Not every home is blessed with a grand entryway. If your front door swings open directly into the living space, it can make for rather abrupt arrivals. A columned room divider creates an architectural feature that will gently redirect foot traffic while providing extra storage for books or even boots.
Follow along with This Old House contributor Christopher Beidel, owner of Pernt, a handmade-furniture company in Brooklyn, New York, as he shows you how to construct a partition that will look right at home in your place.
Columned Room Divider Plan
- SATURDAY: Stack the cabinet boxes and add the face frame (Steps 2–11).
- SUNDAY: Build the column, and cut and install the trim (Steps 12–17).
Download the Cut List here OR scroll to the bottom of the article for a list of all necessary materials.
How to Make a DIY Room Divider
1. Cut the Parts
- The body of the cabinet is made up of three identical boxes stacked on top of one another to form shelves. Take your MDF stock, clamp a straightedge in place, and use a circular saw to cut each piece according to the cut list.
- Also cut the four base pieces; we used 2x8s to match the height of the existing 1×8 baseboard.
2. Assemble the Boxes
- For each box, the top and bottom capture the sides. Lay the bottom piece on a workbench, run a bead of construction adhesive along the edge of one side piece, then clamp it upright to form an L with the bottom.
- Repeat on the other end. Tip the assembly so that you can countersink pilot holes for 1½-inch MDF screws through the bottom and into the edges of the sides. Drive the screws and remove the clamps. Set the assembly upright.
- Apply construction adhesive to the top edges of the sides, and set the top in place. Clamp it down at each side, countersink pilot holes, and screw it in place, as shown.
3. Level the Base
- Build the 2×8 base with 2½-inch deck screws. Remove any existing baseboard molding from the wall, place the base directly on the floor and against the wall, and shim it level.
- Rest a 4-foot level diagonally across the corners, as shown, to check for level.
4. Attach the Base
- Fasten the base to the floor by toenailing deck screws through the exposed end of the base and the shims, as shown.
- Screw through the other end of the base and into the wall. Then score the shims and snap them off.
Tip: Slide the shims from the inside of the base outward so that the screws will catch the meatier ends. This also makes it easier to snap off the exposed, thinner ends of the shims.
5. Cap the Base
- Run a bead of construction adhesive along the top of the base and cover it with a panel of MDF. Countersink pilot holes and drive MDF screws through the panel to secure it.
- Then, to account for the height of the 12 face-frame trim, add an MDF filler panel. Use scrap trim to inset it ¾ inch from the front and the end; inset it 1½ inches along the back edge to accommodate the back panel plus the trim.
- And to allow for out-of-plumb walls, leave a ¾-inch gap at the wall end; it will be covered by a face-frame stile in Step 7. Secure the filler panel with construction adhesive and countersunk MDF screws at each corner.
6. Stack the Boxes
- Apply construction adhesive on top of the filler panel and stack the first box, aligned at the edges. Tack it in place with a pneumatic brad nailer and 1¼-inch brad nails.
- Stack and fasten the next two boxes in the same way. Shim the gap between the top box and the wall, then drive at least one deck screw through the box and shims and into a stud or an anchor. Make sure the top box is level, then glue and nail another filler panel on top.
7. Attach the Back
- Measure and cut an MDF panel to cover the back of the stack and meet the wall.
- Apply construction adhesive to the back edges of the boxes, and clamp the panel in place. Countersink pilot holes and secure the panel with MDF screws.
8. Install the Face Frame
- We ripped 1½-inch strips from leftover ¾-inch MDF, but you could also use 1×2 trim. Either way, measure and cut the front and back stiles to length. If necessary, scribe and trim the wall-side stiles to follow the wall’s contour.
- For the outside stiles, use a scrap of ¾-inch MDF to stand in for the abutting stile to be installed in the next step, as shown. Glue and nail the stiles in place; they should end up flush with the inside edges of the shelves on the front.
9. Rip the End Stiles
- To make the trim end up the same width on both sides of the corners where the stiles meet, rip two pieces ¾ inch wide. Glue and nail them in place, as shown.
- Now measure, cut, and install the four front rails, four end rails, and two back rails.
10. Install the Top
- Measure and cut two additional panels of MDF sized to sit flush with the face frame. Glue and nail them in place. This last layer serves as your cabinet top and as a nailing surface for the solid crown molding that goes on in Step 16.
11. Install the Lower Blocking
- To find the location for the column’s two lower nailing blocks, subtract the width of a block from the width of the cabinet top, then divide the result in half.
