I love how built ins really elevate a space, and despite how much I loved the cabinets in here, it really felt like something was missing, and built in shelves seemed like the obvious option.
I made a trip to Home Depot to pick up 3/4” red oak plywood, and even though I own the equipment necessary to cut it down, the the truth is the 4×8 sheets are entirely too heavy for me to navigate, so I had them cut down the main pieces. I decided the height would be 72”, and the depth would be 10” . . . And with a 4×8 sheet, that would give me 4 10×72” strips, 1 8×72 strip and 1 48×24 strip. I had them cut down a total of 2 4×8 red oak plywood sheets exactly the same. Since we are here, these are the materials and tools necessary for the project :
- 3/4 plywood of your choice (I recommend birch or red oak)
- 1×3 or 1×4 poplar (these will be used for support beams)
- 1×2 poplar (these will be used for the face frames)
- Wood Glue
- Pocket Hole Screws
- Circular Saw
- Pocket Hole Jig
- 3” Wood Screws
- Brad Nailer
- 2” Brad Nails
- Speed Square
- Wood Filler
- Orbital Sander / Sanding Blocks
- Paintable Caulk
- Caulking Gun
The first thing I need to do is build the frame of the shelves. For this, it would require 6 of my 10×72”3/4” plywood strips, 3 for each unit. I know that’s an odd number, so bear with me. Obviously each unit has 2 sides, each 3/4” thick, however when the units join in the middle, this would an 1 1/2” vertical, and I want to keep that chunky look throughout the unit, so I would need to add 3/4” plywood to the outer part of the units as well . . . are you following? I attached 1 strip of the plywood to each side of my wall with 3” wood screws (or cabinet screws).. I made sure to countersink the screws so they would be flush with the wood. These served no structural purpose, they would purely be for aesthetics, which I hope makes more sense later. See the image below for an visual of the installation.
After these were installed, I built the actual shells of the units. Each would consist of 2 of the 10×72” 3/4” plywood strips on the sides, and then a 1×3 pine for the support across the bottom, and a 1×6 pine support across the top. I used scraps I had laying around, which is why I used these specific measurements, but something similar would work as well. I chose for the 1×3 to be at the bottom as it would be visible, and the 1×6 to be at the top to be more substantial, as it would not be visible once the project is completed. I screwed pocket holes into the support wood and attached them to the plywood sides using wood glue, 1 1/4” pocket hole screws, a 90 degree clamp and a speed square.
Once the top and bottom support beams were screwed in for both units, I applied wood glue to the entire outside of each panel, and placed them on top of the counter. I used clamps to hold them together in the middle as the glue dried. I then used my brad nailer with 2” brad nails to secure the sides to the plywood I had already screwed into the wall. Finally, I located my studs on the back wall and used 3” cabinet screws to secure the support beams (top and bottom) to the back wall. This can be seen in the image above. Once I double checked all my corners with a speed square, and the tops with a level, it was time to move on to the shelves.
I still had 4 strips of 10×72” strips of 3/4” plywood, so I cut these down to the width of my shelves, which ended up being 4 for each unit. I used my pocket hole jig to screw 8 pocket holes into each shelf, 4 on the left and 4 on the right. The lazy trick I used to determine the placement of the holes (top or bottom of the shelf) was based on the location of the shelf. For my lowest shelf, I drilled the pocket holes on the bottom so they could not be visible from above . . . And for the remaining shelves, I drilled the pocket holes on the top (so they could not be visible from below). . . I call this lazy because hiding them visibility allowed me to skip the step of filling them . . . In this situation it worked out well, but there are other projects where I would definitely not recommend skipping the step of filling them for aesthetic reasons. I measured out and marked where I wanted each shelf, and then I cut 2 pieces of scrap wood to the height of that to serve as spacers/guides when I screwed each shelf in. Make sure to use wood glue on the sides before you attach them, keep your level and speed square near to double check for accuracy with each shelf installation.
