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DIY Kits for Beautiful Built-In Details

Photo by (clockwise from top left) Beth Singer; Charles Walton IV; Alex Vertikoff; Stephen Karlisch

We'd all trick out our kitchens with fine-finish carpentry and built-ins if it weren't for the off-putting price tags. So the editors of This Old House set out to find inexpensive kit versions of those coveted details, such as bench seating for an eat-in breakfast nook and in-cabinet storage racks for wine and plates. Then we asked pro carpenter Jimmy DiResta to put the kits to the test, and offer tips on customizing them for a high-end look. Read on for the 6 DIY kit picks, assembly tips, and easy modification ideas.

Built-In Seating: The Inspiration

Photo by Alex Vertikoff

A bench with a high back and shapely sides stylishly maximizes space for diners in tight quarters.

The Kit We Picked

Shaker Warming Bench, Van Dykes Restorers

Why We Liked It

Creative freedom. The kit includes precut pieces crafted from sturdy unfinished stock, the necessary fasteners, and little more, leaving custom tailoring and the final finish to your imagination.

The Specs

Red oak, 13½ by 37½ by 48 inches

What It Costs

About $240

How Much

About $360. A similar, fully assembled and finished white pine bench from a furniture company costs around $600.

Built-In Seating: Tips and Ideas

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

• To smoothly drive fasteners and prevent wood from splitting, drill additional pilot holes where pieces come together. Insert your drill bit through the existing pocket-screw holes to create a path for the screw in the adjoining piece.

• Use a router to create a bead along the edges for a more decorative look. You can also recess the seat apron by ¼ inch

to create a nice reveal.

Built-In Seating: Pro Advice

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Reinforce the back panel, which is designed to be glued in place, with ¾-inch wood screws for added strength. This will also pull the panel tight against the seat's rear edge, preventing any gaps where paint or stain could pool.

Plate Rack Cabinet Insert: The Inspiration

Photo by Stephen Karlisch

Perfectly sized slots for plates create an orderly presentation in your kitchen.

The Kit We Picked

Plate Display Rack, Omega National Products

Why We Like It

Easy installation. The kit shakes out of the box like pickup sticks, without directions, but it's still a cinch to assemble.

The Specs

Four 30-inch top and bottom maple rails, and thirty-two 12-inch dowels. Trim the length of the rails and height of the dowels to fit your particular cabinet dimensions.

What It Costs

About $51

How Much You Save

About $250. A custom cabinet manufacturer charges around $300 for a similar insert.

Plate Rack Cabinet Insert: Tips and Ideas

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

• Paint or stain individual dowels and rails before assembly for easy access to small parts and to prevent drips inside the cabinet.

• Cut your own spacer strips and glue them between the front and back sections to form a single, self-supporting unit. This way you don't have to mess with aligning the two separate pieces inside the cabinet.

Plate Rack Cabinet Insert: Pro Advice

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Use your own plates as a guide. Before securing the rack in place with wood glue and screws, make sure dishes are centered inside and don't stick too far out of the cabinet; leave at least 2 inches at the front and back.

Wine Rack Cabinet Insert: The Inspiration

Photo by Andrew Hepinstall

Wine bottle-sized cubbies give your cabinetry a customized look.

The Kit We Picked

Sonoma Series Wine Rack, Kitchen Source

Why We Like It

Lots of sizes. Components can be ordered to fit various cabinet dimensions; the largest one corrals 28 bottles.

The Specs

The one we chose has two 17-by-29-inch maple lattice grids to fit in a standard-size upper cabinet and securely hold 18 bottles.

What It Costs

About $94

How Much You Save

About $900. A custom cabinet manufacturer charges up to $1,000 for a similar built-in rack.

Wine Rack Cabinet Insert: Tips and Ideas

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Once installed, add a face frame made of moldings that complement your cabinet style for a more finished look.

Wine Rack Cabinet Insert: Pro Advice

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

For the spacer strips, use a combination of wood glue, for long-term strength, and yellow hot glue, which is stronger than clear, for quick tack during assembly.

Appliance Garage: The Inspiration

Photo by Elizabeth Whiting & Associates

A sleek housing for your coffeemaker and toaster minimizes countertop clutter.

The Kit We Picked

Straight Appliance Garage, Cabinet Parts

Why We Like It Simple assembly. Pieces easily fit together like a puzzle with tongue-and-groove joinery. Just add wood glue for extra strength.

The Specs

18-inch-tall solid maple frame, spring-loaded solid maple tambour door, and maple-veneered sides.

What It Costs

About $133

How Much You Save

About $67. A cabinet manufacturer will charge you around $200 for a unit like this one.

Appliance Garage: Tips and Ideas

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

If the distance between your countertop and cabinets is more than 18 inches, install a decorative header board to fill the space. If it's less, the frame can be shortened by up to 6 inches.

Range Hood Cover: The Inspiration

Photo by Charles Walton IV

A wood canopy that's finished to match kitchen cabinets artfully conceals a ventilation system

The Kit We Picked

Hardwood Range Hood, Hoffco, Inc.

Why We Like It

Easy to retrofit. An optional conversion kit with two fluted filler strips lets you fit the hood into a 30- or 36-inch opening between your upper cabinets. Choose from five different wood species, including maple (shown).

The Specs

30-inch-wide-by-24-inch-tall hood, metal liner that mounts to surrounding cabinets, and filler strips.

What It Costs

About $281. Internal ventilators, which start at $119, are sold separately.

How Much You Save

More than $500. A wood hood manufacturer charges upwards of $800 for a model like this one.

Range Hood Cover: Tips and Ideas

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Personalize your hood with a decorative apron. Make it out of stock molding from the home center, or choose from three styles offered by the kit manufacturer starting at an additional $37. The English country apron is shown here. Paint or stain the hood to match surrounding cabinets, or finish it in a complementary hue for a bold accent.

Rolling Ladder: The Inspiration

Photo by Beth Singer

A library-style ladder prevents the space in high-up kitchen cabinets from going to waste.

The Kit We Picked

Quiet Glide Wooden Ladder and Hardware, Custom Service Hardware

Why We Like It

À la carte ordering. Parts are sold separately in a variety of wood types and hardware finishes, letting you customize a kit for your kitchen and budget.

The Specs

We chose an 8-foot-tall unfinished red oak ladder with metal rung supports, an 8-foot-long track, top rollers that allow the ladder to glide on the track, and bottom wheels.

What It Costs

About $802

How Much You Save

$200 or more. Prices for a similar setup from a library ladder manufacturer start at $1,000.

Rolling Ladder: Tips and Ideas

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

• Create a parking spot for your ladder by installing a track that's about 2 feet longer at one end than your bank of cabinetry. That way it won't block access to doors or appliances when not in use.

• Order a ladder that's at least 5 inches taller than the height of the rail on the wall. Any shorter and the angle will be too steep for comfortable climbing; any longer and it'll eat up valuable floor space.

Rolling Ladder: Tips and Ideas

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

• Choose a hardware finish that echoes the tone of your existing cabinet knobs for a pulled-together appearance.

• Save an extra $200 by purchasing just the hardware and installing it on your own ladder.