- Use a combination square to transfer this measurement to three sides of the cabinet top, as shown. Glue and screw the blocks in place, one at a time.
12. Size the Column
- Measure the distance between the cabinet and your ceiling and cut the four MDF column panels to fit. Two should be the same width as the lower blocking, and the other two 1½ inches wider to capture the edges of the first two.
- Clamp the base of one of the panels to the blocking, then clamp a 4-foot level to its face. Plumb the panel, then mark where its inside face meets the ceiling, as shown.
13. Mount the Upper Blocking
- Run a line of construction adhesive along the edge of an abutting column panel, and join it to the first to form a corner. Nail the joint together. Clamp a level to the new piece and check both levels to plumb the column assembly.
- Apply construction adhesive to the block and position it into the L-shaped crook, then drill pilot holes and screw it to the ceiling with deck screws. We were lucky enough to catch a ceiling joist, but you may need to use toggle bolts to fasten the block securely.
14. Assemble the Column
- Countersink pilot holes through the tops of the column assembly and into the upper blocking, then screw them in place with MDF screws.
- At the bottom, tack the panels to the lower blocking with brad nails. Then glue and secure the two remaining sides of the column in the same fashion.
15. Install the Capital
- To finish the top of the column, measure and cut the capital pieces to fit. Use clamps to hold the longer pieces in place, to give you something to butt the shorter pieces into. Glue and nail each piece in place.
16. Install the Crown
- To trim the top of the capital, measure one side, use a miter saw to cut a piece of solid crown molding at 45 degrees on each end, and install it with adhesive and brad nails.
- Continue measuring, cutting, and installing each side as you go. To trim the cabinet top, measure its long edges and miter-cut pieces of crown to fit—90 degrees at the wall and 45 degrees at the end. Glue and nail them in place.
- Measure and miter-cut the end piece to fit between the two mitered ends, then install it with adhesive and brad nails.
17. Install the Baseboard Molding
- Follow the same approach to install the baseboard: front and back first, then the piece that’s mitered on both ends.
- Cut pieces to fit along the exposed wall and install those. Install the base cap—½-inch quarter-round molding in this case—the same way. Then cover any gaps along the floor by installing the ¾-inch shoe molding.
- Finally, fill the nail holes and caulk the joints and seams, sand everything smooth, and prime and paint the entire structure.
Cut list for columned room divider
- ¾-inch medium-density fiberboard (MDF) box tops: three @ 12 by 36 inches
- ¾-inch MDF box bottoms: three @ 12 by 36 inches
- ¾-inch MDF filler layers: two @ 12 by 36 inches
- ¾-inch MDF box sides: six @ 9½ by 12 inches
- ¾-inch MDF base panel and cabinet top pieces: three @ 14¼ by 37½ inches
- ¾-inch MDF box back: one @ 34½ by 36¾ inches
- ¾-inch MDF capital front and back: two @ 6 by 9½ inches
- ¾-inch MDF capital sides: two @ 6 by 8 inches
- ¾-inch MDF upper and lower blocking: three @ 6½ by 6½ inches
- ¾-inch MDF column front and back: two @ 8 by 62¼ inches*
- ¾-inch MDF column sides: two @ 6½ by 62¼ inches*
*Measurements are approximate; cut to fit the height of your ceiling.
- Face, end, and back frames
- ¾-inch MDF front and back rails: six @ 1½ by 34½ inches
- ¾-inch MDF front and back stiles: four @ 1½ by 34½ inches
- ¾-inch MDF end stiles: two @ ¾ by 34½ inches
- ¾-inch MDF end rails: four @ 1½ by 11¼ inches
- 2×8 base sides: two @ 37½ inches
- 2×8 base ends: two @ 11¼ inches
- ¾-by-1¾-inch solid crown cabinet-top trim: two @ 38½ inches*
- ¾-by-1¾-inch solid crown cabinet-top trim: one @ 16½ inches*
- ¾-by-1¾-inch solid crown capital trim: four @ 11½ inches*
*Measurements are approximate; cut all pieces to fit.
- 1×8 baseboard: two @ 38¼ inches*
- 1×8 baseboard: one @ 15¾ inches*
- ½-inch quarter-round base cap: two @ 38¼ inches*
- ½-inch quarter-round base cap: one @ 15¾ inches*
- ¾-inch quarter-round shoe molding: two @ 38¼ inches*
- ¾-inch quarter-round shoe molding: one @ 15¾ inches*
*Measurements are approximate; cut all pieces to fit.