Making and installing the shelves was a pretty fast process, but once they were done, I found myself in a design dilemma . . . At this point I had already changed the height of the shelves from the original design, so my final shelf fell a little higher than I had planned. If you can see in the photos, my bottom shelf is rather tall, it was a last minute decision to build the first shelf ABOVE the outlets and create a bigger cubby so that I could add some storage baskets. This room would be for e-learning, and I thought the addition of storage baskets with access to the outlets would allow the kids to charge their laptops and headsets overnight in an organized fashion rather than just leaving them on the desktop. With this change, it stole some space from what should have been a 5th shelf at the top. After some debate, I realized I could close off the very top shelf and install some faux sconces (well they are real sconces, but I would not wire them, instead I would use battery operated puck lights), and this would really add some glamour to the office. Good thing I still had some scrap plywood!
Each of my 4×8 3/4 plywood sheets had a 8×72” scrap strip, so I cut one down to the width of the entire unit and attached it with brad nails and wood glue. I also had a spare 1×3 laying around, so I cut that to size and attached it right below the 8” piece, this 10 1/2 inches covered the distance from the highest shelf to the very top of the unit. I filled the seam between the two pieces and all the nail holes with wood filler and let it dry a few hours before sanding. I also realized that since I would be adding sconces, I would need to beef up the support behind this last minute addition, so I took some scrap 2x4s I had in the garage, cut them down to 8 inches, drilled some pocket holes and then screwed them in to the top shelf behind the panels I just installed. I did this in the exact middle of both units. I wish I could share photos, but I did not take any, but these 2×4 additions would be necessary support for the lights to be drilled into later.
Once this was done, I could move onto framing the entire unit to cover the raw edges of the plywood. This is done with the use of 1×2 select pine or poplar. The material choice between these two only really matters if you will be staining the wood, but in my case, I would be painting, so the measurements were all that I cared about. I like to apply my vertical trim first, as it allows for lest cuts. I took the measurement of all 3 verticals (left, right and middle) and cut my 1×2’s to match that height. I install them with wood glue and 2” brad nails using the brad nailer, into the plywood. Don’t do too many, but just enough to secure the wood. Remember, you will have to go back and wood fill and sand every nail hole and seam (and that’s not a lot of fun). After the verticals, I measure the horizontal pieces, which are all my shelves, and I repeat the process. I really love how the trim transforms and really finishes a piece.
Now comes the tedious job of wood filling and caulking. I like to use a paintable caulk, and preferably one that will not shrink. Always use a caulking gun, its a lot easier to control your application if you do. You will want to caulk along the back where the wood meets the wall and the interior of the shelves where the wood meets the wood. The wood filler can be applied on the front of the unit, anywhere there are seams where 2 pieces of wood meet, or where there are nail holes. Use this image below for reference. The red is where I would apply caulk, and the blue is where I would apply wood filler.
Once the cauk and wood filler are both dry, you can sand the unit completely. Pay special attention that you sand down all the wood filler, and then continue over the rest of the unit to prep it for paint. I personally used a block sander and did it by hand, but I think an electric sander would work as well. Clean up all the dust thoroughly and use a tack cloth to go over it one last time before you apply your primer. I usually work with Killz primer, but you can work with whatever you prefer.
I always sand by hand after the primer and before the first coat of paint. I repeat after the 1st coat of paint and before the 2nd coat. I never sand after the 2nd coat because I don’t want to damage the final finish. Sanding between coats helps give it that really smooth professional finish, and your choice of paint will also impact that. HOWEVER, before I finished painting, I realized that it was missing something . . . The top kept throwing me off, and then it clicked . . . It could really use some decorative crown to finish it off. I ran to Home Depot and found something that would work. I cut it to size, taped it to the unit to make sure I liked the look, and once I was satisfied, I attached it to the top with wood glue and brad nails. By no means is this process the conventional way to install cabinet crown, but I really love the flat look.
Once the crown was added, I finished he paint job and installed the sconces I had overnighted from Amazon. Building the unit took me a day and a half . . . But because I ran out of paint, it did take me a few days to actually finish the entire shelving built in. Once that was completed, I added trim to the 2 windows, installed some chair railing, added decor, and this room was DONE. I’ll make sure to share my window trim and chair rail tutorials another day, but for now, this concludes the 3 parts to my pocket office build. I really hope this helps encourage you to tackle that project you have been wanting to do in your own home. Let me know if you have any questions or feedback in the comment section below!
Remember you’ve got this, so just go for it!